First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Tops Luxury 7-Seater SUVs

June 23, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

One of the best tests for a big SUV like the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is a fast drive through curvy mountain roads and discovering which of your passengers gets nauseous.

Big vehicles with high centers of gravity lean on turns. Various forces pull and tug at the SUV. Ponderous vehicles slosh down the road and the human brain and stomach disconnect.

Mercedes found a cure. It’s what the German automaker calls E-Active Body Control Suspension. It’s a complex system that uses a 48-volt battery that drives electrohydraulic dampers, or shock absorbers, at each wheel to keep the SUV stable.

Testing both the vehicle and the system in the mountains between Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah, demonstrated that anyone shopping for a high-end seven-seater needs to rank the redesigned GLS at the top of their list. It also proved a wonder, smoothing treacherous dirt roads, creeks and rough terrain at an off-road park near Heber City.


For most buyers, the four-wheel-drive GLS 450 with an inline, six-cylinder turbocharged engine will be more than enough car. It’s surprisingly quiet for a vehicle of its size. There’s lots of mass and body surface to create wind and road noise. Mercedes does an excellent job of shutting it out. The standard Burmester surround sound audio system is an upgrade from the Harmon/Kardon on the SUV the redesigned GLS replaces. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included in the standard trim.

More than 24 inches of screens stretch across the dash and center console of the vehicle,  positioned for easy-reading. The giant screens come with fewer distractions than other similarly-sized infotainment systems, including Tesla’s on the rival Model X.

Mercedes-Benz GLS touchscreen

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS screens stretch more than 24 inches. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

The infotainment system is a version of the automaker’s MBUX, or Mercedes-Benz User Experience. Mercedes has designed the system to answer natural language commands and questions starting with a “Hey Mercedes” query. A GLS trim that includes massage seats allows the front passengers to turn on the feature by saying, “Hey Mercedes, give me a massage.” The system discerns whether the request is from the driver or the passenger and turns on the correct seat.

The system has navigation and what Mercedes describes as learning-capable software. The feature learns a driver’s frequent routes, calls, radio stations and other preferences to anticipate commands.


The engine produces up to 362 horsepower – enough to take the SUV from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds. Does anyone need to go faster in a seven-seat people mover? It produces up to 369 pound-feet of torque.

Of course if that isn’t sufficient, opt for the more powerful GLS 580. The 2020 GLS 580 comes with a 4-liter V8 biturbo engine that produces 483 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. That shaves the 0 to 60 mph time to just 5.2 seconds.

Both engines are supplemented by mild hybrid system Mercedes calls EQ Boost. It assists the combustion engine by adding up to 21 horsepower for short periods of time. The automaker said it will create fuel savings but has yet to release fuel economy numbers for the SUVs.

All of these features make the new GLS among the best seven-seat luxury SUVs on the market. But what really sets them apart is the ground-breaking E-Active system. Like all things Mercedes, it’s an expensive option, adding $6,500 to the price of the vehicle.

Yet considering that the base model of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS will start at $75,200 plus a $995 destination fee when it goes on sale later this year, no one considers this a budget-mobile. The GLS 580 starts at $97,800 plus the $995 destination fee.

But for those with the cash, the GLS equipped with the fancy suspension option is the SUV to buy.


E-Active is an intelligent system that uses software, sensors and mechanical technology akin to a refrigerator compressor to stabilize the 2020 GLS.

Sensors track the SUV’s speed and steering angle, picking up how the body swings and twists from various types of accelerations. The system uses a camera to look at the road ahead, predicting turns and other features that affect ride.

Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 off-roading

An additional off-road package available on the GLS 580 4MATIC as a $1,900 option turns the SUV into a capable trailblazer. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

The suspension system uses all of that intel to smooth the ride. It’s as if there is big hook linked to the center of the roof, holding the GLS at just the correct angle as it turns, Rüdiger Rutz, chief engineer for SUVs at Mercedes-Benz told

Drivers and passengers who like me are prone to motion sickness – I have trouble watching video games – will appreciate the technology. Mercedes is the only automaker to offer it.

The S-Class sedan is the next vehicle to get the E-Active system. But Rutz said don’t expect to see wide rollout to the compact GLC crossover and other Mercedes models.

Unlike software, which can more easily be designed into models across the lineup, the system is hardware based and it’s hard to reduce the cost, he said.

But even without the high-tech suspension, the new GLS is a worthy seven-seat SUV with the taut driving characteristics buyers expect from the German company. It is one of the best luxury seven-seaters on the road.

Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, attended an event at which Mercedes-Benz USA hosted travel and lodging.

Ryan ZumMallen March 29, 2019
The three-row 2019 BMW X7 is the automaker’s largest vehicle ever yet retains the driving DNA that built the brand.

One Response

  1. wally

    Sounds good for a family that goes to ski at Park City during a snow storm. But is certainly is not a rock crawling, berm jumping, articulating suspension vehicle. Mercedes buyers won’t be buying for the off road performance (save that for the range rover). They will be buying for the plush….


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