You may be struggling to keep up with Mercedes' model naming overhaul. One of the latest models to receive such treatment is its GLS (formerly the GL) which will come to the UK in March next year in two versions; a £100,000-plus V8 petrol performance GLS63 and this vastly more popular V6 diesel 350d.
The name change is part of a wider facelift for 2015. Mercedes' latest grille design has been applied to the GLS's front, as has a more distinctive bonnet. Inside there's a new instrument panel, redesigned steering wheel and a reworked centre console with new touchpad functionality.
The GLS's V6 diesel engine's economy remains unchanged, but it’s cleaner than before thanks in part to a new nine-speed automatic gearbox. Despite a punchy 255bhp and 457lb ft of pulling power, and having to haul around nearly 2.5 tonnes, official fuel economy stands at 37.2mpg and CO2 emissions at 199g/km - down from 209g/km.
Inside, there's still seating for seven people as standard, and the GLS's new entry-level AMG Line trim means a higher starting price of £69,100. That puts it in direct contention with rival large SUVs such as Land Rover's Range Rover Sport. It will still need to overcome other, cheaper seven-seat rivals too, though, such as Audi's Q7.
What is the 2016 Mercedes GLS 350 d like to drive?
Mercedes was keen to stress it had designed the GLS to be the S-Class of the large SUV world, and there’s no doubt it leans towards comfort rather than agility.
This diesel never feels hugely fast, but there’s more than enough torque on hand to get its vast bulk and seven occupants moving from standstill swiftly. Decent mid-range urgency means accelerating through the gears is also stress-free. The new nine-speed gearbox flicks between gears without fuss and tends to use the pull available in the higher gears rather than change down at every opportunity.
Refinement isn’t quite S-Class good, but the V6 is largely smooth and quiet when revved - aside from a little vibration through the steering column - and road noise at speed is well contained, even with our car’s winter tyres. There’s next to no wind noise.
All GLSs come with four-wheel drive and adaptive air suspension as standard, with five driving modes that alter the gearbox, throttle response, steering weight, traction control and damper stiffness. There's ‘Comfort’, ‘Slippery’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Off-road’ modes, or the ability to mix and match your preferences using ‘Individual’.
Our car was also fitted with £2795 Active Curve System, which features anti-roll bars that also adapt with these modes. Ultimately the GLS is best left in Comfort; it does a good enough job of hiding its bulk in corners, and its steering is reasonably well set-up, but the class-leading Range Rover Sport has nothing to worry about in terms of agility.
Sport mode makes your inputs more urgent, but hinders one of the GLSs best assets; its ride. In Comfort mode there’s the odd shimmy over very bad bumps, but it sponges away most large obstacles with ease and is remarkably settled on the motorway.
Switching to Sport merely the stiffness the dampers and causes more jostling over cracks and potholes. However, our car wore 20in wheels (21in alloys are standard in the UK) so we’ll wait to see how the GLS fares on our roads.
Spending an extra £1985 on the Off-road Package brings more underbody protection, a locking centre differential, low-range gearbox and three additional heights for the suspension that increase ground clearance and wading depth. A sixth ‘Off-road+’ driving mode also becomes available in order to take advantage of the extra capability.
As with most large SUVs, the GLS will be more frequently seen traversing shopping centre car parks than rocky rural landscapes, but it coped easily with our Austrian mountain route’s deep snow and cambered icy surfaces in its Slippery setting.
What is the 2015 Mercedes GLS 350d like inside?
There’s still masses of space for the front two occupants, and the driver benefits from an electrically adjustable seat and steering wheel to ensure a huge range of possible positions. Visibility is good all-around, helped by a standard 360-degree camera.
The second row is split 60/40, but has enough room for three adults to sit side-by-side. The two outer seats offer enough leg room for adults to sit behind another two without their knees brushing the front setbacks, and head room is superb even with the GLS's standard panoramic roof.
Although the middle row seats can’t be slid back and forth, their seat backs can be manually tilted, while another button folds the back down and then tumbles the whole seat forward. That leaves very good access to the third row, which has enough head and leg room for another two adults.
With all seven seats in place, there’s space for a couple of small suitcases, but with the sixth and seventh seats electronically folded flat into the boot floor (again standard) there’s 680 litres to play with. That’s easily enough for two large pushchairs or three large suitcases and more, although the rearmost armrests intrude on the space a little.
The GLS now gains Mercedes’ latest infotainment and interior materials, which is mostly a good thing. The new 8.0in screen and digital instrument cluster readout is much sharper than before and more easily navigated using a solid, metallic rotary dial and new multifunction steering wheel. Most of the dash and door materials look and feel high-quality, too, such as the stitched-leather dash and wood trims, but some of the switchgear plastics and the odd sharp edge let the side down.
Other than the standard equipment mentioned, all GLSs get sat-nav, Bluetooth DAB radio, three-zone climate control, leather seats with heating in the front two rows and a memory function on the front pair, keyless entry and start and an upgraded Harmon Kardon sound system. City braking, blind spot and lane assistance system also feature.
The second tier of the two trims available on the 350d is Designo, which adds higher-quality leather, heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel and four-zone climate control.
Should I buy one?
The GLS is a more expensive prospect than before, but a better one. It rides comfortably (at least on European roads), provides decent refinement and comes stacked with standard equipment. There’s also genuinely plentiful room for seven.
Is it as good as our favourite and similarly priced Range Rover Sport SDV6 HSE overall? Probably not. The Range Rover isn’t quite as spacious, or well equipped, but it is quicker, officially cleaner and more frugal, and manages to blend a comfortable ride and handling that defies its size much better. It’s also similarly refined and plush inside.
The trouble is, it’s difficult to make a strong case for buying the GLS when an Audi Q7 is also a better buy. The Audi matches the GLS’s cushioning ride and has an even silkier engine and solidly built cabin, while also providing good space for seven as standard. Furthermore, it’s a considerable amount cleaner and more frugal, while costing around £19,000 less to buy in SE form. That leaves room for some serious option box ticking.
What Car? says...
Range Rover Sport
Mercedes GLS 350 d