Words by: Adam Allen
We're back! Welcome home, everyone.
While the last few months have been anything but normal and there is still a ways to go before we get fully back up to speed- still, it’s great to be back in the saddle again! The last car we tested before the pandemic lockdown was a BMW X7, and there is a satisfying circularity that the first car we review once press fleets cautiously came back online is a direct competitor, the Mercedes-Benz GLS 580. We will take this opportunity to thank not only all the amazing health care and front line workers (who have done an exemplary job at keeping us safe) but also the PR staff of the brands we work alongside for doing an utterly brilliant job navigating this pandemic.
Amen to that! But who knew Mercedes made a 5.8 litre V8?
Many manufacturers are muddying the waters of their once clear as day naming schemes- the BMW X7 ‘5.0i’ we flogged in March had a 4.4 litre V8 under the hood and our GLS test car has a 4.0 litre V8 providing motivational duties. Still, it could be worse- we’re looking at you, Audi, Cadillac, and Infiniti.
Thanks for clearing that up. At a smallish 4.0 litres of displacement, it must be miserly with fuel.
Ha! That’s a good one. While we managed to achieve 14.7L/100km- a figure that is not terrible but not impressive either- those who prioritize stingy consumption figures should look elsewhere. There is a desirable offshoot to such thirstiness, and that is the relentless thrust of Mercedes’ rather excellent 4.0 litre turbo V8 that powers everything from our big dog GLS to the C63 and everything in between- the uncommon denominator is boost. Tuned more modestly, our GLS 580 still musters a heady 483 horsepower and an authoritative 516 pounds feet of torque. This imbues the GLS with the kind of easy shove that perfectly matches the SUV’s character. It can still elicit giggles from occupants when you stomp the throttle, with the sprint to 100 km/h taking place comfortably under 5 seconds. Horsepower junkies will find solace in the GLS 63 model with its bonkers 603 horsepower output, and those seeking a more demure GLS experience will surely gravitate to the GLS 450 and its inline six. So there is something for everyone in the lineup, but the sweet spot to us is the very model you see here.
Power clearly is not an issue. What about the rest of the driving experience?
Mercedes knows a thing or two about dialing in a chassis, and that pedigree is on full display in the GLS 580. There is not a road or driving situation you will find that will unruffle the composed, assured nature of this beast. Out on the highway, its S-Class origins make short work of long distances, leaving you refreshed when you arrive at your destination. You might get there quicker than you thought because this SUV’s Autobahn breeding means that you are always moving at a brisker clip than you anticipated...usually much brisker. Part of that credit goes to Mercedes standard air suspension which does a remarkable job of softening even the most scabrous tarmac, yet it does not stumble about clumsily when you show it some corners. Our tester featured optional 22” wheels ($1000) which is a relatively paltry amount to upgrade to such massive rolling stock. Despite the huge wheels and tires, the GLS still rides wonderfully, but we couldn’t help but think what additional cush could be had if they were a few inches smaller. The now familiar 9G-TRONIC gearbox handles shifting duties, and even in the most aggressive drive mode the gears are swapped with unobtrusive smoothness. Speaking of drive modes, there is no Sport Plus or Race mode which is probably a good thing- sanity prevails above the shenanigans afforded by those who step up to the AMG model should they want to track this hulking luxobarge. Still, we wish Sport were a bit more aggressive and as juvenile as it might be to wish for a louder exhaust- we know from experience how this engine sounds brilliant when unfettered by silencers- we made do without the gnarly soundtrack.
This is the dawn of the GLS’s 3rd generation- tell me what Mercedes did to earn my spending dollars.
It’s not like the GLS was starving for sales and it has been the gold standard of the segment pretty much since it came out. Sitting still is a major faux pas in the car biz, and in this stratosphere you had better bring your A-game lest you become forgotten about or passed over for the latest and greatest. So after sculpting the front and rear ends in keeping with the company’s design language yielding sheet metal that is strikingly elegant, they looked inside to provide the stuff that will surely tantalize buyers. This is the best version we have sampled to date in the form of Benz’s MBUX virtual assistant is on board, accurately interpreting speech commands and responding quickly. Speaking of assistance, there’s a host of tech available on this front that incrementally moves us towards an autonomous driving future. We normally don’t get enamored with that Big Brother stuff, but we did quite enjoy the twin 11.6” screens that make up the cockpit in the GLS 580. There are few manufacturers out there that can match Mercedes know-how for brilliant colors, interfaces, and resolution. Not only that, but there is zero lag from the controls when you execute a command. The mouse-style control for the infotainment gets easier to use with practice but we found ourselves just using the touch functionality, fingerprints be damned.
What might go wrong?
Our first complaint arrived as kind of a surprise- on a sweltering summer afternoon, we cranked the air-con to its maximum and then…not much. Granted, after a while it does blow the desired frigid air but man, it took its time doing that. Our dignity took a dramatic hit as our fellow motorists looked over somewhat puzzled at the profusely sweating occupants of our very nice SUV. At low speeds, we found that sometimes the transmission, the mild hybrid EQ Boost system, and the engine stop/start system acting in concert with one another made for a few stumbles. And like we said before, some people may wish for a little more AMG in their soundtrack when they thumb the drive mode to Sport.
Should I buy a Mercedes Benz GLS 580?
If your needs specify a vehicle that can accommodate your entire brood in decadent comfort then yes, you should be taking a close look at this Big Benz. You have other choices- the athletic BMW X7, the new for 2021 Cadillac Escalade and perennial players like the Range Rover and Infiniti QX56 to name a few- but none of them quite offer the same joyful experience of piloting a massive chunk of kinetic energy of the finest glass, steel, and rubber down a highway with such effortlessness.
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 4MATIC – Specifications
- Price as tested: $133,500
- Body Type: 5-door, 7 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 4.0-litre twin turbo V8, DOHC, 32 valves
- Horsepower: 483 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 516 @ 2,000 rpm
- Transmission: 9-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 2,610 kg (5,754 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 14.7/100km (16 mpg)