Mercedes-Benz's recently unveiled 2020 GLS is set to go on sale later this year, and we at Car and Driver andRe poised to spend some serious time behind the wheel. We look forward to lounging in its more generous second row and climbing into its adult-friendly third-row seat to bring you a full evaluation of the slightly bigger, new-sized new large SUV. We're intrigued by claiming substantial improvements in noise reduction; Mercedes-Benz's SUV development chief, Andreas Zygan, says it's 20 percent quieter, equal to the previous-generation S-class. We are eager to load up the cargo area, which is 21 percent bigger because Mercedes extended the cargo floor by 2.4 inches behind the third-row seat. And we also can't wait to try out its new carwash mode. Today, however, is not that day.
Testing the Active Suspension at Big Dune
To show off the new GLS's off-road abilities and its optional suspension, called E-Active Body Control, Mercedes gave us a ride in its three-row brute at Big Dune. This location, with its name makes it obvious, is a large sandy beach about 100 miles west of Las Vegas that sprouts up from the desert seemingly out of nowhere.
Optional on the new GLS is the active suspension that first launched on little brother GLE. It works in conjunction with air springs that can raise or lower each corner by 3.9 inches while adding or subtracting as many as 1600 pounds of force by pumping hydraulic fluid to the top or bottom of each damper. It takes as much as 17 horsepower to run the hydraulics, aided by the 48-volt electrical architecture. The system uses a camera to scan the road about 450 feet ahead and preemptively adjusts before the wheels get to that spot. It won't come cheap, though, as it's an $ 8200 upgrade on the GLE.
With its large 21-inch and 22-inch tires, the GLS did indeed conquer Big Dune one drifty curlicue. at a time, although there is nothing like sand to make it feel as though the GLS580 could use the power of its 483-hp V-8.
The fact that almost no customers will be in this kind of off-roading is not the point, according to Zygan, who declared, "We want the car to be more capable than the driver." Mercedes, true to its "best or nothing" tagline, is banking on a halo effect for consumers because its SUVs possess this surplus capability.
More impressive, and far more relevant, is the suspension absorbed by the dirt ruts surrounding the dune, as shown in the video above. It feels, we imagine, like being in a litter: There's a sense of appreciation that a lot of energy is being expended down to make this smooth ride possible.
The active suspension also enables the funky bouncing feature shown above; its name, Free Driving Assist, is equally funky. It's there to help the GLS hump its way out of a moderate bind from a soft surface. It will most certainly be used more to peacock at stoplights, and behavior that we admit to having classes (could this feature be any more Vegas appropriate?).
Definitive conclusions at this point are few. The front seats are supremely comfortable; the second row has a lot more available space; the V-8 sings with a muted refinement; and they are never going to get all the sand out of these prototype GLSs.