New & Used Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: In Depth
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The Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, with its abundant luxury touches and high level of refinement, can easily take on the Land Rover Range Rover as well as Cadillac's Escalade.
The GL-Class is a full-size, Alabama-built sport utility offering three-row seating and a 7,500-pound towing capacity. While the GL-Class can be bought for a starting price of $50,000, the sticker price easily zooms well past $100,000 with options.
MORE: See our 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class review for pricing with options, specifications, and fuel economy information
With the seven-passenger GL, Mercedes-Benz has a five-SUV strategy in the U.S., capped not by this off-roader, but by the enduring G-Class or Gelaendewagen. (Also included: the mid-size ML/GLE, compact GLK/GLC, and subcompact GLA.)
The GL-Class is closely related to the five-passenger GLE-Class (formerly the ML), which is also built in Alabama, but adds an extra row of seating and about a foot more length. Its styling is also a little more chunky than that of the GLE, with an upright grille, a more exaggerated front end, and a near-vertical rear. The look emphasizes the fact that the GL was intended as an alternative to some of Detroit’s fanciest truck-based SUVs—and to rival their towing and off-road proficiency.
Mercedes GL-Class History
In its first generation, the GL-Class was offered in three different models—the GL 450, GL 550, and GL 350 BlueTEC. All of the models came with a seven-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The GL 450 and GL 550 both featured V-8s, but there was a discernible difference between the 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8 in the 550 and the 335-hp, 4.7-liter one in the GL. The GL 450 felt a little out of breath in hauling full loads, but the GL 550 had enough guts to always feel confident. On the downside, either of those engines returned fuel-economy figures in the low teens. The GL 350 BlueTEC (named GL350 CDI in earlier model years) was the other option; with 400 pound-feet of torque on tap, and only the slightest hint of old-style diesel character, this 3.0-liter turbodiesel was the pick for those who tow a lot. Fuel economy for that diesel model was much better, too, at 17/21 mpg. Overall, the first GL handled well for such a bit, heavy vehicle, and it rides well, thanks to the air suspension.
The GL-Class changed very little between its 2006 introduction and the 2013 model year. In 2009 it received a revised, improved version of the COMAND screen-based interface. Also in 2009, the availability of the diesel engine was expanded to 50 states. In the 2010 model year, all versions received a mild styling update.
A new GL-Class arrived for 2013, bringing with it revised looks as well as weight reductions to improve efficiency, performance, and handling. The diesel GL 350 BlueTEC 4Matic starts the range, which includes the most popular model, the then-V-8-powered GL 450, the even stronger GL 550, and the moderately bonkers GL63 AMG, the first AMG-tuned GL.
For 2015, Mercedes has updated the engine options for the GL. The GL 450 is now powered by a high-output version of the company's new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6, tuned to 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. A V-8 is still available in the GL 550, as well as in the AMG model.
Mercedes-Benz does claim some off-road ability in the GL, and while it’s not a choice for rock-scrambling it’s good for muddy or snowy trails or the kind of off-roading you’d encounter getting to a mountain hideaway. An off-road package adds skid plates and locking differentials, along with a Class IV hitch. All GL models can tow up to 7,500 pounds, but the diesel is probably the best bet for that.
While the sheetmetal appears to follow standard SUV styling guidelines, it's the interior that really differentiates the GL from lower-priced competitors—as well as some costing as much or even more than this three-row hauler. Everything has a quality feel, with excellent fit and finish, and design that's very reminiscent of the last S-Class models. While it's a bit odd that, at this price, the lower GL models still come with vinyl upholstery as standard, it is at least a quality product, called MB-Tex, and leather is available for a little more. Visibility from the driver's seat is very good, and it's easy to find a comfortable seating position, especially with the optional contour seats. The second-row seats are very roomy and accommodating, while the third row is decent for adult use on short trips. And when not in use, it can be electrically lowered into a flat load floor.
Pretty much everything you’d want in a vehicle is standard on the GL, but the GL 550 gets more conveniences, including an upgraded navigation and entertainment system, heated rear seats, active xenon headlamps, and huge 21-inch wheels and tires that deteriorate the ride slightly.
As part of a brand-wide nomenclature realignment, Mercedes will soon rename the GL-Class as the GLS-Class. The logic is based around the names and relative sizes of Mercedes sedans, with today's GL aligning with the S-Class sedan, leading to the GLS moniker, the ML being renamed GLE for its size similarity to the E-Class, and the current GLK turning into the GLC, as it's closely related to the C-Class. The new GLA already fits this system, while the G-Class will keep its one-letter classification, since there really isn't anything like it—in the Benz sedan lineup or elsewhere in the automotive universe. The switch to the GLS-Class name is expected to coincide with a mid-cycle refresh of the three-row Mercedes crossover, which is likely to arrive for the 2016 model year. Mercedes may add a Mercedes-Maybach version of the GLS-Class at that time as well, featuring even finer interior trimmings and other unique styling and equipment.