Mercedes-Benz's flagship SUV is getting sweeping upgrades that make it even more top-of-the-line.
The 2020 GLS is roomier and equipped with new engines. It will arrive at U.S. dealerships this year; pricing was not disclosed.
The GLS helped create the luxury family utility segment, and Mercedes doesn't want to give up its share of the profitable but increasingly crowded field, said Sam Fiorani, vice president with AutoForecast Solutions.
"With prices ranging up to $100,000, these models are excellent profit centers for their brands," Fiorani said.
The rich margins have made big utility vehicles highly competitive. In addition to the new BMW X7, the GLS goes up against the Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX80, Lexus LX, Lincoln Navigator and some Land Rover Range Rovers.
Large premium SUV sales in the U.S. topped 151,000 last year, up 2.4 percent from 2017.
The Vance, Ala.-made GLS is referred to the S class of SUVs. U.S. sales of the model fell 32 percent last year to 21,972.
The 2020 GLS will come in two variants based on engine size — a V-8 and an inline-six engine.
The GLS 580 4Matic is the first Mercedes-Benz to introduce a new 4.0-liter V-8 biturbo engine that delivers 483 hp. The GLS 450 4Matic is equipped with a 3.0-liter inline-six turbo engine, delivering 362 hp.
Both variants receive an additional 21 hp from the electric EQ Boost feature enabled by a starter-alternator.
The technology helps boost fuel efficiency. The 48-volt on-board electrical system serves power-hungry features, such as the water pump and air-conditioning compressor, and the integrated starter-generator, which supplies energy to the battery via power regeneration during coasting.
The new GLS uses an E-Active Body Control feature called "recovery mode" to free itself if it gets bogged down in mud or sand. It does so by quickly and automatically raising and lowering the suspension several times, which changes the ground pressure under the tires and assists traction by dislodging the sediment from under the wheel.
"It's a Hail Mary when you're stuck," said Paul Harmon, product manager for the GLS. "It gives you the ability to gain traction when you're off-road."
Free-driving mode is a new use of E-Active Body Control technology, which combines a hydropneumatic active suspension with Mercedes' Airmatic air suspension system.
E-Active Body Control allows spring and damping forces to be individually controlled at each wheel, counteracting body roll, pitch and squat, Mercedes said.
"It essentially functions like a motorbike and leans the car into turns," Harmon said, referring to the technology's capability to counteract body rolls.
The GLS features a 2.4-inch-longer wheelbase, creating a roomier interior, especially in the second row. The third-row seats can be lowered into the floor to increase trunk space, while the seats in the second row fold flat. A six-seater variant with two individual captain's chairs in the second row is available for the first time.
"This market is fast becoming the family hauler that was the minivan in the last generation and the station wagon in the generation before that," Fiorani said. "The premium end of this segment adds in the prestige that minivans were never able to offer."