When the 2024 Mercedes-Benz GLS debuted, enthusiasm in our Slack channel was flatter than a popped soufflé. Oh great, another giant luxury SUV with a grille that some realtor will eventually peel Jason’s Changli off of like a Looney Tunes joke. However, to brand the GLS as a chariot of ne’er-do-wells is a bit shortsighted. The updated Mercedes-Benz GLS is worth giving at least half a shit about because it attempts to address a long-standing issue while still remaining the sensible choice in a very un-sensible segment.
Looking around at the landscape of full-size luxury SUVs that can tow decent weight, it’s hard to find a Goldilocks zone. The new Cadillac Escalade is brilliant but cartoonishly enormous, with a forward blind spot that can completely obscure an MGB. The Lincoln Navigator would be the best full-size SUV in the world if the calendar read 2017, the BMW X7 has been facelifted from controversial to extremely ugly, the new Range Rover is absurdly expensive in V8 trim, and the new Lexus LX has the space efficiency of a fourth-gen Camaro. If you want a big new luxury SUV to tow with but have some semblance of taste, there isn’t much on the market aside from the GLS. However, the Mercedes-Benz GLS comes with its own baggage.
Back in the 2000s, Mercedes-Benz SUVs used a jumbled mix of names: G-Class, GL, ML, and GLK. That all changed when the naming convention was standardized for everything but the big dog G-Class. From 2016 onward, most Mercedes SUVs used the GL prefix, followed by the equivalent car class, and then some numbers. The GLK 350 became the GLC 300 because it was the crossover equivalent of a C-Class. The ML 550 became the GLE 550 because it was the SUV equivalent of an E-Class. Oh, and of course the GL 550 became the GLS 550 because Mercedes thought it was the SUV equivalent of an S-Class. There’s just one problem with that last one – it wasn’t.
To be fair, it wasn’t a problem at first. The 2017 GLS was a facelifted GL and there was no expectation for Mercedes to massively change a model mid-cycle. However, the third-generation GLS had a high bar to reach, and it decided to turn it into a limbo contest. The current GLS is built in the same factory on the same platform using the same dashboard, the same front seats, and the same powertrain as its smaller GLE sibling. If you never sit in the back, you won’t be able to tell a difference in terms of how premium it feels, which is disappointing considering how the S-Class has been a luxury benchmark for decades. It’s a shame because the current GLS is otherwise a perfectly good luxury SUV. The longer wheelbase helps mitigate the GLE’s jitteriness over bumps, the interior looks more interesting than what you get in a BMW X7, and the engine range is excellent. It just needs to be a bit more special to live up to the S in its name.
Thankfully, Mercedes-Benz seems to be turning the corner. Let’s start with looks. The updated GLS is a whole lot more imposing, with a four-horizontal-bar grille reminiscent of the first-generation GL Grand Edition. Not only is it as imposing as a cliff face, it helps distinguish the GLS from its smaller GLE sibling.
While the 2024 Mercedes-Benz GLS doesn’t get a whole new dashboard, it gets some revised MBUX infotainment skins and bunch of upcontenting. Standard is a new high-gloss wood, while the big Merc SUV gets two new upholstery choices – a new beige and a new brown. In addition, the lovely flowing lines metal-inlaid wood from the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 gets downloaded to the standard models, as does a satin metal finish to the interior air vents. That doesn’t sound like much, but that’s just the stuff you get on the base model.
Step up to the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 and you get loads more standard equipment. The formerly-optional panoramic sunroof, wireless smartphone integration, Burmester sound system, adjustable valved exhaust, 360-degree camera system, heated and cooled cup holders, and blind-spot monitoring system are now standard, which makes you wonder why on earth most of those things weren’t standard before.
As expected, the Mercedes-Maybach steps it game up considerably given that some of its special trim bits can now be had on a GLS 450. For the sake of flexing, this big boy gets delectably tasteless monogrammed bumper inserts, along with what Mercedes calls “an animated projection of the Mercedes-Maybach pattern” in the ambient lighting. AliExpress vendors, eat your hearts out. However, the updated upholstery is excellent as it finally features quilting like you’d find on a Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, offering a sense of unity across Mercedes-Maybach models.
The updated Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class seems to be taking steps in the right direction. With a distinctive facelift, added standard content, and more upmarket interior appointments, it’s slowly becoming the S-Class of SUVs that it always should’ve been. A promising destination, but now I want to talk about where the GLS came from. That’s right, it’s time for us to reconsider the original GL.
If you thought the BMW X7 was derided when it came out, you should’ve seen what people thought of the original GL. When it came out, it was considered massive, ostentatious, and just flat-out ridiculous. Now it’s the same size as a Mazda CX-90. Funny how context changes with time. Like any aged luxury car, the GL has a few problems to avoid. Models from 2007 are dicey due to early issues with the M273 V8 engine, and the V6 diesel is best fired into a volcano. Seriously, do not buy a diesel GL. However, once you steer clear of those red flags, you get one of the best reasonably-priced tow rigs on the market today. Let me explain.
