There’s only one Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Or is there? The S is the German luxury automaker’s top sedan, but the GLS is that flagship four-door’s SUV equivalent. Mercedes-Benz says so itself on its website: “It gets more than a new letter from the S-Class.”
You might have noticed that key word there: new. The GLS-Class was the GL-Class until the 2017 model year. It was one of many vehicles that Mercedes-Benz renamed to simplify its nomenclature system. According to one of its press releases from November 2014, “The system centres around the five core model series, A, B, C, E and S, which will continue to be used to provide orientation for our customers. In the case of the model designations for the SUVs, in a tribute to the legendary GClass, all SUV models will in the future have the first two letters ‘GL’ in their name.” That means the GLA is the GL A-Class, the GLC (once known as the GLK) is the GL C-Class, the GLE (formerly badged as ML) is the GL E-Class, and the GLS is – you guessed it – the GL S-Class.
For the 2017 model year, the GLS, available in base GLS450, mid-range GLS550, and fire-breathing AMG GLS63 forms, has undergone several changes aside from that badge on its lift gate. Those include a restyled exterior, redesigned bumpers, and new LED tail lights and wheel designs. Inside, the GLS now features a redesigned instrument panel and center console and a three-spoke steering wheel. The most notable mechanical change is the addition of the 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission (in non-AMG models).
We recently got a chance to see and experience all of those changes in the 2017 GLS550 4MATIC that Mercedes-Benz loaned us.
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS550 Exterior
Our test vehicle was a study in contrasts. Mercedes-Benz coated it in an optional color from its designo line, Diamond White Metallic. Its purity and brilliance was the background for the various Gloss Black accents of the Night Package, which were found on the front end, mirror caps, roof, side window surrounds, 21-inch wheels, and rear.
The more we laid eyes upon the GLS, the more we liked it. Its massive front air intakes made it look aggressive; its sci-fi-esque adaptive LED headlamps made it look as if it could light our way through the darkest nights. The split-spoke wheels were handsome and distinctive AMG-issue rollers. We especially loved seeing the LED tail lights up close. With their curved inner elements, they seemed as if they belonged on an alien spacecraft that’s visiting our planet from 1,000 years in the future.
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS550 Interior
Mercedes Benz’s designo artisans didn’t stop at the GLS’s exterior. They furnished the cabin of the SUV with quilted Nappa leather seats and door panel inserts. Those and other surfaces wore a rich, warm earth tone officially known as Espresso Brown. The natural grain wood trim on the upper door panels, steering wheel rim, and dashboard added to that warmth.
The only thing we liked more than looking at the interior of the GLS was being in it. The front seats were heated and cooled and offered four types of massage. One cold morning, we decided to visit a friend at their office and bring them a fresh cup of coffee. Thanks to the heated/cooled front cup holders, it stayed nice and hot.
The Dynamic Select system allowed us to change the behavior of the engine, steering, and suspension with the turn of a dial. For our trips down the highway, we often just left the GLS in its default Comfort setting. We weren’t in a boat, but that didn’t stop us from feeling as if we were sailing smoothly down the road. Power from the engine was always plentiful; Sport mode’s sharper throttle response enabled us to access it through the gas pedal even more quickly. No matter which setting we had the GLS in, it moved through the air in near-silence.
We were too busy driving the GLS to truly enjoy its second- and third-row seats. However, we did take a little time to sit in them and note how comfortable they were. In the middle, we had plenty of legroom. Getting to the back row was as easy as pushing a button on top of the outboard second-row seats. That made the seat back flip down and the entire seat itself fold forward so we could gracefully enter the back of the GLS, where headroom was surprisingly abundant.
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS550 Performance
Immediately after one deep push of the GLS550’s gas pedal, we thought, If the mid-level GLS is this quick, the AMG version must be an absolute monster! Even with the smaller 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8 under its hood, the GLS550 is startlingly powerful. The 449 horsepower it generates looks good on paper and the 516 lbft it cranks out feels even better on the road. Combine that with a deep, throaty roar from the exhaust and you have the makings of not a muscle car, but a muscle SUV.
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS550 Safety
Mercedes-Benz has a reputation for building vehicles full of advanced safety features. With its long list of standard and optional equipment, the GLS we tested kept that reputation intact. Its Surround View System let us see who and what was around us – especially useful when we were backing out of a parking spot at the grocery store. Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keep Assist made sure we stayed where we needed to out on the highway. The GLS even comes with a cool bit of tech called Crosswind Assist. According to Mercedes-Benz, “Crosswind Assist helps detect the effects of strong side winds on handling stability at highway speeds. Whether caused by lateral gusts or even a passing truck, the system helps keep the vehicle on course via strategic braking of the wheels on one side of the vehicle, as well as adjustments to the AIRMATIC® suspension.”
Our particular GLS review vehicle was fitted with an optional Driver Assist Package. That includes adaptive cruise control, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, and PRE-SAFE PLUS, which protects GLS occupants in the event of a rear-end collision. Should the GLS’s rear sensors detect that such an accident is going to occur, PRE-SAFE PLUS prepares the front-seat restraint systems and holds the brakes to reduce the impact to the people inside the GLS and possibly prevent the GLS from being involved in a secondary collision.
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS550 Overall
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS550 is priced from $93,850.* One with all of the bells and whistles that our press loaner had costs $104,750.* To find the S-Class of Mercedes-Benz SUVs that’s right for you, visit an AutoNation-affiliated Mercedes-Benz dealer.
*MSRP excluding tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.