Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class VS Jaguar F-Pace
- Modest steering feel
- So-so warranty
- Pricey servicing
- Supermodel looks
- Even more super engine
- More practical than you might think
- Suspension can feel harsh
- Lacks rich exhaust note
- Options as far as the eye can see
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|
New cars are all about sacrifice, right? If you want something sporty, then be prepared to suffer through storage space limited to your internal organs. If you want something practical, then you can kiss the idea of driving something stylish goodbye. And if you want something that can move lots of people, then you might as well head on down to your closest Crocs retailer now, as you clearly value practicality above all else.
But what if you want all three of those things, and all at once? Enter, then, the Jaguar F-Pace.
That Jaguar’s sexy SUV is easy on the eye is a given (I mean, just look at it), but with a supercharged V6 lurking under that shapely bonnet, this S 35t version is not short on performance either. And with oodles of room in both rows of seats, and a boot big enough to swallow an Ikea catalogue’s worth of flat-packed nonsense, it’s pretty damn practical, too.
So what’s the catch?
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
Stylish, practical and a hoot to drive fast, the F-Pace S 35t fills so many briefs it could be an underwear model. It could be louder and more comfortable, though, and the options list can be terrifying.
Jaguar F-Pace or Range Rover Velar; what's your pick? Tell us in the comments below.
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.
No doubt about it, the F-Pace was the best-looking SUV on sale (in fact, our very own Richard Berry declared it as such). But that was until the arrival of its Range Rover sibling, the drop-dead gorgeous Velar.
But even now, it would have to be battling it out for second position. Viewed front on, its wide and 3D-effect grille is framed by J-shaped DRLs and this domed bonnet that hints at the F-Pace’s performance potential.
Side-on, massive 20-inch alloys are wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero rubber, while the view from the back captures the dual exhaust tips, roof-mounted spoiler and a sharply raked rear window.
In the cabin, the materials aren't quite up to the standards of newer JLR product (we’re looking at you, Velar), but it’s a very clean, very modern feeling space. The single screen in the centre of the cabin is big, bright and easy to use. Soft touch materials (though they feel a touch old-fashioned ) cover the dash, and the steering wheel is wrapped in lovely leather.
There’s some nice design flourishes, too, like the polished silver elements in the door panels, but it’s not as tech-laden as some of its competitors.
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.”
Something this good looking shouldn't be this practical. It'd be like flipping Brad Pitt's head open to reveal two cupholders, or discovering Angelina Jolie comes with 745 litres of luggage space. The F-Pace might not be the most practical offering in the segment, but it can carry more stuff and people in more comfort than anything this pretty probably has any right to.
Up front, the cabin is airy and spacious. There are two cupholders hidden beneath a sliding cover, plus another secondary (though quite small) storage bin that separates the front seats, home to the F-Pace’s USB and HDMI inputs, as well as a 12-volt power source. There’s room in each of the front doors for bottles, and quite a large glove box, too.
Climb into the back seat, and there is plenty of room to stretch your legs. Sitting behind my own (178cm) driving position, there’s about 15cm of clear air between my knees and the seat in front. Likewise, there’s plenty of headroom, despite the (optional) sunroof eating into the space a bit.
There's plenty of room across the back of the car for three passengers, but legroom is going to be an issue for the middle rider, with a double whammy of a raised floor section combining with jutting out climate controls, both of which will impact legroom.
Backseat riders can make use of their own climate controls, as well as two 12-volt power sources. A pull-down divider separates the back seat, and is also home to two cupholders. There are two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat in the back.
The auto-opening boot reveals a 508-litre storage space (down from 650 litres in other markets, thanks to inclusion of a space saver spare here), but dropping the 40/20/40 split-fold back seat from the easy-reach controls in the boot will approximately triple that volume.
There’s a 12-volt power source in the boot, as well as luggage hooks. The speed-limited space-saver spare is hidden under a flat load shelf in the boot.
