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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
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Car and Driver
GL550 "has the power to nip at the heels of more sporting luxury utes"
Tires give GL550 "brittle ride quality"
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is one of the top-performing size-large SUVs, no matter which powertrain you choose.
Still, we have a favorite. The least expensive GL-Class is the best of the trio. A 50-state-legal "clean" diesel, the GL350 BlueTEC gets its power from a 3.0-liter diesel with 210 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. The torque number's one key point--it gives the GL350 brisk acceleration with only a hint of diesel clatter and throb and vibration. It does so while turning in EPA fuel economy of 17/23 mpg, better in highway numbers than GM's Escalade Hybrid and Tahoe Hybrid, and good enough for 600 miles on a tank of diesel.TheGL450 and its 4.6-liter V-8 is next up on the performance ladder. It guts out 335 hp with little protest, but doesn't offer significantly better performance than the diesel model--while it gets much lower fuel economy of 13/18 mpg.
Surf your couch for spare change if you won't settle for less than the GL550. It gets behind the power of a 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8, and speeds to 60 mph in about 7.4 seconds. You'll need to be very well pleased with its rippling, muscular engine note and its powerful acceleration, since fuel economy of 12/17 mpg will exact its own price.Mercedes' seven-speed automatic comes standard with every engine, and it's a near-perfect match to the gas engines. In test drives of the diesel GL350, we've noticed some shift shudder, but haven't been able to drive a 2011 model year to see if it's still the case.
The GL-Class doesn't earn all its kudos with strong acceleration. It's quite capable at corners, with balanced handling for its size. A standard air suspension is damped with a bias toward ride comfort, and steering is precise and has about the weight you'd expect from a large vehicle. The GL is fairly stiff in its resistance to body roll; softer settings might help produce a little less rocking motion side to side, but we'd also avoid the big 21-inch wheels if you can, since they tend to degrade the ride quality.
Mercedes' 4MATIC full-time four-wheel-drive system is standard across the board, along with Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, and a load-leveling suspension. Whether it's crawling through challenging mud pits or just cutting through late-season snow, the GL is talented enough for the kind of medium-duty off-roading it would encounter on its way to a ski resort or a mountain hideaway. Of the three models, only the GL450 can be ordered with an Off-Road package for more hardcore use: it adds on a Class IV hitch, an adaptive-damping suspension system, underbody skid plates, and locking differentials.
Every GL-Class SUV can tow up to 7,500 pounds.
The frugal star of the lineup is the GL350, but every 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is an agile on- and off-road performer.