Is bigger better?
Mercedes-Benz has always thought so.
If you’re talking bigger performance, bigger presence, bigger luxury and, yes, bigger price tag, Mercedes has always risen to the challenge.
This applies in spades to the company’s full-size SUV line. These are big automobiles and the 2020 GLS 450 is right near the top of the heap.
One of two models in the GLS stable, the 450 is large. It weighs in at 2,480 kg (5,467 pounds), and measures 5.2 metres (17 feet) in length and has a 3.135-metre (10.25-f00t) wheelbase.
To put this in some kind of perspective, a Honda Civic is 4.648 metres in length and weighs 1,415 kg. They’re completely different vehicles, I realize, but the comparison shows just how big the GLS 450 is.
Power is provided by a twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine that displaces 3.0 litres and develops some 362 horsepower. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission and comes with Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Mercedes claims a zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time of 6.2 seconds. For a vehicle of this size, that isn’t too shabby. Towing capacity, crucial in this market, is put at 3,500 kg, so it will accommodate a mid-size trailer.
Mercedes hasn’t provided fuel economy numbers but you just know this is a thirsty puppy. It has a 90-litre fuel tank, so a fill-up is going to be at least in the $90 to $100 range. And it takes premium gas.
Mitigating this a little is a system that automatically shuts the vehicle off at stoplights and so on. It’s completely unobtrusive and goes about its business without fuss or drama.
Interior dimensions are generous. You can carry up to seven people and, with the back seat folded, there’s about 2,400 litres of cargo capacity.
Some other observations:
- The suspension setup has several adjustments that allow the driver to raise or lower the vehicle (not while it’s in motion), but it’s just too fussy. Although it’s a robustly-built SUV, the GLS 450 rides like a 40-year-old Cadillac. It seems to float along the roads and every bump is softly magnified. I fiddled around with the controls but just couldn’t get comfortable with it.
- Switchgear and ergonomics are better than they used to be. There’s a touch pad mounted on the centre console that gives you access to the sound system, navigation, climate control and so on. But, as usual, I found it finicky and impractical. I suppose one would get used to it eventually but for me, it was just annoying.
- The now-familiar toilet-handle shift lever has been updated and redesigned, which is good. I’ve finally come to terms with this unique setup and got along with it no problem.
- Mercedes continues to excel at putting together attractive and tasteful interiors. This is a nice place to spend time – with the heated/ventilated front seats, it’s just about as comfortable as these things get. I love the door-mounted seat controls.
- With a price tag that starts at just under $100,000, this is an expensive proposition. By the time you add extras and pay taxes and duties, you’re well into six figures. My tester also had the AMG Sport Package, which includes illuminated running boards (useless) and the aforementioned adjustable suspension. It costs an additional $2,400.
- I continue to be baffled by this market. What we have in the GLS 450 is an immensely upscale four-wheel-drive SUV that will never see any serious off-road duty. If you’ve just paid $100,000-plus for a vehicle, are you going to take it boulder-hopping or bushwhacking? Not likely. Nor will it handle worth a damn, despite having impressive performance capabilities.
That said, it has plenty of prestige and presence.
But is it worth the price?
Well, that’s between you and your bank account.
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder
Transmission: nine-speed automatic
Horsepower: 362 at 5,500 to 6,100 rpm
Torque: 369 foot pounds at 1,600 to 4,500 rpm
Base price: $95,500
Fuel economy: not supplied; premium gas
Some alternatives: Lincoln Navigator, Maserati Levante, Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade, Land Rover Range Rover, Infiniti QX80, Lexus GX, Porsche Cayenne, Jaguar F-Pace.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).