I have to admit, out of all the GL550’s features, I found myself playing with the push-button ride-height control the most. After I pulled into my driveway, I summoned my neighbor from his house to show him how it raises and lowers the vehicle at a push of a button. For some reason, he didn’t really care. I know this technology has been around for a while and is not necessarily groundbreaking, but it’s still fun.
The GL550’s gas mileage, on the other hand, is not so much fun. On my 63-mile commute, at times I could swear I could see the gas gauge needle slowly moving toward empty. Thankfully, the large 26.4-gallon fuel capacity allows a range of over 450 miles, which limits your trips to the gas station. The 21″ five-spoke AMG wheels, which are standard on the GL550, really look sharp below the big GL body without hurting the ride quality much.
The 5.5L V-8 offers effortless acceleration (Mercedes says it will get to 60 mph in only 6.4 seconds), and the cabin is quiet and very comfortable for passengers in all three rows. If you have $84,000 burning a hole in your pocket, you won’t be disappointed in the Mercedes-Benz GL550. Personally, I’d rather have the GL320 BlueTEC diesel that starts at about $25K less. Mercedes also offers another V-8 GL, the GL450, which has a 335-hp, 4.7-liter V-8 with 339 lb-ft of torque and a 0-to-60-mph rating of a still-impressive 6.9 seconds. Its EPA highway rating is marginally better, at 18 mpg rather than 17 mpg, although its city rating is the same, at 13 mpg. However, the GL450 is a lot cheaper, starting at $59,200 versus the GL550’s $82,175.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
I had a chance to spend a weekend in this sumptuous GL550, and it was the perfect vehicle for carrying two sets of clubs for an early morning round of golf. The next day entailed a trip to the local greenhouse, where I bought several flats of flowers and three bags of soil. In both instances, the electric folding third row – with no-muss/no-fuss one-touch operation – was very user-friendly.
While the GL is a relatively large vehicle, it never feels large from behind the wheel. It handles more like a car than a truck, and it has good steering and braking feel. And of course, it has plenty of power, although, as has been pointed out, the size and weight of the vehicle, along with the big 5.5-liter Mercedes V-8, don’t exactly make it fuel-efficient. But the GL is also available with a smaller V-8 and also a diesel V-6.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
On a dreary day near the end of a long week, the GL550’s ultraluxurious cabin is a great place to land for the commute home. The seats are supportive and comfortable and appear to be infinitely adjustable. In addition to the standard movements, you get adjustable bolsters, thigh support, and two independent lumbar controls. The heated seats warm up quickly and then automatically adjust from the highest setting to the middle setting.
I am not a fan of the Mercedes navigation system interface, though. Its colors, fonts, and layout remind me of something designed using text boxes and the rectangle drawing tool in Microsoft Word. M-B also isn’t the only automaker that simulates an analog radio tuner on a very digital screen, which I find doesn’t add any functionality.
The 5.5-liter V-8 powertrain is excellent, providing a relaxed but powerful driving experience. But over rough roads, the 5434-pound GL550 has a tendency to bob side-to-side like a tiny dinghy in rough seas. At the end of a long day, that’s not something you want.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I’m not sure what Mercedes-Benz was going for when they designed the GL. The oversized exterior elements – huge front and rear lamps, an in-your-face grille, obscenely wide footwear, and a hood-mounted three-pointed star that can be seen from space – give the GL a vaguely butch appearance, but the overall profile looks more R-class than Geländewagen. The running boards are nicely integrated into the body and the non-slip nubs look really cool. I thought the ride was a little rough for an ultraluxury SUV, but the comfort setting – selected through a switch on the dash – softened some of the impact harshness without turning the suspension to mush.
This specific interior color scheme – two shades of brown – is a common theme in Mercedes vehicles of late that I, for one, find unappealing. To me, the colors clash and make the interior look downmarket. The navigation system adds to this downmarket feeling with graphics that look like they haven’t progressed past Version 1.0. I do like the analog-esque radio tuner graphic though, which was panned by Eric. While pointless when using AM or FM, it’s actually perfect for flipping through satellite stations.
Perhaps I’ll like the 2010 GL-class better; it’s getting a mild facelift for both the exterior and the interior, with a new instrument panel, grille, headlights, bumpers, and the like. It goes on sale in July (GL450) and August (GL550).
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
The Mercedes-Benz GL-class seems, to me, to be caught in a funk between a full-on, tough-guy SUV and a soft-roading, nice-guy crossover. As Jennifer Misaros notes, the styling is split between butch and overly rounded. And although the Mercedes drives and rides well, there’s still no question it’s a big boy. I caught myself ducking as I passed under the support beams in our parking garage, an instinct that usually surfaces only when I’m piloting our huskiest pick-up trucks.
On the bright side, the interior is beautiful and comfortable. Mercedes-Benz’s nav/audio interface isn’t quite as intuitive as what you’ll find on the latest BMWs and Audis, but having recently spent time with an S-class, I was able to find my way around quite easily.
If I were in the market for a full-size Mercedes SUV (I’m not, unless someone wants to give me a big raise), I would just go whole hog and get a Geländewagon. The G-class has its limitations and quirks to be sure, but at least it feels extraordinarily special and capable. What’s another fifteen grand to a rich guy like myself?
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2009 Mercedes Benz GL550 4Matic
Base price (with destination): $82,175
Price as tested: $84,015
Credit for Standard Keyless Go – $1,130 (Off Base Price)
Illuminated Door Sills – $570
Heated and Active Ventilated Front Seats – $550
Rear Seat Entertainment – $1850
13 / 17 / 14 mpg
Size: 5.5L V-8 DOHC 32-Valve
Horsepower: 382 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 391 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
Weight: 5313 lb
21″ AMG 5-spoke alloy wheels
295/45R 21 All-Season Tires