2015 Mercedes-Benz GL Class Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 22, 2015

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class offers the most Mercedes luxury to the most people, with a pleasant ride and easy driving dynamics to boot.

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL if built right here in America, where it sells very well. In fact, the three-row luxury bus is aimed squarely Americans. The German automaker's largest SUV, the GL shares its platform and assembly line with the two-row M-Class SUV, offering similar powertrain choices and features.

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 creases, 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.

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The GL offers four powertrain options, all teamed to a paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic and four-wheel drive. The least-expensive GL model, the GL 350 BlueTec, runs 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 rated at 26 mpg highway--one of the reasons the smooth, strong diesel is a big-SUV favorite of ours.

Next up the ladder is a new engine for 2015. While last year's GL 450 used a detuned version of the GL 550's twin-turbo V-8, the 450 now receives a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 putting out 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. It's almost as much output as before, and makes for big fuel-economy improvements—EPA ratings of 17 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway versus the outgoing engine's 14/19 mpg.

But V-8 lovers can still choose a twin-turbo, direct-injection 4.7-liter, now available only in the GL 550. It makes 429 horsepower, pushing the SUV to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. As you can guess, highway gas mileage drops into the high teens in return. 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. Its electric power steering isn't full of feedback, but 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 adds 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 big and comfortable. In front, passengers can ride on ventilated seats with massage function. The second-row seats can be heated. But the best trick the GL has is its 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.

The GL also has tech features down. Mbrace2, Mercedes' connectivity suite, is standard across the board; 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. It will also let you control the car remotely, locking or unlocking doors, and generally keeping track of your vehicle from a smartphone. Bluetooth is standard on the GL, as 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, Harman/Kardon or Bang & Olufsen audio, a rear-seat entertainment system, and more exotic selections of wood and leather.

On the safety front, the GL is loaded with the latest Mercedes technologies. The usual airbags and stability control join a 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. There's also adaptive radar cruise control and blind-spot monitoring.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Styling

Sport-ute styling doesn't get much cleaner than this, though we do prefer the first-generation GL's look.

The GL-Class has always been content with traditional-SUV styling, eschewing the chrome and glitz of other big-boy utilities. The latest iteration of the styling language is certainly reminiscent of the last, though it adds enough curvature and angularity in the right spots to keep the look modern and rugged.

There's LED lighting at the front and rear, and the grille is more pronounced than in the previous generation. It's a little less boxy than it was, but it's still just as rugged as ever. GL 550s are differentiated from 350 and 450 models with their flared wheel arches and 21-inch wheels. And the AMG gets its own look, with big wheels and body-kit pieces.

Inside, the GL reconfigures the look of the prior version into a neater order, while packaging in some new features. The GL has a matte-finish glow here too that avoids the blingy excesses. Wood trim and leather upholstery warm up the cabin, and a range of optional upgraded trims change out eucalyptus or burl walnut for more exotic touches like olive ash wood and perforated designo leather. There's a standard seven-inch screen on the dash for infotainment, and the knob controller on its console runs those features through the COMAND operating system.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Performance

There's not much traditional SUV feel in the Mercedes GL, though it can tow in the big leagues.

The GL-CLass offers four different powertrain options, ranging from the fuel-sipping BlueTEC diesel model to the tire-eating AMG version. All come with four-wheel drive standard. For 2015, Mercedes has replaced one of the already downsized turbo V-8 options with a twin-turbo V-6.

The base version, in terms of pricing, is the GL 350 BlueTEC, the turbodiesel edition that gets the best fuel economy of the entire lineup. The 3.0-liter turbodiesel is rated at just 240 horsepower, but brutish diesel torque of 455 pound-feet twists its way through the GL's standard paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive system for a 0-60 mph time estimated at 8.3 seconds. There's some turbo lag, and the diesel's powerband is pretty narrow, and try as we could on our drive through scenic New Mexico, we couldn't press it harder than 110 mph. But the diesel's fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg highway--one of the reasons the smooth, strong powerplant still makes this version a big-SUV favorite of ours.

Next up the ladder is a new engine for 2015. While last year's GL 450 used a detuned version of the GL 550's twin-turbo V-8, the 450 now receives a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 putting out 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. It's almost as much output as before, and makes for big fuel-economy improvements—EPA ratings of 17 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway versus the outgoing engine's 14/19 mpg. We haven't driven a model with this engine yet, but experience with the same basic powertrain suggests it should basically be a direct replacement for the V-8 model it replaces, just without the eight-cylinder soundtrack.

