The Automobile Magazine test fleet has been blessed with a variety of diesel vehicles lately. From the mighty Ram 2500 with a Cummins down to a mere Jetta TDI wagon, we’ve sampled the vast majority of vehicles currently on sale in the U.S. with diesel engines since January. Although the GL is at the top of the list in terms of price, it comes in mid-pack in terms of the overall experience.
The BMW X5 35d and the Audi Q7 TDI both offer more horsepower and torque than the GL with equal or better fuel economy and lower sticker prices. There is a bit more interior room in a GL than a Q7 or an X5, but the difference isn’t enough to justify the hit in fuel economy for me. I suppose the Benz looks bigger and tougher than the Audi or BMW offerings, but those butch looks sacrifice some elegance.
Of course, any one of the diesel SUVs is a better bet than their gasoline-fueled counterparts. With fuel economy approaching V-6 mid-size-sedan territory and the benefit of an SUV’s cargo capacity, these make a lot of sense.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
The GL350 Bluetec may not be the leader in power, torque, or fuel economy, but Mercedes has done a fabulous job integrating the diesel powertrain. From the cabin, the engine is as smooth and quiet as a refined gasoline powerplant, and the seven-speed automatic makes light work of masking shifts. I’ll concede that the Mercedes isn’t my top choice of the three German SUVs, but it’s still a great truck.
Fuel economy has always been the reason to purchase a diesel, but improvements in drivability and a broader selection will hopefully spur interest and sales. Compared with the gas-burning GL450, the Bluetec diesel yields an improvement of 4 mpg in the city and 5 mpg on the highway. Over 12,000 miles of mixed driving, that results in about 180 gallons of fuel saved — a significant savings with no sacrifice in comfort or capability.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
The technology progression of the diesel engine is astounding. Seems like just a few years ago they were noisy, stinky, expensive things that were found in mostly full-size pickup trucks. Now diesels are finding their way into mainstream SUVs and small passenger cars, and rightfully so, they’re becoming quiet, economical, and efficient.
The diesel powerplant inside the Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec is fantastic, providing the power and grunt of a truck with the usual luxury and refinement we’ve come to expect from Mercedes-Benz. The 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel pumps out a respectable 400 lb-ft of torque at a scant 1600 rpm, giving you max torque basically off idle.
The GL350 Bluetec’s base price of $60,825 makes it the least expensive GL you can buy (undercutting the GL450 and GL550), and it gets the best fuel mileage to boot.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
Does anyone else have problems keeping all the Mercedes-Benz SUVs and crossovers straight? You have the little-guy GLK at the low end, the big-guy G-class (aka: Ezra Dyer’s Geländeplowagen) at the high end, and then three medium-guys – the R-class, the M-class, and this GL-class, which, save for its larger dimensions, looks exactly like the GLK The GL also seems to get a bit lost between its German competitors, lacking the sportiness (and the sales volume) of the BMW X5 and the style of the Audi Q7.
Once you get beyond the confusion though, the GL is quite a fine truck. The interior is spacious and well crafted, and the diesel, as everyone else has noted, has no real drawbacks. Add in the $2178 tax credit, and it’s even something of a bargain. All that’s missing, in my opinion, is a bit of character.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The GL350’s diesel engine is so quiet and the SUV’s cabin so well-insulated that, from behind the steering wheel, I soon forgot that I was driving a diesel-powered vehicle. But a quick look at my wintry commute’s mileage of 21 mpg quickly reminded me that no gasoline-fueled, three-row, superluxurious big truck would be so frugal. According to the EPA, owners of diesel GLs will average 19 mpg overall (17 city/23 highway), which is still impressive for such a big, versatile, and capable vehicle. That it costs $1000 less than the GL450 is icing on the cake.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I saw several other GLs roaming the streets of Metro Detroit this past weekend, but not a single one-other than the example I was driving-was diesel-powered. That’s a shame. I think this is the most logical GL model to purchase, and possibly one of the best long-distance family haulers in quite some time.
My colleagues have already discussed the merits of the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6, but it’s worth noting I put nearly 329 miles over the course of three days, and I only used roughly half a tank (i.e. 13 gallons) of fuel. If the trip computer is to be believed, I never recorded anything less than 20 mpg-impressive for a 5423-lb beast like this. You’ll be able to roll down highways for eons before stopping for diesel, and considering the interior is almost as sumptuous as some S-classes we’ve sampled, your passengers aren’t likely to tire of the extended haul, either.
Hauling cargo, however, may be the only impediment towards making the GL350 your personal Family Truckster, especially if you need that third row of seating. With all seats in use, there’s only 14.3 cubic feet of storage, which wasn’t even enough room for my plastic laundry basket.
On another note, I’m quite happy to see that, at long last, Mercedes-Benz has fully integrated its iPod adapter into its COMAND navigation system. Previously, track information and control menus were only displayed on the little display placed smack between the speedometer and tachometer, but now they’re legibly and logically accessed through the head unit itself.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I was in possession of the GL BlueTec on the day of this season’s biggest snowstorm. I live on a cul-de-sac that gets almost no traffic, so I had to blaze a trail through eight inches of virgin snow on my way to work. It was no problem in this all-wheel-drive SUV. Not so fortunate was my neighbor, a German engineer who happens to work at the Mercedes-Benz Tech Center in Ann Arbor. I often see a variety of Mercedes vehicles parked in his driveway, but on this snowy day he was spinning his rear wheels in a C-class (equipped with snow tires, by the way). We had a good laugh as I rolled down the window and gloated about the fact that I had the proper Mercedes for the job that day.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
2010 Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec
Base price (with destination): $60,825
Price as tested: $72,115
3.0L Turbo-diesel V-6 engine
7-speed automatic transmission
AirMatic suspension/height adjustable
Hill start assist
Power tilt/slide sunroof
COMAND system with 6.5-inch color display
In-dash 6-disc DVD/CD changer
Three row seating
8-speaker audio with speed sensitive volume
Dual zone automatic climate control
Leather-wrapped steering wheel with multifunction controls
Heated front seats
Options on this vehicle:
Premium package 2 – $5950
– COMAND with enhanced voice control
– Hard-drive navigation
– HD radio
– iPod/MP3 media interface
– Power folding mirrors
– Power liftgate
– Rear-view camera
– 4GB music hard drive
– Autodimming mirrors
– Harman/Kardon Logic7 system
Full leather seating package – $1900
– Leather upholstery
– Comfort headrests
– Premium interior lighting
Lighting package – $970
– Bi-Xenon headlamps with active curve illumination
– LED daytime running lights
– Headlamp washing system
Heated rear seats – $610
Heated and ventilated front seats – $560
Wood/Leather steering wheel – $580
Barolo Red exterior paint – $720
Key options not on vehicle:
Rear seat entertainment system – $1880
3-zone automatic climate control – $1430
Trailer hitch – $540
17 / 23 / 19 mpg
Size: 3.0L turbocharged V-6 diesel
Horsepower: 210 hp @ 3800 rpm
Torque: 400 lb-ft @ 1600-2400 rpm
Weight: 5423 lb
20-inch aluminum wheels
275/50R20 Goodyear Eagle LS2 all-season run-flat tires
Competitors: BMW X5 35d, Audi Q7 TDI