In the topsy-turvy used car market of 2023, well-equipped 13-year-old Chevrolet Tahoes are worth stupid money. I’m talking five figures for SUVs with fragile interiors, high mileage, and a reputation for chewing their own valvetrains to bits. However, you can pick up a Mercedes-Benz GL with similar mileage for a lot less money, and less mileage for similar money, mostly because of the “German cars scary” trope. It sounds like a bundle of problems waiting to happen but what you actually get is an astonishingly comfortable three-row SUV with a reliable V8 and a rated towing capacity of 7,500 pounds. Sounds brilliant, right?
Not only does the air suspension do a great job of leveling loads, it also means that the GL wafts down the highway in absolute serenity while the seven-speed automatic gearbox deftly shuffles gears. Ride quality is an order of magnitude better than you’d get in an Escalade, and the bags themselves aren’t horrible to replace. No matter which V8 you choose, expect a zero-to-60 time under seven seconds and fuel economy that matches what you’d get from a full-size American SUV.
As this is a Mercedes, expect a large quantity of toys for your enjoyment. I’m talking about features like a Harman/Kardon sound system, a heated windshield washer system, xenon headlamps, a heated steering wheel, pop-out vent windows for the third row, ultrasonic parking sensors, and an available backup camera. Stuff that really makes a quality-of-life impact. Although the first-generation GL wasn’t borne from Mercedes’ best era, cabin plastics feel that cut above more mainstream competition, with plenty of tightly-textured hardwearing vinyl on the center console and door cards. Fair warning to those in hot climates, certain plastics like the bezel around the light switch can get sticky over time, but the shedding soft-touch finish is easy to remove.
Downsides? Well, premium gasoline isn’t cheap, parts are generally more expensive than for a full-size American SUV, and Japanese full-size SUVs don’t nickel-and-dime like American and European ones, but that’s about it. Stay away from first-year models and the diesel, and you’ll have an incredibly comfortable tow rig that feels like the Ritz-Carlton next to the austere plastics of American full-sizers. While the new Mercedes-Benz GLS is on the right path, the original GL has a new life entirely. One that caters to car-hauling enthusiasts bored by Tahoes and Expeditions and seeking alternative tow rigs.
(Photo credits: Mercedes-Benz)
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Your bosses were right.
Well I read the review and yup… I don’t care about Mercedes GLS.
But I’m also sure that won’t stop many people from buying them.
Ooh, what a nice reflection in the dash screen on those press photos. In case you were wondering, yes, I’m going to beat this dead horse until the automakers stop slapping giant glare-magnets to their dashboards.
I don’t recall what I thought of the GL back in its day, but compared to modern Mercedes design it’s looking awful good these days.
With new cars averaging at $45k, and a used truck/SUV market that makes my stomach churn, I am all about this somewhat silly content. Friends of mine just bought a pair of 1999 Mercedes M (M350, M500) and it has me in the mood for imagining a life wrapped in German excellence.
Thanks for this write up! Borrowed a friends GL 550 this past weekend for hauling a group to a concert. We fell in love with the beast, and now I’m looking for a decent 450 as my next car. Was considering Tahoe’s but couldn’t swallow 35k for a high mileage gas guzzler. This article really helped set me on what I need to do!
We have a GL550. It’s fantastic! Powerful, solid, and a stable tow rig (I use it for car transport). It’s stated purpose in our family is a road / ski trip family hauler. Love it when we get multiple uses out of something.
Just stay on top of the maintenance and you’ll do fine. As always, with European cars, you buy the previous owner. Pay more for a nicer example.
To join some of the other comments. I find articles like this far more interesting than a review of the latest Bugatti. Sure, the Bugatti is some engineering marvel, but I’m never going to own one. Maybe I’ll see one once in my life. It was more fun to read about those when I was 14.
Now I’d rather read about cars I could consider buying. Where new or a 2007 Mercedes SUV or a forgotten cool car from the 60’s. More on why that Mercedes diesel is a POS. I’d read that too.
Thanks. I’m interested. Since it’s a good hauler. Tbh it’s on my list and i’m planning to install one of those racks of metal drawers in the back to lock my cameras and equipment in there. But slowly I’m looking for a motor home which probably would fit better.
[sickos.jpg] Yes…YES. This is the PERVERTED STUFF I’m here for. Well, besides calling the Maybach exterior tasteful.
I can read any boring rehash of the GLS announcement anywhere, but I wanna hear y’all’s take on it. (Especially as fellow pervs who look at stuff like this and wonder how many decrepit $500 turds it could haul in comfort.)
Don’t forget that the original GL haterade was born from this being Merc’s answer to “bring us the G-wagen you cowards.” It wasn’t a tough body-on-frame boi, it was…this. And, meh, it’s fine. I don’t dream about the GLs like I do importing a weird Puch G for desert scumbag adventures, nor does that excuse the “maybe North America is okay with this instead?” logic, but it’s fine. It’s a nice SUV with some tow capacity. I’d pull parsh with it if one appeared in my driveway, and I’d probably be pretty comfy.
