- Interior is spacious, flexible
- Wide range of powertrains
- Still looks rugged
- Diesel fuel economy
- New safety, infotainment features
- More all-weather than off-road
- Gasoline versions' fuel economy
- Difficult COMAND system
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz GL may be an expensive way to haul the family around, but it has excellent driving manners and some very sophisticated safety technology, too.
Even the German automakers understand that the easiest way into the American hearts (and driveways) is to offer a way to haul the kids around – and the 2014 GL Class is Mercedes-Benz's most largest, most luxurious vehicle for the carpool lane.
While the GL may wear a very large three-point star on its grille, it's actually manufactured in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It's sold well since its launch in 2007, competing with cars like the Infiniti QX56–now called the QX80–and the Cadillac Escalade, with a price between the mid-$60,000 to the upper-$90,000 range, depending on the engine and equipment desired.
It's a luxury SUV without question, but its exterior design is more subdued than many of the other vehicles in the class. The GL wears a mix of soft curves and long angles, giving it the attractive qualities of a crossover, but with a gloss that's decidedly rugged-looking.
Inside, the GL takes another step up the luxury ladder. It doesn't look so different but some of the features are, like a larger seven-inch screen on the dash for infotainment, and the knob controller on its console that runs them through an operating system called COMAND. Wood trim and leather upholstery give the cabin a warm, rich feel.
The GL also gained some cool tech features last year. Mbrace2 is Mercedes' connectivity suite; it links smartphones to the COMAND system, which means you can search Yelp for a great meal or hit Google for web searches while on the road.
Bluetooth is standard on the 2014 GL, and so are HD radio, a sunroof, a power tailgate, and power third row seats. Step up into more expensive models and the GL adds iPod connectivity, satellite radio, a panoramic sunroof, 20-inch wheels, and a navigation system--most of which can be ordered as options on other models, along with push button start, Harmon/Kardon or Bang & Olufsen audio, a rear-seat entertainment system, and more exotic selections of wood and leather.
For performance, the GL relies on a trio of powertrains, all teamed to a paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic and four-wheel drive. The base GL is a turbodiesel six-cylinder with just 240 hp but 455 pound-feet of torque for 0-60 mph acceleration in about 8.3 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated as high as 24 mpg highway--one of the reasons the smooth, strong diesel is one of our favorite big SUVs of all.
Mercedes also offers a pair of gas V-8s in the new GL. The GL 450 has twin turbos and direct injection, and makes 362 horsepower for truly quick 0-60 mph times of about 6.2 seconds. The GL 550? It's even stronger, with an updated version of the same engine making 429 horsepower, pushing the SUV to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. As you can guess, highway gas mileage drops into the high teens on both of these powerful family wagons. Meanwhile, the GL 63 AMG pushes out 550 hp and acceleration times of under five seconds.
Of all the full-size luxury SUVs, the GL utes have some of the best road manners. Electric power steering is new, and though it isn't full of feedback, it's not loose or overly light. The GL's independent suspension has air shocks that give it a pillowy ride, and some versions offer an adaptive suspension that counteracts body lean. We'd normally prefer a more basic solution, but this way, a wider spread between comfort and sport driving modes tailors the GL to more drivers.
For off-roaders there's a package that add a low range, a locking center differential, tuned traction and stability control, and adjustable ride height that lifts the GL from 8.5 inches of ground clearance to a full foot. The trio of GL utes can tow up to 7500 pounds, too.
The GL's cabin is bigger and more comfortable than before. It's about an inch longer and an inch wider, and a half inch taller. In front, passenger can ride on ventilated seats with massage controls. The second-row seats can be heated. But the best trick the GL does is its new flip and fold feature. Not only do the power-folding third-row seats stow for more cargo space, the second-row seats tuck away with optional power assistance. It's not as large as a long-wheelbase Escalade, but the GL's interior is just immense.
On the safety front, the GL picks up a slew of new technologies. The usual airbags and stability control join a new 360-degree camera that adapts its display as you dial into a parking spot. The GL can also park itself, with available active park assist. Lane keeping assist nudges it back into a lane if you cross the median, and collision prevention assistance will bring the GL to a stop if it detects an obstacle in the road ahead at speeds of up to 20 mph.