With any of its three powertrains, the 2010 GL-Class is one of the best-performing plus-sized SUVs.
The least expensive version might be the best one: the newly renamed GL350 BlueTEC diesel. A 50-state-legal "clean" diesel, the 210-horsepower, 400-pound-feet BlueTEC 3.0-liter diesel gives the SUV quick acceleration with only a hint of throb and vibration-while it delivers fuel economy way up at 17/23 mpg, better on the highway than GM's full-size hybrid SUVs like the Escalade Hybrid. For $60,000, it's a little more expensive, but also has a cruising range of about 600 miles.
Next up in the performance range is the $62,000 GL450; its 4.7-liter V-8 guts out 335 hp and 13/17 mpg fuel economy, with little protest. For the creamiest power in the range, you'll have to go couch-surfing for spare change to acquire the $83,000 GL550, which speeds to 60 mph in about 7.4 seconds behind the power of a 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8. With fuel economy of 12/17 mpg, you'll need to be very pleased with its rippling exhaust note-and you will be.
A seven-speed automatic is standard across the board, and it's nearly perfectly mated to the gas engines, though in past test drives we've noticed some shift shudder with the diesel GL-Class.
Handling is very well balanced in this full-size sport-utility vehicle. The air suspension is damped with ride comfort in mind, but the Mercedes-Benz GL still steers with precision and has strong brakes. A little less rocking motion side to side would improve on the good on- and off-road manners.
All GL-Class utes carry Mercedes' 4MATIC full-time four-wheel-drive system, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, and a load-leveling suspension system. We've crawled through some reasonably challenging mud pits in a first-year GL450, and found it capable enough for the kind of light off-roading most of us would encounter getting to a mountain hideaway or ski chalet. The GL450 can be ordered with an Off-Road package that includes a Class IV hitch, adaptive-damping suspension system, underbody skid plates, and locking differentials.
All models are capable of towing up to 7,500 pounds.
ConsumerGuide: "effortless thrust"
Edmunds: diesel has "massive low-end response and superior fuel mileage"
Car and Driver: diesel is "an impressive powerplant"
Edmunds: GL550 "has the power to nip at the heels of more sporting luxury utes"
Cars.com: "Gear hunting is minimal"
Car and Driver: automatic is "at the top of the charts for seamless operation"
Kelley Blue Book: "a more car-like ride"
Cars.com: "precise turn-in makes curvy roads a pleasure to drive"
Car and Driver: "ride quality is creamy"
Car and Driver: "extraordinarily responsive by large-SUV standards"
Cars.com: Tires give GL550 "brittle ride quality"