There's still a twin-turbo, 4.7-liter V-8 available in the GL 550, however. It makes 429 hp and 516 lb-ft, pushing the SUV to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. It can be a little more gruff than the creamy Benz V-8s of even the recent past, but that's said to be the trade-off for more efficient power. As you can guess, highway gas mileage drops into the high teens on this powerful family wagon, though it's still marginally better than in the first-generation GL.

At the top of the range is the GL 63 AMG, a high-powered box that the AMG tuners manage to get to handle pretty well. Its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 makes 550 hp, and fuel-economy of course suffers as a result.

The GL utes are some of the most composed full-size SUVs on the market, and the electric power steering and optional active anti-roll bars don't change that. The steering feel on versions with smaller wheels and tires--19-inchers and under--doesn't feel too loose or light, but it's not overrun with feedback, either. The variable-ratio rack has different response at low speeds than it does at higher ones; the transition's much less obvious here than in some of Mercedes' smaller, lighter cars.

The GL has an independent suspension and standard air springs that are tuned for a pillowy ride, making it better at isolating road surfaces than the Chevrolet and GMC utilities of the same size. Optional active dampers have Sport and Comfort modes that widen the spread, making the highway ride a touch softer while firming up the ride and steering a moderate amount. One thing there's much less of: the side-to-side head pitch we've noticed in the past in almost all Mercedes SUVs. There's also an optional semi-active system with anti-roll bars that can firm up as the GL leans into corners; it's expensive, and it counters some natural body motion that some drivers will expect to encounter, and will rely on as they press the GL into tighter curves. We prefer the more basic setup, and can do without the biggest wheel-and-tire combinations that set up some jiggle in the GL's ride.

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 a trailer weighing up to 7,500 pounds, something they're much more likely to encounter than even a dirt road.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Comfort & Quality

Mercedes makes the most of the GL-Class' footprint, with a very spacious cabin and excellent seats.

While its exterior projects a rugged look, the interior is why you buy a GL-Class. It's cavernous, comfortable, and almost as versatile as the people-hauling king, the minivan.

Compared to its previous generation, the current Mercedes-Benz GL is slightly larger in every direction; it's taller, longer, and wider, and it's space-efficient with just about every single inch of its interior. Looking at the specs, the GL is 72.8 inches tall, 202.6 inches long (with a 121.1-inch wheelbase), and 84.3 inches wide.

The GL's front seats are fine, and don't require too much of a step up to access. The basic functionality is eight-way power adjustments and heating; they can be optioned up with 10-way power controls, ventilation, and multi-contour control, which adds massaging and adjustable thigh and thorax support, along with four modes of on-the-go shiatsu, everything from "slow" to "fast and vigorous."

In the second row, there's a bit of innovation that doesn't affect the generous head and leg room. These second-row seats benefit from wider door cuts, which makes it easier to get in, but they also have a new Easy-Entry feature--either a manual handle or a power actuator that flips and folds them forward for better access to the third-row seats. The power controls also slide the front seats forward to accommodate the folded second-row seats, a nice touch--but the sounds of the motors moving the seats aren't the most precise ones we've heard in a Mercedes.

The third-row seats are split 50/50, and all models have power-fold ability, so the bench seat can be stowed or used for passengers. Even adults will fit back here, better than in most full-size utes.

Folding the seats in various ways opens up the GL's cargo space to cavernous proportions. With the third row up, there's 16 cubic feet of space; with the third-row seats flipped forward, the GL has 49.4 cubic feet of storage space. With the second row folded forward, it has 93.8 cubic feet of room--an immense amount of space, if not quite so much as a full-size GM SUV.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Safety

The GL has all kinds of active-safety equipment, but it hasn't been crash-tested fully in some time.

Although the GL-Class once again has not been tested by either national safety group, we believe it's a safe choice, in part thanks to a long list of standard and available safety tech.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested the GL-Class. They didn't test it in the last generation either, due to its low sales volumes and high price. The GL is closely related to the M-Class, which the IIHS rates as a Top Safety Pick+. And Mercedes has a stellar safety reputation in general, with a tendency to overengineer its models when it comes to safety design.

All GL-Class utes comes with the requisite airbags, including front knee airbags and full-length curtain airbags, and stability control. Every version also has standard Collision Prevention Assist, which uses cameras to sense impending collisions and applies brakes to mitigate impacts--or to stop the ute fully, from speeds below 20 mph. The GL also has crosswind stabilization, which uses stability control to modulate braking and cut down on the steering effect generated by strong crosswinds. A rearview camera and Bluetooth are standard, too, as is Attention Assist--the Mercedes-pioneered system that flashes a coffee cup on the dash when a rearview-mirror-mounted camera detects a drowsy driver.

Safety options on the 2015 GL include some of the innovations seen on recent S-Class sedans, including night vision. A 360-degree camera adapts its display as you dial into a parking spot--and 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. Blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts are included in option packages as well. Radar adaptive cruise control is available as well.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Features

It's easy to price a GL past the $100,000 mark--just check the AMG box.

