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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS – Unabashedly Big and Not Afraid to Go Green(ish)

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It’s getting increasingly difficult to decide what constitutes a luxury vehicle these days. Premium manufacturers seem preoccupied with technology and providing customers with entry-level compacts they’re supposed to pay big money for. Fortunately, things get clearer as you move up the food chain. Nobody would think to doubt the S-Class’ luxury credentials, and Mercedes-Benz is now ready to offer the next generation of the self-proclaimed S-Class of SUVs.

We’re talking, of course, about the large and luxurious GLS. All-new for 2020, the model boasts a longer-wheelbase, more interior space, a “carwash” mode, and an active suspension paired with the brand’s very first mild-hybrid V8. 

Squarer and larger than its predecessor, the 2020 GLS’ design is all about emphasizing its increased size. At 205.2 inches in length, the SUV will already (literally) overshadow most everything in the Whole Foods parking lot. However, Benz lent it some added visual girth via “generously sculptured surfaces.” Even the squared-off headlamps contribute. Fortunately, it all comes together extremely well, leaving us with a mature-looking automobile that doesn’t arouse a yawn.

The GLS 450 features a 3.0-liter inline-six turbo engine with EQ Boost (Mercedes’ code name for its 48-volt mild-hybrid system), whereas the GLS 580 receives an electrified V8 featuring the same EQ system/starter generator. Regardless of your preferred internal-combustion unit, EQ Boost adds 184 lb-ft of torque and 21 hp. On the I6, that power’s lumped atop 362 hp and 369 foot-pounds. For the V8, it adds to the mill’s existing 483 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque.

While it might be easier to just read those figures as one cumulative number, EQ won’t always contribute to the GLS’ peak output. It only lends assistance when it has a surplus of juice and the driver makes moves that indicate they want more power. The rest of the time, EQ’s mind focuses on maximizing efficiency and cycling juice to anything that might create a parasitic draw.

All variants of the new GLS come with 4Matic all-wheel drive and a 9G-Tronic automatic transmission. Mercedes says the unit is playing with a pretty broad spread, allowing for the brand to carefully tailor economy and comfort. A transfer case with an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch is fitted as standard. This allows a variable transfer of drive torque (from 0-100 percent) between the axles. The GLS 580 offers an optional transfer case “specially configured for superior off-road driving characteristics” that also throws on a reduction gear for low-range activities.

While a self-leveling air suspension is standard equipment for the new GLS, Mercedes’ E-Active Body Control system remains an optional feature. As on the GLE, the setup ditches sway bars for an active system that constantly adjusts the vehicle’s undercarriage at the computer’s behest. Spring rate and damper stiffness can be tailored to each wheel and change on the fly. Interestingly, hitting a bunch of bumps actually helps to feed the mild-hybrid system by recuperating the lost energy.

As slick as that sounds, it’s nothing compared to the much funnier carwash function. Standard on all new GLS models, the mode raises the suspension to its highest setting, folds in the exterior mirrors, closes the side windows and sunroof, suspends the rain sensor, and tells the climate control system to start recirculate air that’s already in the cabin. It’s a total gimmick, but one we could see Mercedes owners using on a routine basis.

Everything else is about what you’d expect and then some. Three rows of heated seating greet occupants, with climate zones waiting for all. The automaker’s proprietary operating system, MBUX, also makes an appearance on the GLS’ exceptionally large 12.3-inch displays. In most automobiles, this would be plenty, but Benz decided to throw in an “Executive Rear Seat Package” that incorporates third-row massages and loads of optional tech.

Pricing has yet to be announced. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is slated go on sale later this year, and currently happens to be on display at the New York International Auto Show.

[Images: Daimler AG]

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