New & Used Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: In Depth
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The Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is a full-size sport-utility vehicle with three rows of seating for up to eight passengers. One of two SUVs built at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama, the GL-Class is priced from the high $50,000 range above and beyond $100,000.
As such, the GL-Class--and the related GL63 AMG--are rivals for vehicles like the Cadillac Escalade and Land Rover Range Rover.MORE: See our 2014 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 stalwart of the Benz SUV lineup, the G-Class or Gelaendewagen. (Also included: the compact GLK and subcompact GLA.)The GL Class is closely related to the five-passenger M-Class also built in Alabama, but has three rows of seating and about a foot more length. Its styling is also a little more chunky than that of the ML, with an upright grille and more exaggerated front end that helps clarify 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.
The GL Class has been offered in three different models—the GL 450, GL 550, and GL 350 BlueTEC. All of the models come with a seven-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The GL 450 and GL 550 both come with V-8s, but there’s 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 will feel a little out of breath in hauling full loads, but the GL 550 has enough guts to always feel confident. On the downside, either of those engines will return fuel economy figures in the low teens. The GL 350 BlueTEC (named GL350 CDI in earlier model years) is 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 is the pick for those who tow a lot. Fuel economy is much better, too, at 17/21 mpg. Overall, the GL handles well for such a bit, heavy vehicle, and it rides well, thanks to the air suspension.
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 a 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.
The GL Class changed very little between its 2006 introduction and the 2013 model year, but 2009 marked the introduction of 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 remake.
A new GL Class arrived for 2013, bringing with it revised looks, as well as weight reductions to improve efficiency and handling. The diesel GL350 BlueTEC 4Matic starts the range, which includes the most popular model, the V-8-powered GL450, the even stronger GL550, and the moderately bonkers GL63 AMG.