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Monday, May 13, 2013

Mercedes-Benz GL

The Mercedes-Benz GL is a full-size SUV with three rows of seating and a price tag ranging from just over $60,000 to more than $100,000, depending on the model. The GL's big competitors are the Land Rover Range Rover, Lexus LX 570 and Cadillac Escalade. It's also one of three Mercedes models built here in the U.S.–in the brand's Tuscaloosa, Alabama assembly plant.

With the seven-passenger GL, Mercedes-Benz has a four-SUV strategy in the U.S., capped not by this off-roader, but by the stalwart of the Benz SUV lineup, the G-Class or Gelaendewagen. 

The GL Class is closely related to the five-passenger M-Class also built in Alabama, but has three rows of seating and about a foot more length. Its styling is also a little more chunky than that of the ML, with an upright grille and more exaggerated front end that helps clarify that the GL was intended as an alternative to some of Detroit’s fanciest truck-based SUVs—and to rival their towing and off-road proficiency.

The GL Class has been offered in three different models—the GL 450, GL 550, and GL 350 BlueTEC. All of the models come with a seven-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The GL 450 and GL 550 both come with V-8s, but there’s a discernible difference between the 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8 in the 550 and the 335-hp, 4.7-liter one in the GL. The GL 450 will feel a little out of breath in hauling full loads, but the GL 550 has enough guts to always feel confident. On the downside, either of those engines will return fuel economy figures in the low teens. The GL 350 BlueTEC (named GL350 CDI in earlier model years) is the other option; with 400 pound-feet of torque on tap, and only the slightest hint of old-style diesel character, this 3.0-liter turbodiesel is the pick for those who tow a lot. Fuel economy is much better, too, at 17/21 mpg. Overall, the GL handles well for such a bit, heavy vehicle, and it rides well, thanks to the air suspension.

Mercedes-Benz does claim some off-road ability in the GL, and while it’s not a choice for rock-scrambling it’s good for muddy or snowy trails or the kind of off-roading you’d encounter getting to a mountain hideaway. An off-road package adds skid plates and locking differentials, along with a Class IV hitch. All GL models can tow up to 7,500 pounds, but the diesel is probably the best bet for that.

If you’re wondering how the GL has other lower-priced traditional full-size SUVs beat, you need only open the door and sit down inside. The cabin excels in the details and has the same high-end tactile feel and excellent materials that distinguish all of Mercedes-Benz’s larger vehicles. The only thing surprising is that, for the price, the GL 350 BlueTEC and GL 450 come with the MB-Tex vinyl upholstery. The driving position is excellent, and the view out is better than most crossover utes. The GL’s bench in the second row can easily fit two adults—or three in a pinch—but the third row is a little tight for two. The back row easily folds flat at the touch of a button.

Pretty much everything you’d want in a union vehicle is standard on the GL, but the GL 550 gets a more conveniences, including an upgraded navigation and entertainment system, heated rear seats, active xenon headlamps, and huge 21-inch wheels and tires that deteriorate the ride slightly.

The GL Class has changed very little since its 2006 introduction, but 2009 marked the introduction of a revised, improved version of the COMAND screen-based interface. Also in 2009, the availability of the diesel engine was expanded to 50 states. In the 2010 model year, all versions received a mild styling remake.

A new GL Class arrived for 2013, bringing with it mildly revised looks, as well as weight reductions to improve efficiency and handling. The diesel GL350 BlueTEC 4Matic starts the range, which includes the most popular model, the V-8-powered GL450, the even stronger GL550, and the moderately bonkers GL63 AMG.

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