In 2006, Mercedes introduced its largest Mercedes SUV: the GLS. The GLS a seven-seater SUV as standard that has recently been updated and is being pitched as an S-class on stilts. Mercedes also started offering a seven-seater option in the mid-size GLE SUV not too long ago.
As of right now, only these two mainstream models can be bought with seven seats. You can also option the Viano/V-class van to offer 7 seats, or look for a used Mercedes R-class, which was discontinued in 2017.
The GLS is the largest Mercedes SUV, positioned against the likes of the BMW X7 and the US-made Cadillac Escalade. It has a seven-seat configuration as standard, and the boxy shape of this vehicle offers plenty of space, even for adults.
The entry-level GLS450 starts at $85k and offers a decent 3.0-liter inline 6 turbo engine with EQ boost, mated to a state-of-the-art 9-speed automatic transmission.
The sweet spot of the GLS range is the GLS580 that starts at $110k, but it comes reasonably equipped with a 4.0-liter V8 BiTurbo engine, assisted with Mercedes EQ Boost and the 9G 9-speed automatic transmission capable of 483hp.
Although it’s marketed as “an S-class on stilts,” the GLS does not have the same level of refinement as an S-class does. The interior is basically the same as the GLE, so the S-classness of the GLS is a bit of a stretch.
The Mercedes GLE is the mid-size Mercedes SUV that is aimed to compete with the BMW X5 or the Audi Q7. The GLE also offers a seven-seating option, just like the Q7 and unlike the X5, which can’t be optioned with seven seats. If you want seven seats in a BMW, you have to go for the X7.
The GLE range kicks off with the GLE350, starting at around the $65k mark, and a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, mated to the aforementioned 9-speed automatic. But if you think that a 4-cylinder engine in such a premium SUV is unacceptable, then you need to step up to the GLE 450 4MATIC with a $62k entry price.
If you want seven seats on the GLE, the seven seats come as a part of a package, but the GLE is significantly smaller than the GLS, and the space in the last row is probably only acceptable for kids. You might squeeze an adult in there for a short trip, but if you really need 7 seats, you should go for the GLS.
Mercedes R-Class and the Viano van
If you are in need of a seven-seater Mercedes, and you don’t mind shopping used, the Mercedes R-class might just tick all the boxes. The R-Class was discontinued in 2012 for all markets except China, which also stopped selling it in 2017.
A decent 2012 R-class can be bought for around the $10-12k mark, and for such a price you can get a decent looking seven-seater that shares its driving characteristics with many of Mercedes estate models from the time period.
If having seven seats is a top priority, or if you are in the transportation business, choosing the Mercedes Viano/Vito/V class is also a decent option. The 2021 Mercedes V-class start at around $83k for the V220 powered by a 2.1-liter diesel engine. The V-class offers the most space out of all the 7-seater Mercedes models.
Things to know when considering a 7-seater luxury vehicle
Can an average adult fit in the third-row seats of a Mercedes GLS/GLE?
The GLS offers 38.9 inches of headroom in the third row, 34.6 inches of legroom, and 50.3 inches of shoulder room. These numbers indicate that even a decently sized adult can comfortably fit in the third row of the GLS, even for a longer trip.
The GLE, on the other hand, does not offer enough space for an adult to sit comfortably in the third row. The GLE is simply not a vehicle meant for traveling with 7 people regularly, especially because the third row eats into the trunk space quite a bit.
The GLS is far better equipped for carrying 7 adults with decent cargo space. Furthermore, the GLS comes standard as a seven-seater, and the GLE requires you to pay more for the third-row seats which are fairly useless except in the case of small children.
Is the Audi Q7 a better people carrier than the Mercedes GLE?
These two midsize SUVs are both available with a seven-seat option, but the GLE does offers a bit more cargo space. That being said, the Q7 offers more space for the passengers in the third row.
Both the GLE and the Q7 come equipped with many amenities for all the rear seat occupants. The Q7 is a little bit wider which can make it more difficult to navigate in a tight space. The Q7 is also slightly longer than the GLE, but the Q7 does not completely make up for it in the passenger space department.
Should I buy the Mercedes GLE or the GLS?
It depends. If you are really looking for as much space as you can get in the Mercedes lineup, you should definitely go for the GLS. But, if you plan to primarily use the first and the second row, and the third row is not being used constantly, then the GLE might be a better option.
The GLS is offered with virtually the same interior as the GLE, so paying more for the GLS in that department, does not make much sense. Both the GLS and the GLE look fairly similar from the outside as well, so much so that a regular person will hardly be able to tell the difference between the two.
From the driving perspective, both the GLS and the GLE offer a Mercedes-worthy experience, but the GLE is an all-around smaller package which makes it a lot easier to park and navigate through small spaces. Both the GLS and the GLE also offer fairly similar off-road capabilities.