2016 Mercedes-Benz GL Class Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Kirk Bell Kirk Bell Editor
June 23, 2016

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class wraps up to seven people in luxury, and offers a pleasant ride with either diesel fuel economy or willing gasoline power.

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL, of all the full-size luxury SUVs, has some of the best road manners. Its electric power steering isn't full of feedback, but it's not loose or overly light. The independent suspension has air shocks that give it a pillowy ride, and some versions offer an adaptive suspension that counteracts body lean quite well. We'd normally prefer a more basic solution, but this way, a wider spread between comfort and sporty driving modes tailors the GL to more drivers.

The GL is built 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.

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 GL can tow up to 7,500 pounds, too.

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The GL offers four powertrain options, all teamed to a paddle-shifted 7-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive. The least-expensive GL model, the GL350 BlueTec, runs a turbodiesel V-6 with just 240 horsepower 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 the GL450 with the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 that was added last year. This engine puts out 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, which is plenty of power, and gets EPA ratings of 17 mpg city and 21 highway. That's not exactly efficient, but it has plenty of power. 

V-8 lovers can still choose the GL 550 and its twin-turbo, direct-injected 4.7-liter. It makes 429 hp, 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 GL63 AMG, with its twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 pushes out 550 hp and delivers acceleration times of under five seconds.

The GL is 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, wood trim and leather upholstery give the cabin a warm, rich feel. A knob controller on the center console runs the COMAND infotainment system, which is a bit less intuitive than those offered by rivals.

The GL's cabin is big and comfortable. In front, passengers can ride on ventilated seats with a massage function. The second-row seats can be heated. 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, but 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, 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 these features 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 many of the latest Mercedes technologies. The usual airbags and stability control join a surround-view 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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2016 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Styling

Modern and rugged, SUV styling doesn't get much cleaner or more elegant than this.

The GL-Class has always been content with traditional-SUV styling, foregoing the glitz and chrome and of other luxury utility vehicles. The current styling language sticks to that theme, though it has enough curvature and angularity in the right spots to keep the look modern and rugged.

Like any respectable high-end people mover, the GL has LED lighting front and rear. The familiar Mercedes grille is pronounced, and the long profile of this three-row crossover enhances the wedge shape created by the side character lines. The overall effect is less boxy than the previous generation, but it's still just as rugged as ever. GL550s 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 has a matte-finish glow that also avoids the blingy excesses. Leather upholstery and eucalyptus or burl walnut wood trim give warmth to the cabin, and customers can opt for a range upgraded trims that include olive ash wood and perforated "designo" leather. All models come standard with a 7.0-inch screen on the dash to house the infotainment functions, and the COMAND operating system's knob controller on the center console runs those features.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Performance

The GL can tow hefty loads, but the good news is it doesn't feel like and SUV from behind the wheel.

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 only help 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 or firming up the ride and steering a moderate amount. In either setting, the controlled ride limits the amount of side-to-side head pitch. 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 of the natural body motion that drivers might expect to encounter as they press the GL into tighter curves. We prefer the more basic setup, and we can also can do without the biggest wheel-and-tire combinations that add some jiggle to the GL's ride.

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 GL can tow a trailer weighing up to 7,500 pounds, something a GL driver is much more likely to encounter than even a dirt road.

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.

The base version in terms of pricing is the GL350 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 the brutish diesel torque of 455 pound-feet twists its way through the GL's standard paddle-shifted 7-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive system for a 0-60 mph time estimated at 8.3 seconds. There's some turbo lag, the diesel's powerband is pretty narrow, and we couldn't press it harder than 110 mph during our scenic drive through New Mexico. But the diesel's fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg highway, which is one of the reasons the smooth, strong powerplant makes this version a big-SUV favorite of ours.

Next up the ladder 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 Mercedes added last year. It puts out 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, which is almost as much output as the V-8 it replaced, but with much improved fuel economy. We haven't driven a model with this engine yet, but experience with the same basic powertrain suggests it should be a direct replacement for the old V-8, just without the 8-cylinder soundtrack.

The GL550 gets a twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8. It makes 429 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, 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 GL63 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, but doesn't take a high toll on fuel economy.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Comfort & Quality

Excellent seats, smart use of space, and Mercedes quality make the GL's cabin a nice place to spend time.

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.

