Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class VS Infiniti QX80
- Modest steering feel
- So-so warranty
- Pricey servicing
- Improved looks
- High level of comfort
- Off-road ability
- No Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- Understeer, bodyroll
If you’re in the market for a full-size, seven-seat, luxury SUV you’re obviously living life large. Big family, lots of friends, dogs and cats, and heaps of activity - horses, boats, camping?
You’re aiming at a six-figure bullseye between $130,000 and around $150,000. On a three-year novated lease, somewhere around three grand a month.
Mercedes-Benz Australia invited us to experience the car on a launch drive across city, suburban and rural roads.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
The world of upper large luxury SUVs, like Infiniti’s latest-generation QX80, occupies that rarefied air, way up high in the car market, that I’ll never breathe – and that’s okay with me.
You see, as much as I admire these plush vehicles, even if I did have the cash and the inclination to buy one, I’d be so worried about incidental damage to the exterior (shopping trolleys or other drivers’ touch-parking) or children-induced damage to the interior (car sickness, spilled food or drink, blood from sibling punch-ups in the second row) that I’d never be able to fully relax while driving the thing. (Newsflash: I’ve heard from Infiniti that the QX80’s upholstery has a soil-resistant coating.)
These pricey wagons certainly do have their fans though and now, with extensive exterior changes and some interior ones, does the QX80, based on the Y62 Nissan Patrol, actually offer anything to set it apart from other large premium SUVs? Read on.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The petrol-only QX80, really a Y62 Patrol with shedloads of bling, is a curious beast; a big, bold status-boosting premium SUV, which is much better suited to the US and Middle East markets than ours. However, it has a real premium feel, is very smooth to drive and the exterior and interior changes have improved what has so far been a divisive model for a brand with a small but growing fanbase here. Infiniti sold 83 of the previous QX80 in 2017 and is hoping to move 100 of these new ones in 2018; they have their work cut out for them, but if brand confidence is worth a few sales, who knows, they might even top the ton.
Is the QX80 worth its hefty price-tag, or is it simply too much cash for something that doesn’t even have mainstream connectivity functions?
As mentioned, the GLS is big; a step up from the already substantial model it replaces. Built with the US market in mind, in fact it’s produced in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it’s more than five metres long, close to two metres wide, and over 1.8m tall. And there’s more than three metres between the axles, a 60mm wheelbase increase over the previous model.
And despite the size of the canvas, the Benz design team has managed to make the GLS look like a modern Merc. Signature elements include obvious ones like the slatted grille with a couple of three-pointed stars on the nose.
But there’s also, the carefully chiselled twin ‘power dome’ bonnet, scowling LED headlights and vents to aid front brake cooling and smooth aero performance around the front of the car.
The big beast’s off-road intent is highlighted by extensions around the wheelarches, with big optional 22-inch rims sitting underneath. The fact they look right-sized for the car speaks volumes about its scale.
The racy AMG Line package is standard, and a recess and pronounced character line, tightening the lower waistline is a familiar Merc treatment, plus alloy roof rails toughen the look while dialling up practicality.
The rear is relatively simple, borderline generic, with tapered tail-lights offering the only strong whiff of design personality. But believe it or not, thanks to careful detail sculpting of the body, and smoothing underneath the car it boasts a drag figure of Cd 0.32. Outstanding aero performance for a large SUV.
The driver and front passenger are presented with a sweeping dashboard dominated by twin 12.3-inch digital screens, one primarily covering the instruments, and the central screen managing the MBUX media system, including audio, nav, phone integration, car set-up, and more, plus ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control.
The overall feel is simple, and restrained, yet massively confident, with a subtle colour palette, large squared-off elements defined by brushed metal finishes, and an obvious, intense attention to detail, from the haptic controls to the beautifully finished, multi-function steering wheel.
And the standard Burmester audio system includes a two-way in-car communication function that subtly amplifies the driver and front passenger’s voices for those in the third row, and vice versa. Sheer genius.
The bulk of the facelifted QX80’s design changes have been to the exterior and include, most noticeably, new LED headlights with a redesigned, sleeker but more aggressive front end than its predecessor’s softer, more rounded curves.
The new QX80’s bonnet is 20mm higher than before and has been extended 90mm; the side steps have been stretched 20mm wider, and the power tailgate has been re-designed to include sharper, thinner, rear LED taillights and the bumper is visually wider.
The whole body has a higher visual centre of gravity, with this latest raft of design shifts giving the SUV a taller, broader, wider and more angular overall appearance.
