Hardcore off-roaders with oversquare grilles aren't as plentiful as they used to be, but even among the diehards, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class stands tall. It's a rare brute-ute that looks totally comfortable all dressed up.
The GL's one of the most convincing mashups of luxury lines and SUV hallmarks. The styling's muscular and still refined. The side view is fuss-free, and the ratio of glass to metal sits just right. The big three-pointed star up front may be nearly the size of a wheel off an old Honda Civic, but there's not much else overstated on any panel of the GL-Class. The straight-edge philosophy does get the benefit of the ute's size: the same theme just doesn't play as well on the smaller GLK. Last year Mercedes updated the front end on diesel and V-6 versions, and for the 2011 model year, the V-8 GL-Class gets the same revisions, with a new bumper and new grille; daytime running lights; and new fog lamps.
Interiors of all the American-made Mercedes SUVs have gained luster and better looks in the past five or six years, and the GL has the best-looking cabin of the three Alabama-built utes (including the M-Class and R-Class). The GL-Class strikes a better balance of lines, textures, and forms than does the more pedestrian R-Class. There's plenty of wood trim all around, even on the diesel where it's now standard. The bulging pair of vents at the top of the center stack give some relief to the rectilinear shapes, and everything's covered in leather or high-quality plastic or convincing metallic trim.