First Drive: Mercedes-Benz GLS 350 d

The Mercedes GLS is a leviathan of the road – it's longer than even the Audi Q7 – and is a facelifted and revised version of the car maker's GL.

Offering seven seats, the GLS is designed for larger families who want to travel in style and comfort. Using a cleaner version of the 3.0-litre diesel V6 that featured in the GL, the GLS should be able to keep up with rivals in terms of performance and economy. Has it? AOL Cars finds out.

What is it?

The GLS is a two-and-a-bit tonne seven-seater SUV, designed to whisk its occupants quietly and smartly from location to location. Provided the driver can find a parking space big enough, that is.

Replacing the old GL, this latest model is designed to be better on fuel, better at interior quality and better on the environment, too.

What's under the bonnet?

Our test car was 350d, meaning that under the bonnet sits a 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6, producing 255bhp and 620Nm of torque. Driven through a nine-speed automatic gearbox, the GLS is good for 62mph in a respectable 7.8 seconds and can achieve a top speed of 138. Combined, Mercedes claims that it will return 37.2mpg. Carbon dioxide emissions aren't great at 261g/Km, but then it's a big, heavy car.

That nine-speed automatic gearbox is there to be as smooth as possible, and gears are selected through a steering wheel-mounted shifter. It's a smooth engine – though the same one as featured on the older GL350 CDI – and suits the character of the car well.

Air suspension was also fitted to our car, giving drivers the ability to change the GLS' ride height. It also has all manner of off-road functions, meaning that if wannabe off-roaders want to test the car's four-wheel-drive system to the limit, they can.

What's the spec like?

Our test car came in at a colossal £82,920, which puts it in the league of Range Rovers and top-end Audis. Although the levels of standard equipment are impressive – you get Mercedes' full COMAND infotainment system, full Bluetooth connectivity and a Harmn Kardon 16-speaker sound system – the way it's put together leaves a little to be desired. There's no question it's a comfortable place to be, thanks to quilted leather seats and front massage chairs, it's just it lacks the fit and finish offered by some rivals. For closing in on £90,000, we'd want a little more quality. There's also a fair smattering of usual black buttons seen on much cheaper Mercedes cars.

Looking past that, there's a great deal to like. Each row of seats is comfortable and spacious, offering driver and passengers plenty of room. For a long trip, even the third row wouldn't feel too small. With all three rows of seats fixed upright the boot room does diminish – falling to 295 litres – but with even just the third row flattened this rises to 680 litres. Fold the middle row down and you're treated to an exceptional 2300 litres of load space, ideal for trips to the tip. If you're happy putting bin bags on the tan leather, that is.

First Drive: Mercedes-Benz GLS 350 d
See Gallery
First Drive: Mercedes-Benz GLS 350 d

All in all, the GLS offers a huge amount of technology – but it should given the price tag. Though impressive, it lacks the 'special' feeling offered by rivals which may push potential buyers away. For sheer loading and transporting capability, however, there's few that can top it.

Any rivals?

As mentioned, there are plenty of other cars that the GLS has to out-do in order to rule the road. The Range Rover is the main candidate, having become the go-to option for those looking to travel in style and comfort. It comes with the all-important premium image, too. Coming next to this is Audi's Q7, which has recently been completely revised. Although falling to five seats, there's a hybrid option too.

Finally, the GLS has a fight on its hands with the excellent Volvo XC90. Although undercutting it on price, the Volvo can stand up against the GLS in terms of quality and technology. It also builds on a well-regarded history, with its predecessor well known to be one of the best seven-seater SUV cars ever made.

What's it like to drive?

As you would expect, weight plays a massive part in the way the GLS drives. Fortunately, this is only felt when pushing the SUV much harder than it would ever need to go. For nine trips out of 10, the GLS feels composed and easy to drive. On country roads it does have a tendency to feel tank-like, with its gargantuan proportions difficult to thread through gaps or narrow lanes. It's more suited on the motorway, where the car's nine gears allows the car's engine to settle down and the air suspension takes the majority of bumps away from entering the cabin. Despite rolling on 21-inch alloy wheels, the ride is excellent.

If you place the car into Sport mode, the suspension does firm up. That's something we wouldn't expect drivers to do all that often, as the GLS is definitely more of a cruiser than a racer. Through corners the GLS is easy to place, but all that weight has to go somewhere, and causes a lot of body roll to be felt.

Take into account the 100-litre fuel tank, the GLS is perfect for long distance trips with more than five people. With each row of seats getting plenty of room for passengers – noticeably more than rivals – it's a comfortable place too. If you're looking for a dynamic drive, then it may be worth going elsewhere but in truth, the GLS isn't here for that.

AOL Cars Verdict

The GLS is big in terms of size and equipment, but lacking a little on the 'extra special' feel that buyers in this price range are looking for. For sheer interior space, there's few that better the GLS, but when certain trim pieces begin to creak within a car's first few thousand miles, questions have to be asked.
The price tag that the GLS commands seems fair when taking into account the amount of technology it has on board, especially the amount of entertainment and connectivity options. Had it been around £20,000 cheaper, the GLS would have wiped the floor with rivals. At this price point, however, it looks a little out of place.

The Knowledge

Model: Mercedes-Benz GLS 350 d Designo Line
Price (As tested): £82,920
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel V6
Power: 255bhp
Torque: 620Nm
0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Top speed: 138mph
Economy (combined): 37.2mpg
CO2: 261g/Km
Read Full Story