With a lot of current focus on SUVs with sporty styling and sloping coupe rooflines, it’s easy to forget what SUVs used to be all about. The 2019 Mercedes GLS is what full-size SUVs used to look like before they tried to become all things to all buyers, with crossovers built on unibody platforms delivered a carlike driving experience with extra space in the back. And then their popularity exploded.

Although the GLS, which used to be the GL before Mercedes started its current naming scheme, is a unibody crossover and not a truck-based ladder-frame construction, it still checks all the original large SUV boxes. It seats up to seven people in three rows, there’s plenty of room left over for cargo, and its engines have no problem handling a full load with ease. It’s not one of the most common Mercs you’ll see around these days, so here’s a look at what you might have been missing out on.

Exterior Styling

Compared to most other SUVs in the luxury German automaker’s current lineup, the GLS is something of a big, boxy interloper. It’s not curvy, and it doesn’t have a sloping, coupe-like roofline, but it’s actually very appealing in a throwback kind of way. Having said that, it’s not a throwback because it looks old. The GLS has had a number of facelifts over the years, and the wide grille, large Mercedes-Benz logo, LED lighting, and thick horizontal bars added at the front in 2017 have helped maintain a grown-up, contemporary, and decidedly upscale appearance.

In its GLS 450 entry level form, it looks good. In the GLS 550 form, it looks even better with its 21-inch alloys and flared wheel wells. But the GLS 63 AMG has its own distinctive styling that really does set it apart. The length of this model means it doesn’t look as tall as many of today’s SUVs. So in its more basic forms, it can look a lot like a big wagon. However, when it’s dressed up a little, especially in darker colors, there’s a formidable presence about the GLS you only get with a truly luxury model.

Powertrains

Each of the three versions of the 2019 Mercedes GLS gets its own engine, and this means three very distinct levels of performance. However, there really is no such thing as a GLS that lacks power, as the smallest of the three available powerplants found in the GLS 450 is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo that develops 362 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque. Like all three models, the GLS 450 is exclusively all-wheel drive, and it shares an excellent nine-speed automatic transmission with the GLS 550.

Under the hood of the 550 is a 4.7-liter twin-turbo V-8. Yes, that’s right, a twin-turbo V-8. This means your GLS will have 449 hp and 516 lb.-ft. of torque on tap, which is going to be more than enough for all but the most demanding buyers.

If you are one of those more demanding types, and you want the absolute most the GLS has to offer, the AMG GLS 63 comes with a handcrafted AMG 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 which then puts 577 hp and 561 lb.-ft. of torque at the SUV’s disposal. This model also ditches the nine-speed auto for an AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto instead, but both transmissions come with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Drive Modes

Like any self-respecting modern-day SUV, the GLS takes the guesswork out of four-wheel drive with a number of different drive modes for specific conditions. Theses modes program the suspension and drivetrain to match the needs of the situation, so Off-Road+ raises the air suspension for extra ground clearance, while Sport mode tightens up the shifts and changes the weight of the steering. Other modes such as Slippery and Comfort alter the traction control and suspension settings to deal with those things like snow, ice, loose gravel, or uneven roads.

Interior

To get a car with more interior space than the GLS, you’re going to have to buy one of the real behemoths of the current SUV market. That’s because Mercedes has delivered an incredibly spacious, flexible, and versatile interior that’s incredibly family friendly. That’s just the start of why this interior is so good though, although having plenty of room for passengers and cargo isn’t a bad start at all.

The style, fit, and finish of the interior is exemplary, and as you’d probably expect for an SUV with a starting price of $70,150. The quality of materials used throughout the cabin is absolutely top class. Just about every comfort and convenience feature you can think of is included or available, but you need to be prepared for the price to increase quickly if you start to get carried away with the options list.

Features and Equipment

A GLS 450 comes standard with a full set of power features, a synthetic leather interior, the COMAND infotainment system with an 8.4-inch display, a powered driver’s seat, automatic climate control, remote start, and cruise control. The 450 can be upgraded with goodies like surround-view cameras, cooled front seats, power second-row seats, a panoramic sunroof, or a premium Bang & Olufsen audio system. But like any vehicle, it makes more sense to go for a higher trim level to get extra features, rather than loading a lower-spec model up, as a higher trim will have a stronger residual value when it comes time to sell.

Fuel Economy

This is a big, powerful SUV, and even though it’s a unibody and not an old-school truck-based SUV, it’s still fond of visiting the gas station. EPA ratings of 16 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 18 mpg combined are as good as it’s going to get with the GLS 45. The 550 is rated at 14/19/16 mpg, and the AMG will only get you 13/18/15 mpg. If you’re buying a model like this though, are those numbers really going to be of too much concern?

The Good

  • Extremely spacious
  • Flexible, versatile interior
  • Very luxurious
  • Plenty of power

The Not-So-Good

  • COMAND infotainment system a little dated
  • Only gas engines, so no diesel or hybrid option
  • Fuel economy average at best

The Last Word

Despite its undeniable size and weight, the 2019 Mercedes GLS handles surprisingly well and feels like something much smaller when you’re behind the wheel. It’s not a serious off-roader in the same vein as rivals like the Range Rover, but the GLS can be a match for the Brit in just about every other way. The one gripe is an infotainment system that can be more than a little confusing to use until you become familiar with it. Apart from that, this really is a sensational full-size luxury crossover SUV.

Shutterstock.com