Folding down the seats opens up the GL's cargo space to cavernous proportions. With the third row up, it has a modest 16 cubic feet of space; with the third-row seats flipped forward, the GL has 49.4 cubic feet of storage space; and with the second row folded forward, it has 93.8 cubic feet of very useful cargo space. While the max space is immense, it's not quite as much as a full-size SUV or large crossover from GM.

Throughout the interior quality materials abound, with an upholstered dash, real wood trim, and soft-touch surfaces anywhere the hand may roam. Mercedes allows for a quite a bit of opulence, too, with such available features as heated and cooled cupholders, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, supple and attractive "designo" leather upholstery, and Harman Kardon or Bang & Olufsen sound systems.

The GL's front seats are comfortable, and passengers don't have to take a big step up to get in. Eight-way power adjustments and heating are standard. These seats can be optioned up with 10-way power controls, multi-contour control (which adds adjustable thigh and thorax support), and with four modes of on-the-go shiatsu—everything from "slow" to "fast and vigorous."

Mercedes provides a bit of innovation in the second row that doesn't affect the generous head and leg room. The second-row seats benefit from wide door openings, which make it easier to get in, and they also have an Easy-Entry feature—either a manual handle or a power actuator that flips and folds them forward—for better access to the third-row. The power controls also slide the front seats forward to make room for the folded second-row seats. That's a nice touch, but the sounds of the motors moving the seats aren't exactly Mercedes quality.

Even adults will fit in the third row, which makes them more useful than the seats in most full-size 'utes. The third-row seats are split 50/50, and all models have power-fold capability, so the bench seat can be stowed or used for passengers.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Safety

It hasn't been crash tested, but the GL is big and replete with safety features, so we trust its safety pedigree.

All GL-Class 'utes come with the requisite airbags, including front knee airbags and full-length curtain airbags. Every version also has standard Collision Prevention Assist, which uses cameras to sense impending collisions and applies the brakes to mitigate impacts, or to stop the SUV fully, from speeds under 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 an interior camera detects a drowsy driver.

Safety options include some of the innovations seen on recent S-Class sedans, including night vision. A surround-view 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, and radar adaptive cruise control is available as well.

Neither the NHTSA nor the 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 GLE-Class, which the IIHS rates as a Top Safety Pick. And Mercedes has a stellar safety reputation in general, with a tendency to over-engineer its models when it comes to safety design.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Features

With prices starting in the mid $60,000-range and extending to six figures, the GL is expensive, but it's also well equipped.

It might be quicker to list the items that aren't available in the 2016 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 GL350 BlueTec—by a small margin the least-expensive model you can buy—comes with a hefty dose of gear. Among the features are MB-Tex (leatherette) upholstery, automatic climate control, heated power front seats, power third-row seats, an AM/FM/DVD changer with HD radio, the COMAND interface, Bluetooth, a sunroof, and a power tailgate.

All GL models come with mbrace2, Mercedes' connectivity suite, which links smartphones and mobile apps to the vehicle's infotainment system. This system displays via the GL's 7.0-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 bit of connectivity, the COMAND system is a reminder that other brands are doing infotainment better. It can control all the radio bands, the DVD changer, even the settings of the massaging seats, but it can take multiple spins of the wheel and pushes of the knob to reach the intended command. And sometimes it's roulette in terms of finding the right menu to accomplish the right task.

The GL450 is configured in largely the same way as the GL350 BlueTec. 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 higher. An off-road package is available on the GL450.

The GL550 is dressed nearly all the way to the nines. Almost all the features mentioned above are standard, and 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 rich-sounding Bang & Olufsen audio system. All of these features can tax the wallet, as it's easy to load up any GL-Class to more than $90,000.

Reach for the top, and you'll find the GL63 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 package that bundles satellite radio with 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, keyless ignition, 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.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Fuel Economy

The diesel is efficient for such a big vehicle, but the V-8-powered models are thirsty.

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.

Our choice would be the GL350 BlueTec. We like its combination of diesel torque and efficiency. The GL350 BlueTec's turbodiesel 3.0-liter V-6 is rated at 19 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined. Like most diesel vehicles, we've found it easier to come nearer to those figures than with competitive hybrid vehicles.

The twin-turbo gasoline V-6, which was added last year in GL450 models, is a relatively efficient gas engine. It gets ratings of 17/21/19 mpg, a decent improvement the old V-8 GL450, which returned 14/19/16 mpg in the same tests. The GL550 is once again listed at 13/18/15 mpg. And the GL63 AMG does only slightly worse despite its extra power, at 13/17/14 mpg.

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