The redesigned GLS450 is one of nine G-Class SUVs that wear the three-pointed star—or one of 17, if we count all the AMG performance models. It’s the biggest one, too, at 17 feet overall, which is nine inches longer than a Volvo XC90 but 18 inches shorter than a Suburban. The base model, which we have here, comes with a 3.0-liter turbocharged and electrically boosted engine pushing 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque through a 9-speed automatic transmission out to a full-time all-wheel-drive system.
M-B calls this a “mild hybrid” powerplant, with EQ Boost. The usual alternator and starter motor have been replaced by an ISG, an integrated starter-generator: an electric motor (inside the transmission, no less) that is connected to the crankshaft. It turns the engine over, to start it, and then feeds electric power to it. While braking or coasting, the ISG works in reverse—now the gas engine spins it, to generate electricity, which is stored in a 48-volt battery. Switching back and forth from POWER to CHARGE is seamless; the driver knows only that the engine starts very quietly and then pulls hard off the line.
In ECO or Comfort mode, the GLS450 launches in second gear, relying on the extra electric torque. Sport mode, on the other hand, starts off in first gear, and the difference in acceleration can be startling. Then, as the engine revs mount, the turbocharger kicks in, adding more power yet. EQ Boost smooths out and quiets the normal internal-combustion-engine behavior, but it doesn’t improve fuel efficiency very much; we barely averaged 20 MPG. (Help is on the way. The EQS-SUV, Mercedes-Benz’s first all-electric SUV, debuted on April 19.)
Here's another thing you might like to know about the GLS450: My wife—the blind lady who provides tactile feedback on my cars—hoisted herself up into it (after scrabbling around for a handhold and not finding one because it’s directly above the door instead of on the A-pillar) and then, mildly annoyed at the effort, snapped, “What is this, a pickup truck?” She hates pickup trucks. She associates them with her ex-husband. “Nope, it’s a big Mercedes sport-ute,” I said. “Well, it feels like a truck.” I took this as not a slam on the Mercedes so much as a compliment to modern pickups.
In Germanic fashion, the GLS stares down potholes, ruts and frost heaves and then simply flattens them. In fact, if our vehicle were equipped with E-Active Body Control, it would literally stare them down—with a camera that scans the road about 150 yards ahead and reports what’s coming to a computer, which then adjusts the air suspension and the dampers at each wheel in preparation.
Press cars are normally optioned to the roof rails because makers want to show off their toys. But E-Active Body Control apparently isn’t available at the moment. From the M-B website: “Due to a worldwide shortage, semiconductor chips that are typically present in our vehicles are limited in supply. This has changed the availability of certain features.” We don’t have the Executive Rear Seat Plus Package, either, which furnishes row two with massaging seats and fancier headrests, a wireless phone charger and a tablet to control the infotainment system. Instead, we have to make do with heated, independently adjustable bucket seats in row two.
Our GLS does come with the Driver Assistance Package Plus (safety systems galore), the Night Package (exterior trim), the Acoustic Comfort Package (extra sound-deadening) and the AMG Line Package of styling tweaks, plus $3,900 worth of other largely cosmetic upgrades. Bottom line: $97,155. That’s 20 grand on top of the GLS450 base price.
E-Active Body Control would add another 10 thousand all by itself, so the final price of even the “basic” GLS can go well beyond $100K. There is a V-8 powered GLS580 in the lineup as well, with about 490 horsepower and a six-figure starting price, but it’s absent from the retail website. An entire vehicle going begging for microchips?
After a couple of Jagermeisters, Mercedes-Benz engineers like to say that they make their cars more capable than their drivers. This is surely true of the GLS, as few luxury SUVs are ever asked to do anything more demanding than deliver a posse of A-Listers to the Oscars ceremony. But isn’t it nice to know that yours could outrun kidnappers or traverse a glacier if necessary? With Vivaldi playing on the Burmester 13-speaker Surround Sound system and the warm seats gently massaging your posterior and back?