2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class blends luxury with family life

Top-shelf luxury items aren’t made for family life, they are made for the rich and famous.

In the upper echelon of luxury vehicles everything becomes motorized, buttons and interfaces are slick, and there are touch controls for the touch controls. But at some point the rich and famous have kids, and for that there is the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class three-row SUV is the German Escalade, though it’s made in Alabama. It competes head-to-head with the Cadillac Escalade, BMW X7, Lincoln Navigator, and Lexus LX. It stacks up well.

Mercedes-Benz redesigned the GLS-Class for 2020 with a posh interior, physics-defying handling, and crisp screens. But getting to the third row is a hassle, intelligent cruise control isn’t so intelligent, and some of the tech is annoying.

I spent a week road tripping with the wife and kids, towing boats, and running errands in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 to see how this three-row SUV handles family life in the Midwest.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

Hit: This is top-shelf stuff

Open the door and take one look at the interior and it’s clear you get what you pay for. The dashboard has two side-by-side 12.3-inch screens that are crisp and clear even in direct sunlight. The buttons deliver a satisfying click when engaged and the scroll wheels move with fluidity. This is how a $100,000-plus vehicle should look and feel inside.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

Miss: Now we touch

The latest Mercedes-Benz infotainment system, dubbed MBUX, consists of the two 12.3-inch screens housed on the dashboard behind a glass panel. The right screen is a touchscreen while the left side is a reconfigurable digital gauge cluster. The gauge cluster can only be controlled via a touch sensitive pad on the left side of the steering wheel. While driving it’s moderately frustrating to somewhat infuriating to use as it requires your eyes to leave the road and the action doesn’t always provide the expected reaction. The touchscreen can be controlled via a matching touch sensitive pad on the right side of the steering wheel, but I wouldn’t recommend it as it requires more attention, isn’t as easy-to-use, and sometimes outright doesn’t work as intended. Can I just have a little joystick like the Lincoln Aviator has, please?

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

Hit: Ready to hook up

The 2021 GLS 580 makes a surprisingly good tow rig. The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8’s 483 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque combined with the 9-speed automatic provide more than enough power and delivers it in a smooth manner, even with 5,000 pounds of walleye boat and trailer strapped to it. My tester’s $6,500 active suspension automatically leveled the rear end in a split second and unlike a full-size pickup a drop hitch wasn’t needed to level the trailer tongue. Even base GLS models will perform this dance thanks to standard air suspension. The electronics also recognize when it’s time to get to work. Plug a 7-pin trailer connector into the GLS’ plug and the GLS alerts you that the blind-spot monitors are disabled (a feature that full-size trucks now integrate with trailers attached) and the navigation system asks if you’d like to optimize the route for towing.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

Hit: Let’s take a road trip

There isn’t a bad seat in the GLS 580, though I’d recommend the first two heated rows with massage function thanks to the $3,750 executive rear seat package. The first two rows are supportive in all the right places while the third has a seat bottom that’s a little low. The front seats of every GLS offer a hot stone-like massage as standard and it’s lovely. It wasn’t the same as going to a masseuse, but my backside felt fresh and limber after a 240-mile drive to northern Minnesota with the kids asking if we were there yet.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

Miss: Please don’t motorize everything

I get it. Luxury is defined by simply pushing a button and having something happen. That’s not always practical with kids. The second-row captain’s seats are power operated. To move it forward you push a button either on the top of the second-row seats, a button in the third row, or in the rear cargo area and like a receding glacier, it slowly tilts and slides to provide access to the third row. What parent in the world has time for that? Please, just let me pull and slide the seat forward so we can pile the kids in and get to the next “I need to pit” stop.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

Hit: Defying physics is weird

My tester was equipped with Mercedes-Benz’s E-Active Body Control system, which uses a 48-volt integrated starter motor to control each wheel’s spring forces individually. In reality that means the GLS has the capability to defy physics thanks to myriad sensors that watch the road ahead and then adapt the suspension accordingly. A pothole? What pothole? My tester, which rode on 23-inch alloy wheels, scoffed at potholes. Take a 25 mph curve at 45, and the GLS barely exhibited any lean. What disconcerting black magic is this?

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

Miss: It’s smart, but not that smart

Mercedes-Benz has thought of nearly everything. Third-row occupants will find two USB-C ports just for their charging needs. The interior can light up like a Miami nightclub if you’re into that sort of thing. And there’s a 7-inch tablet in the rear that can control various vehicle functions (parents, beware). But the GLS and its whiz-bang tech isn’t that smart. The intelligent adaptive cruise control system is supposed to automatically change the set cruising speed based upon the current speed limit. Entering a small town with a lower speed limit? The system will automatically reduce the set speed. That’s great, unless you’re going the speed limit in a 70 mph zone on I-94 and suddenly the GLS thinks the speed limit dropped to 45 mph, which it didn’t. This happened multiple times and instantly induced motion sickness for two of my passengers. Once is a mitsake, twice is silly, three times and it’s time to turn it off.

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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 4Matic

Base price: $76,195
Price as tested: $131,800
EPA fuel economy: 16/21/18 mpg
The hits: Can defy physics, comfortable interior, top-shelf materials, looks great
The misses: Tech can be frustrating, third-row access can be a pain, gets expensive.

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