I’m a big MBZ fan but can say with confidence that Maybachs are the ugliest vehicles ever styled.
I like how you imply they were styled. Rather than somebody looking at a Mercedes Benz, loading up a blunderbuss with shiny trinkets, then firing in the car’s general direction.
I picked that word carefully, to contrast Maybachs with other ugly cars that didn’t get styled at all, like e.g Yugo 45 or whatnot.
They’re so, so very overwrought and ugly. They’re like argyle socks and checkered pants with pinstripe tails and a paisley shirt.
They are highly customizable so I tend to pin a lot of the blame for the uglification on the customer other than MB. However, MB does allow it so there’s plenty of blame to go around.
God that thing is horrendous. It is clear Chinese tastes are the only ones being catered to. Gaudy, bloated and plasticky.
List of Mercedes vehicles I am interested in and would buy (cannot afford):
The list concludes.
I would add W201 to that.
I can get all of the articles I need about luxury suvs at the “legacy” publications. What I can’t get there is thoughtful articles about car (transportation) culture for “everyone.”
It’s why I stop by here daily… and rarely bother with those “other” sites anymore.
I suspect there’s a reason that the “legacy” publications feature so many articles from their archives these days. Super expensive new cars… get boring.
Former legacy publication social media person chiming in: Those old fun pieces we liked were THE way to fill time in the off-hours. Ideally, we’d have loved to have a 24/7 crew of sickos posting blogs about building amphibious Cayennes or whatever, but no one really has the budget to support that. (Budgets in automotive journalism tend to be sad!)
What we did have was a back catalog of cool stuff that folks either hadn’t seen or might’ve forgotten about, though, and since we weren’t usually posting at 2 a.m. U.S.-time anyway, welp, problem solved. It’s a way to “keep the lights on” when no one’s home. People still clicked, shared it around, and enjoyed it. The numbers showed that “hey, I’m into this” clicks outnumbered the guy yelling “OLLLLLLD” on our Facebook page.
I don’t even mind seeing the occasional older piece getting re-upped on the homepage, but definitely mark it as being from the archives, and make sure you’re still doing stuff that’s just as cool so it doesn’t feel sad.
Thanks for the response. I wasn’t faulting the “legacy” publications for rerunning old content. Quite the opposite… I often find such content more interesting than the latest news on the shiny new thing that… costs close to (or over) six figures. Or requires a subscription to use features already there. Or finds new ways to monetize my personal data. That sort of stuff takes a lot of the joy out of “car culture” for me.
New cars and new technologies are certainly interesting. But when almost 20% of new cars come with a $1000/month payment and 70 month loans are the norm? I find myself appreciating the “Shitbox Showdown.” My last new car (in 2016) came with a 48 month loan and a $400/month payment. My other cars? An older EV and a 37-year-old Porsche that I restored myself. All together (including all the parts)… I’ve spent _far_ less than that cool Ford DT is… evidently getting bored in. And I’m not bored.
I should have given Thomas a bit of a break. I found the part in his article about the older models interesting. The new one? Not so much.
No worries! Just felt like chiming in as to why “recirculation” of older stuff is so common out there.
I feel you on the relevance, though. Everything is out of my budget right now, so even the showdown’d shitboxes are out of reach. I’m sure there’s at least one Puffalump in the pile behind me who’d yell, “You have shitboxes at home!”…if Puffalumps could talk.
If I ever get a job again, hoo boy…depreciated Cayennes (in Mahogany Metallic, with a tow package), watch out.
Bosses were right. I tried to read it, I read almost everything posted here, but I just got bored and stopped caring. I am sure the article is every bit as well written as your stuff normally is, but I just can’t bring myself to devote the time to finding out.
Reading the comments now I see my comment was entirely unnecessary and already reflected in others. My bad haha.
Yes, was about to go down the same road as you, no interest, as most everybody else has said here. I read the headline and skipped down to the comments.
I followed that exact trajectory but came back to attention when the original GL and its crappy diesel engine was mentioned. Would like to hear more about that.
If you want a big new luxury SUV to tow with but have some semblance of taste, there isn’t much on the market aside from the GLS.
The Q7 would like a word
Sorry, Tom, I didn’t read this article. . .I kinda think your boss nailed it here.
OK, I felt bad so I read the article. . .good points on the used GL.
Rule #1: The boss is always right. Rule #2: See Rule #1.
I don’t care. Please don’t turn this publication into a corporate mess full of boring new cars and non-car enthusiasts as writers like Motor Trend did.
Absolutely nailed it, don’t care. You can save ink on stuporcars as well, only care about stupendous ultra mega cars.
Websites dont use ink
Ok, E-ink, world wide shortage of electrons causing an E-ink crisis, aside from the pollution caused by E-ink. Seems that electrons are showing up in wildlife, so the spread is wide
I would honestly rather read about the boring new Mercedes SUV than the new $3m hypercar of which they’re making 6, which are all sold already.
Absolutely don’t care