SUVs of all sizes have become a battleground for luxury automakers, and Mercedes-Benz has fired off the latest salvo in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS450 and GLS580. Both versions of the big Benz SUV were on display at the 2019 New York International Auto Show, where we got a closer look at the six- and seven-passenger configurations.
It’s a timely redesign for the three-row Mercedes, given the arrival of new competition, the 2019 BMW X7. There are similarities between the two vehicles; both come with two trim levels, two powertrain options, lots of available safety technology and some highlight-worthy interiors (especially on higher trim levels).
We won’t know how the big Mercedes drives compared with the X7 until we get behind the wheel, but I did climb around the interior of both versions and discovered many of the SUV’s changes seem to have come directly in response to the X7. The GLS is bigger than the last generation with a new wheelbase that’s 2.4 inches longer, and that added length pays dividends in legroom for both the second and third rows. Mercedes says the second row has an additional 3.4 inches of legroom with the seat slid all the way rearward, which adds a lot of flexibility to the passenger area. And I found that added length pays off the most in the third row.
The GLS can keep up with the X7 in a few key ways, which is high praise, considering the X7 has my favorite third row of any SUV, and the GLS’ spacious third row is in the ballpark. Both vehicles offer third-row heated seats, five-zone climate control and powered controls for the third row, but the Mercedes has two more USB-C charging ports (four total). I did notice the third-row sightlines aren’t as good as they are in the X7, and the GLS doesn’t offer an extra moonroof panel for the third row (though it does have a rather large panoramic moonroof). But in other metrics, it is the equal of the X7.
The second row can fold down to form a flat cargo floor with either a bench seat or captain’s chairs. The cargo area has panels on either side to lower the rows, and if you opt for the bench, there’s a single button that can lower all of the seats at once. It does take a bit of time, but once again, it’s easier than walking around to each seat and dropping them individually by hand.
I noticed some difference in materials quality between the two GLS trim levels. The GLS450 at the show had some drop off in cabin materials as you moved backward, with some obviously plastic (wood) pieces that made me crinkle my nose a bit. In the GLS580, the cabin materials were more consistent and impressive in a pinkie-out sort of way.
Up front, the dashboard is dominated by a pair of 12.3-inch screens, controllable via a touchpad between the front seats, touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel or by touching the screen itself (for the right screen). It’s a fairly minimalist interior, and with the gear selector moved up to one of the stalks, it frees up a lot of space to put the touchpad in the right place ergonomically and have some storage in front of it. We’ve seen plenty of cars that have weird shifters that don’t make the center area more usable; not so here.
If the GLS’ driving experience can hold up to the quality and usability of the interior, then Mercedes has itself a good foil to the BMW X7. The X7 was a shot across the bow of Mercedes and thankfully instead of turning tail and running away, Mercedes decided to fight back.
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