The interior includes a bigger, chunkier redesigned centre and rear console and those aforementioned premium touches, such as leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, updated upholstery-stitching, semi-aniline quilted leather patterning on door panels and seats, as well as its stainless-steel sill plates, all add to the premium feel.
The QX80 looks better than it did but, as the previous one was pretty hard on the eyes, the 2018 version may still polarise opinion.
Space is obviously a critical factor here, and no surprise there’s copious amounts of it inside the GLS.
Front seat passengers enjoy plenty of breathing room, without feeling remote from one another, and there’s lots of storage in the shape of a large lidded box/armrest between the seats, a decent glove box, two big cupholders and jumbo door pockets with room for large bottles.
There’s one data-enabled USB port in the front, two charge-ports in the second row, and four in the third row. Shouldn’t be any complaints about powering mobiles, tablets or games.
The second row feels every millimetre the SUV limo. Simply getting in and out is made easier because an auto lowering function drops the car 25mm when one of the doors is opened.
I was able to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer. And there’s an extra 10cm of electrically adjustable travel to play with if those in the third row agree.
The fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders. There are netted pockets on the front seatbacks, and again, the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles.
Three adults across the rear is a breeze, there’s climate control ventilation, and a huge glass sunroof is standard. Rather than asking ‘Are we there yet?’ the kids will be disappointed when you arrive!
Then there’s what the Cleary family refers to as ‘the way back seat.’ A pair of third row seats for the lucky kids that get to inhabit their own little world. Getting in and out is relatively civilised thanks to electric slide and tilt for the second row seats, and space is generous. I could sit comfortably, so the kids will be all smiles.
With all seats upright cargo capacity is enough for a seven-person day trip (355L VDA). Press the button to fold the 50/50 split-fold third row down and your options expand substantially (890L). And with 40/20/40 split-folding second row lowered, transportation of a full, three-ring circus is on the cards (2400L). Overall, more space than the arch enemy BMW X7.
Plus, the ability to lower the car 50mm thanks to the standard air suspension makes life even easier. And one button lowers the second and third rows at the same time.
The spare is a collapsible space-saver, and towing capacity for a braked trailer is 3500kg, with a tow ball weight of up to 140kg. The ESP system also features a trailer stabilisation function that counters oscillation with “braking intervention.”
The QX80 is a big unit – 5340mm long (with a 3075mm wheelbase), 2265mm wide and 1945mm high – and, when you’re seated inside it, it feels like Infiniti designers and engineers must have worked hard to maximise the space afforded them for driver and passengers without seeming to have sacrificed any style or comfort.
And that big open space inside the cabin is easy to get comfortable in. There are soft-touch surfaces everywhere – door panels, arm rests, centre-console edging – and the seats are unsurprisingly soft and supportive but tend towards slippery when there are quick changes in speed or direction, or when tackling steep downhills off-road. (It was fun to watch front-seat passengers slip-slide around inside during the 4WD loop)
If you’re up-front you’re well catered for; big glovebox; overhead sunglasses storage; the centre console now has a roomy smartphone storage area; the twin cupholders have been upsized to cop two 1.3-litre cups with handles (up from one 1.3-litre cup and a 950ml container); the USB port has been moved to the other side of the centre console so it’s easier to get to; the storage area under the front passenger arm-rest is now a 5.4-litre compartment, able to hold up to three upright 1.0-litre bottles or tablet devices.
There are nine cupholders and two bottle-holders in total in the QX80.
There’s a sunroof if you get the urge for natural light from above.
Second-row passengers now get 8.0-inch entertainment screens (up from 7.0-inch) and two additional USB ports.
The tip-up second row seats are easy enough to operate and the third row is power 60/40 split-fold-to-flat and reclining.
There is a 12V outlet in the cargo area.
Price and features
Aside from the comprehensive suite of safety tech, covered in the Safety section below, the GLS equipment list includes, 21-inch alloy rims, adaptive high beam assist, air suspension, alloy roof rails, AMG body kit, a huge panoramic sliding glass sunroof, privacy glass from the B-pillar back, auto tailgate, keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, LED headlights, and power closing doors.
The power closing doors are a big plus for parents not wanting to disturb kids nodding off in the car, with the soft-touch function drawing the door in for the last few millimetres to an almost silent close.
