Green and gas-guzzler Mercedes SUVs debut

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
Mercedes debuted its giant three-row, gas-guzzling GLS SUV  on Wednesday in New York.

New York – In the age of $2.80 gas, giant fuel-guzzling SUVs are funding automakers' investments in money-losing electric vehicles. For example, Chevy funds its Bolt EV with profits from its three-row Suburban SUV.

Same goes for Mercedes-Benz.

The German automaker on Wednesday revealed an all-new three-row Mercedes GLS SUV. It's quite a contrast with the Mercedes EQC, a compact electric SUV that debuted at the CES technology show in January and gave Americans their first look at the brand’s new EQ electric line.

The two SUVs share little except standard all-wheel drive, a state-of-the-art MBUX infotainment system and a curb weight in excess of 5,300 pounds.

Though the three-row GLS is two vehicle sizes bigger than the EQC (which is based on the same chassis as Mercedes' gas-powered GLC compact SUV), the EV’s 80-kWh batteries are a boat anchor bringing its weight on par with its big brother.

The EQC is the first entry in a new brand of Mercedes SUVs, just as BMW has introduced an i-line of electric cars and Volvo has started a Polestar EV line. For New York, Mercedes is showing a special edition EQC 1886 – a reference to Karl Benz’s first three-wheel vehicle in 1886. The special edition is loaded with luxury details.

The Mercedes-Benz EQC Edition 1886 electric debuted Wednesday at the New York auto show.

Unlike competing SUV EVs like the Audi e-Tron or Tesla Model X, Mercedes has not made a new “skateboard” chassis for the EQC, but adapted an existing SUV chassis. As a result, the Mercedes is quick to 60 in under 5 seconds but lacks its competitors' lower center of gravity for nimbler handling.

The giant GLS, which originally debuted in 2006 and is made in Alabama for the American market, makes a nod toward electrification by introducing a 48-volt system for both its turbo V-6 and V-8 engines. The system helps with fuel efficiency, smooths the drivetrain and allows for a power boost of up to 21 horsepower when desired.

Even at an estimated 20 mpg fuel economy, however, the GLS will go much farther than the EQC on a tank of fuel thanks to its mammoth 26-gallon fuel tank. The GLS will drive 500 miles on a tank while the EQC will get an estimated 200 miles on a charge. Final EPA numbers will be disclosed as the GLS comes to market later this year and the EQC debuts in 2020.

The big GLS is based on a unibody chassis unlike truck-based three-row competitors like the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator. Its third row is no less roomy, though. The rear seats are also heated and are equipped with USB ports (the SUV has nine in all).

MBUX enables speech recognition command by simply introducing yourself to the system — “Hey, Mercedes” and then telling it what you want. The system first appeared on the entry-level A-class sedan and has migrated upward to its expensive SUVs.

Such amenities are common in the imposing SUV which will likely start in the mid-$60,000 range but top out north of $100,000 if you want to option the V-8 engine and other amenities.

Those amenities include optional second-row captains chairs over the standard bench seat. The second-row thrones get their own tablet for controlling cabin features.

The standard all-wheel drive system is mated to the 362-horse, 3.0-liter turbo V-6 or turbo-V8 putting out 483. The GLS is equipped with safety technology like automatic braking and blind-spot assist to help it avoid trouble – or avoid causing trouble.

The big German introduces a standard Carwash mode that preps the vehicle — with the push of a button — to enter a car wash. The program sets the car in the highest riding position for maximum cleaning of wheel wells. It folds the mirrors, closes the sunroof and any open windows, and  turns off features like automatic windshield wipers when water hits the car.

At the end of the wash, the GLS will automatically deactivate these settings and drive autonomously away at 12 mph.

The GLS bears Mercedes’ familiar, imposing grille highlighted by a giant, three-pointed star logo.

As an electric vehicle that doesn’t need air for a radiator, the EQC’s grille is put to a different use: styling.

The logo lights up – complementing a wide LED light that connects the two headlights and fames the deep, black grille. The grille shield looks more Honda than Mercedes and is the signature for Mercedes' new EQ line.

Times are a-changing.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.