- Interior is spacious, flexible
- Wide range of powertrains
- Still looks rugged
- More all-weather than off-road
- V-8 versions' fuel economy
- Difficult COMAND system
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.
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.