Inside there’s ambient lighting (64 colours), strategically placed open pore oak wood trim, 13-speaker/590-watt Burmester surround sound audio, electric folding second and third row seats, a head-up display, ‘Mercedes-Benz’ branded illuminated sills, leather seat upholstery (‘Artico’ faux leather on the dash and doors), multi-adjustable electric seats in the front and second row (memory in the front), electrically adjustable steering column, leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, and five-zone climate control.
The multi-media system is spectacular, incorporating the twin 12.3-inch digital screens, the central media unit managing nav, digital radio, mobile device connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus vehicle tracking. There are also remote vehicle status functions (door locking, valet parking, etc), global search (Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Yelp, and Trip Advisor), and a wireless device charging pad.
The basket of goodies can hold its head high in this part of the market, so the value equation stacks up well.
Pricing has not changed: there is one model and it still costs $110,900 before on-roads and that price does not include paint other than the standard Black Obsidian; metallic paint is $1500 extra. Changes over and above the previous model’s standard features list include 22-inch 18-spoke forged alloy wheels (up from 20-inch), Infiniti’s InTouch 8.0-inch colour touchscreen (up from 7.0-inch), new Espresso Burl coloured trim, new chrome finishes all-round, updated upholstery-stitching everywhere, quilted leather patterning on seats, new headlights, LED foglights and more. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Engine & trans
There are two engines on offer. The 3.0-litre (M256) in-line six-cylinder turbo-petrol GLS 450 4Matic, and the 2.9-litre (OM656) in-line six-cylinder turbo-diesel GLS 400 d 4Matic.
The all-alloy, twin-scroll single-turbo petrol engine delivers peak power of 270kW from 5500-6100rpm, and maximum torque of 500Nm across a broad plateau from 1600-4500rpm. It also features a 48-volt electrical system driving the ‘EQ Boost’ set-up, able to deliver an extra 16kW/250Nm for short periods. The integrated starter-generator also enables energy recuperation.
Although the all-alloy, twin-turbo diesel features variable valve lift it gives some ground on power, offering up 243kW between 3600-4000rpm, but torque is a solid whack, with 700Nm on tap from 1200-3000rpm. Worth noting, that to minimise emissions this engine features a “selective catalytic reduction converter” in the exhaust, which brings with it the use of an ‘AdBlue’ reducing agent. The separate AdBlue tank has a capacity of 31.6 litres.
The nine-speed auto transmission is the same in both versions, although the diesel has a slightly lower final drive ratio.
The previous generation’s 5.6-litre V8 petrol engine (298kW@5800rpm and 560Nm@4000rpm) remains, as does the seven-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift control. It also has Infiniti’s all-mode 4WD system, which offers Auto, 4WD High and 4WD Low settings and it has terrain appropriate modes (sand, snow, rocks) able to be dialled in.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle for the GLS 450 is 9.2L/100km, the more frugal GLS 400 d trimming that to 7.7L/100km. The petrol 450 emits 210g/km of CO2 in the process, the diesel 400d dropping that slightly to 202g/km.
Stop-start is standard, you’re looking at premium unleaded for the 450 GLS, and you’ll need 90 litres of dinosaur juice to full the tank on both models.
The QX80 is claimed to use 14.8L/100km. We reckon that fuel-consumption figure is very optimistic and if QX80 owners are partial to towing boats – as Infiniti reckons they are – or if they tackle some 4WDing, then that figure is going to climb much higher quite swiftly.
Merc claims the GLS 450 will sprint from 0-100km/h in 6.2sec, and the 400 d in 6.3sec. Not hanging around for a 2.5 tonne mothership. But the standout is the 400 d’s torque. All 700Nm of it available from just 1200rpm to 3000rpm; right in the mid-range sweet spot.
The nine-speed auto transmission is smooth yet responsive, with paddles on the wheel for manual shifts when you want to pick the ratio. The combination of effortless grunt and the nine-speeder keeping things on the boil is an impressive one.
Suspension is by double wishbones at the front and multi-links at the rear, and while you can feel the weight in cornering, the standard Airmatic air suspension (which does away with steel springs) is superb in terms of ride comfort and body control.
We took a deep breath and pushed enthusiastically through a series of sweeping corners and the fat (285/45 fr - 325/40 rr) Continental ‘PremiumContact 6’ rubber wrapped around our car’s (optional) 22-inch rims gripped hard.
The ‘4Matic’ all-wheel drive system also seamlessly shuffles torque between the front and rear axles (theoretically up to 100 per cent in each direction).
Merc has put extra focus on body rigidity, the tuning of engine and suspension mounts, and sound absorption, and it shows. The GLS 400 d is beautifully refined on the highway. A neat touch is the car automatically lowering 15mm at motorway speeds or when ‘Sport’ mode is selected.