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.
As always, the devil is in the detail here, with the F-Pace S 35t's $104,827 list price dwarfed by a monstrous options list that shot our test car's as-tested figure up by almost 50 per cent, to $149,717.
Resist the list, however, and you won't be going home empty handed. Outside, you'll find 20-inch alloys, a sport-flavoured bodykit, LED headlights with J-shaped DRLs, red brake calipers and a powered boot all as standard.
Inside, you'll find leather and suede seats, dual-zone climate and a soft-grain leather steering wheel. Tech is covered by an 8.0-inch, navigation-equipped touchscreen that pairs with an 11-speaker Meridian stereo - but there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. A second, 5.0-inch colour screen is housed in the driver's binnacle.
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 headline act here is the thumping supercharged V6 that helps give this performance-focused F-Pace its smile-inducing personality.
The 3.0-litre engine produces 280kW at 6500rpm and 450Nm at 4500rpm, sending its power to all four wheels via a slick eight-speed auto transmission. Those numbers translate to a 0-100km/h sprint of 5.5secs (not bad for a 1.8-tonne SUV), and will push the F-Pace on to a 250km/h top speed.
That engine pairs with a torque vectoring system borrowed from the F-Type, which can apply gentle braking to the inside wheel when cornering, helping the F-Pace stay glued to the driving line. A 'Configurable Dynamics' system (which isn't the sexiest name) also allows you to cycle through driving modes, adding weight to the steering, sharpening throttle response and tuning the gearing to its sportiest setting.
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.
Well, there's always a flip-side to prodigious power, and that is inevitable pain at the bowser. That said, Jaguar claims this go-fast F-Pace will sip 8.9L/100km on the combined cycle, which isn't too bad (though if you drive it the way you will definitely drive it, you can expect that number to climb considerably).
Emissions are a claimed 209g/km of C02, and the F-Pace is home to a 63-litre tank.
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.
The mark of a genuinely sporty SUV is that you can forget you’re driving an SUV at all, and even the lightest touch of the F-Pace’s super-sensitive accelerator teleports you into a low-slung sports car.
The power on offer from that thumping V6 is so ample that, in day-to-day driving, you’re only feathering the throttle, with the the tiniest of inputs enough to get you up and moving, while a millimetre more unlocks enough punch to overtake with ease.
But flatten the pedal and the F-Pace lunges forward with startling pace, accompanied by this strange soundtrack (less a guttural grumble, more an orchestral hum) from under the bonnet, both of which serve to whisk you away from the boring world of practical SUVs, at least while you keep the pedal pinned.
The suspension isn’t perfect. In its harshest setting, you can really feel the bad bits of road enter the cabin, and even in its softest settings it can be caught out by badly broken surfaces. It is not as comfortable or as cosseting as some luxury SUVs can be, and the sporty, figure hugging seats are less comfortable on longer drives. But that’s a price I’m willing to pay.
The flip-side, though, is that the F-Pace feels always dynamic. There’s very little roll in the body, the steering is sharp and direct, and it feels far more low-slug than it actually is.
Sportiness is only part of the story, and at city speeds the F-Pace is an easy drive. The vision out of every window is fabulous, there’s ample room in the back seat, and it's really more fun - and more dynamic - than something this practical deserves to be.
One downside, though, is that it’s easy to catch the attention of the traction control. If you’re turning while going over a speed bump, for example, or accelerating too hard from a standing-start corner, the nanny will step in, sucking power away from your right foot for a couple of noticeable seconds before letting you get back on your way.
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 F-Pace S arrives with front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and six airbags (front, front-side and curtain) as standard, all of which joins more advanced safety equipment like AEB, 'Lane Departure Warning' and cruise control with a speed limiter.
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).
The F-Pace S is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, and will require a trip to the service centre every 12 months or 26,000km. Jaguar also allows you to prepay your service costs for up to five years or 130,000km, with a service plan currently priced at $1800.