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Actual rating will vary with options, driving conditions, habits and vehicle condition.
The standard features of the Mercedes-Benz GL 350 BlueTEC Base include BlueTEC 3.0L V-6 240hp intercooled turbo engine, 7-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), side seat mounted airbags, curtain 1st, 2nd and 3rd row overhead airbag, driver knee airbag, airbag occupancy sensor, airbag childseat sensor, automatic air conditioning, 19" aluminum wheels, cruise control, ABS and driveline traction control, 4MATIC all-wheel drive.
Starting at: $64,550
From behind the wheel, a GL-Class doesn’t really feel like an SUV. That’s because it’s one of the most composed full-size models out there, helped by electric power steering and, if installed, optional active anti-roll bars. That option is costly, but can make a difference when the GL starts to lean into corners. Larger tires can jiggle the ride somewhat.
Though lacking in feedback, steering feel, at least on models with smaller wheels, doesn’t feel especially light. The variable-ratio setup responds differently at low speeds, though the transition isn’t as evident as in Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.
Air springs are tuned for a cushioning ride, and the GL-Class is isolated from road vibration. Optional active dampers have Sport and Comfort modes, which can slightly soften the highway ride or tighten it up as needed. Either way, lateral pitching of passenger heads is limited.
Some turbo lag can occur in a BlueTec, because of the nature of the smooth, strong diesel engine, but fuel economy is EPA-rated at 18/26 mpg City/Highway, or 21 mpg Combined. That’s one reason the BlueTec is one of our favorites. The 4.7-liter V8 can be a tad coarser than the silken Mercedes-Benz V8s in some models.
Gasoline models, especially V8s, are thirsty. The twin-turbo V6 is EPA-rated at 17/21 mpg City/Highway, while the GL550’s bigger V8 is estimated at 13/18 mpg. Despite its additional power, the GL63 AMG isn’t much worse, EPA-rated at 13/15 mpg City/Highway.
Both rugged-looking and contemporary, the GL-Class continues to emphasize traditional SUV design, shunning the chrome and glitter that identify some luxury utility vehicles. Bodywork melds just enough soft curves, extended creases, and incisive angles into an SUV design that could hardly be any cleaner.
The familiar Mercedes-Benz grille is especially pronounced on the GL-Class. A long silhouette enhances the wedge shape that stems from bodyside character lines. Overall, the GL-Class is more subdued in appearance than many competitive full-size SUVs. Front and rear ends have LED lighting. The GL550 adds flared wheel arches and 21-inch wheels, while the GL63 AMG gets its own look.
Within the rugged GL body is an immense, comfortable cabin, nearly as versatile as a minivan’s. High-quality materials appear throughout, including an upholstered dashboard and soft-touch surfaces.
Leather upholstery and wood trim impart a warm, rich glow. Upper-trim interiors feature olive ash wood and perforated leather.
Front passengers in upper models can ride on ventilated seats with a massage function. Second-row seats may be heated. Power-folding third-row seats stow to add cargo space, while optional power assistance can tuck away the second-row seats. Even adults will fit into the third row, which is split 50/50.
Cargo volume can expand from modest to practically cavernous. With the third row up, cargo space totals 16 cubic feet. Flip them forward, and you have 49.4 cubic feet. With the second row folded forward, space grows to 93.8 cubic feet.
Passengers don’t have to step high to get aboard. Second-row seats benefit from wide door openings. An Easy-Entry feature improves access to the third row. A power control can slide front seats forward, but its motor is noisier than expected.
A console knob operates the COMAND infotainment system, which has a 7-inch screen but isn’t as easy or intuitive as those in rival SUVs.
The Mercedes-Benz GL-Class rides smoothly and is luxuriously equipped, but it is expensive. We’d pick the GL350 BlueTec, based upon its combination of diesel torque and fuel efficiency, as well as the excellent road behavior delivered by each version.
Driving impressions by Kirk Bell. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.
GL350 BlueTec ($64,550) comes with MB-Tex (vinyl) upholstery, automatic climate control, heated power front seats, power third-row seats, a DVD changer with HD radio, COMAND interface, sunroof, and power tailgate. GL450 ($66,200) is configured similarly to the GL350 BlueTec, but with a gasoline V6 engine.
GL550 ($91,300) has a 4.7-liter V8 and a selection of active-safety features, as well as an 830-watt Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system.
GL63 AMG ($121,100) has the high-performance 5.5-liter V8 and nearly every feature that’s optional on lower trims.
Safety features include front knee airbags and full-length curtain airbags, plus a rearview camera and Attention Assist. Collision Prevention Assist uses cameras to sense impending collisions and applies brakes to mitigate impacts or to stop fully, from below 20 mph.