It might be quicker to list the items that aren't available in the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-CLass. This big ute has plenty of room for comfort and convenience, and there are lots of options you can pile on to send the price to a truly high-class level.

Even the base GL 350 BlueTEC--by a small margin the least-expensive model you can buy--comes with a hefty dose of gear. Among it are features like power windows, locks, and mirrors; automatic climate control; heated power front seats; a power sunroof and a power tailgate; power third-row seats; an AM/FM/DVD changer with HD radio; the COMAND interface; Bluetooth; and an MB-Tex (leatherette) interior.

The GL 450 is configured in largely the same way, but trades the 3.0-liter turbodiesel for the new 3.0-liter twin-turbo gas V-6. On both, a surround-view camera is bundled with the active park-assist package, a Bang & Olufsen audio system is a pricey option, and more exotic selections of wood and leather can lift the price even more. An off-road package is available on the GL 450.

The GL 550 is dressed nearly all the way to the nines. Almost all the features mentioned above are standard; the options are limited to the off-road package; the parking-assist package; a panoramic sunroof; a rear-seat entertainment system; power-folding second-row seats; heated rear seats; adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist; and the Bang & Olufsen audio system, which sounds amazingly rich, but taxes the brain, as it's easy to load up any GL Class to more than $90,000.

Reach for the top, and you'll find the GL 63 AMG equipped standard with nearly every option available on the lower trims, though the Bang & Olufsen sound system is still optional. But hey, even with a base price of more than $118,000, there's always room to grow, right?

Options include a $3,500 package that bundles satellite radio; an iPod interface; satellite radio; navigation; ambient lighting; a power tilt/telescoping steering column; and auto-dimming mirrors. Another package adds Harman/Kardon surround sound, push-button start, and soft-close doors. Safety packages add features like adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitors, as well as active park assist. Major stand-alone options include the active-curve suspension; ventilated front seats; massaging front seats; a trailer hitch; a panoramic sunroof; a power second-row seat; and heated rear seats.

All GL models come with mbrace2, Mercedes' connectivity suite, which links smartphones and mobile apps to the vehicle's infotainment system. Mbrace2 displays via the GL's seven-inch LCD screen, and includes features like custom speed alerts, geofencing, and the ability to search Google, Yelp!, and get Facebook updates while on the go. It also lets owners control and keep tabs on their GLs from a smartphone app, with lock and unlock functions and more.

While mbrace2 is a welcome step into the connectivity of the car's future, the COMAND system's a reminder that other brands are doing infotainment better. It's packed with usability--it can control all the radio bands, the DVD changer, even the settings of the massaging seats from "slow" to "fast and vigorous"--but it can take multiple spins of the wheel to reach the intended command. And sometimes it's roulette, in terms of finding the right menu to accomplish the right task.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Fuel Economy

The diesel is one of our favorite GLs, but if you're looking to pinch pennies, steer clear of the AMG.

While we still prefer the GL 350 BlueTEC's combination of diesel torque and efficiency, the new-for-2015 twin-turbo gas V-6 in the GL 450 gives the GL a relatively efficient gas-engine choice for once.

The GL 350 BlueTEC's turbodiesel six is rated at 18 mpg city, 26 highway. It's improved over the prior generation of BlueTEC GLs, and like most diesel vehicles, we've found it easier to come nearer to those figures than with competitive hybrid vehicles.

That new GL 450 gets ratings of 17/21 mpg, a decent improvement over last year's V-8 GL 450, which returned 14/19 mpg in the same tests. The GL550 is once again listed at 13/18 mpg. And the GL63 AMG does only slightly worse despite its extra power, at 13/17 mpg.

The current Mercedes-Benz GL lineup shaves weight wherever possible, with aluminum body panels, suspension pieces, and body bracing. It also uses electric power steering and a more efficient electrical structure, all in the interest of saving fuel.

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December 15, 2015
For 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

My Buying Experience of Mercedes-Benz GL-350

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All the surety of service given by Mercedes Benz India and its dealers is not satisfactory at all. Recently, I faced a problem of ratting and crackling noise in back seat door of my brand new Mercedes GL 350... + More »
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April 14, 2015
For 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Exactly what you'd expect from a Mercedes-Benz

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My GL is still very new but it's exceeded my expectations in every way. I get well over 600 miles to a tank of diesel and everything is well polished. However, experience with past MB cars has always been that... + More »
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April 13, 2015
For 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

My best car ever - it is a keeper!

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Quality in every aspect - i have to search deep for a complaint - and that would be a slightly friendlier nav system.
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