Steering is electromechanically assisted, and Merc says the front suspension geometry has been revised to minimise vibration through the wheel. And yes, feedback is minimal, but unfortunately so is road feel with only a general connection between your hands on the wheel and the front tyres on the bitumen.
When you’re steering a large beast like this, often with something substantial hitched to the back, you want to know braking performance is up to the task, and the GLS’s big ventilated discs all around deliver reassuringly strong stopping power, with nice, progressive pedal feel to boot.
The seats are adjustable six ways to Sunday, but beyond that they’re comfortable and supportive, even over long stints behind the wheel.
We stayed on the bitumen, because, let’s face it, that’s where this car will spend 99.9 per cent of its time, with the exceptions of the boat ramp, a ski weekend or pony club.
For those special occasions the optional ‘Off-road engineering package’ adds a low-range transfer case, inter-axle locking, hill descent control, and under body armour for more serious work.
In the world of luxury SUVs big is king and this thing is definitely on the chunky side of big, but it doesn’t often feel too cumbersome for its own good, or too bulky to steer in and out of Melbourne’s bustling morning traffic with precision.
During this event, we did a fair chunk of driving – highway, country roads, gravel roads and a decent bit of 4WDing – and, surprise, surprise, it did pretty well, especially when things of this ilk usually exhibit the ride and handling of an old poorly-sprung couch on wheels.
It did, however, feel top-heavy at times and revealed substantial body-roll when pushed around corners at speed or even during some sections of slow, bouncy off-roading, so I’d be reluctant to experience what it would be like without hydraulic body motion control. However, we were willing to forgive it any rocking-and-rolling when that healthy V8 growl kicked in as we gave it the boot.
The 22-inch tyre-and-wheel combination is not the way I’d go if I was going to use the QX80 for any off-road forays but, having said that, we did fine on them, at road tyre pressures, over a decent off-road loop.
It has 246mm of ground clearance and 24.2 (approach), 24.5 (departure) and 23.6 (ramp-over) angles.
The QX80 has coil springs all-round and it was only ever caught out when it thumped through a couple of surprise potholes along a dirt road.
This Infiniti model has a claimed tare mass of 2783kg, but you wouldn’t have known it was that many kegs because it powered up steep and slippery bush tracks, through deep muddy ruts, over greasy rocks and through a few knee-deep mud holes with ease. It was as easy as pulling up, switching your terrain modes and dialling in your setting: 4WD High, 4WD Low or Auto. It has a locking rear diff and very capable hill descent control, which we tested on a few rather steep sections of track.
It’s nice to see vehicle manufacturers unafraid to put their off-roaders, even their pricey luxury ones, through a decent off-road loop at launch because it shows they have confidence in its capabilities.
At the time of this launch drive the GLS hadn’t been safety assessed by ANCAP, but you could make a small wager, like every penny you have to your name, that it will score a maximum five stars.
The expected active features are there, including ABS, ASR, and ESP, with additional tech including ‘Active Blind-Spot Assist’, ‘Active Brake Assist' (Merc-speak for AEB), active lane keeping and lane change assist, ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Evasive Steering Assist’, ‘Parktronic’ (active parking assist with 360-degre camera), rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign assist, and a tyre pressure warning system.
Then, if all that isn’t enough to avoid an impact the GLS is equipped with nine airbags (front and pelvis side for driver and front passenger, side for outer rear seat occupants, full-length curtain, and a driver’s knee bag), an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injuries, and the ‘Pre-Safe Plus’ (flashes rear hazards to warn drivers closing too quickly from behind, tightening the belts at the same time, and locking the brakes if the GLS is stationary with a rear impact imminent).
The QX80 does not have an ANCAP safety rating. Safety tech as standard includes blind spot warning, intelligent parking system, forward emergency braking, lane departure prevention (incorporating lane departure warning), distance control assist and predictive forward collision warning, Infiniti/Patrol intelligent rear view mirror (which can display video from a camera mounted in the upper rear windshield) and more. It has two ISOFIX points in the second-row seats.
The Mercedes-Benz range is covered by a three year/unlimited km warranty, which, like Audi and BMW continues to lag behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz ‘Road Care’ roadside assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an 'Up-front' or 'Pay-as-you-go' basis.
As a guide, service pricing for the outgoing GLS is set at $2600 per service (up-front) and $3250 (PAYG), a saving of $650 a pop. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase ($3550 and $4900).