The big Mercedes SUV is such an indulgence: yards and yards of beautiful black leather, substantial headrests, rich chrome trim, bountiful and sumptuous room for seven. With the GL350’s turbocharged diesel V-6 engine, the EPA says the GL will eke out 21 mpg on the freeway, which is perhaps one way to justify the use of such a massive and heavy vehicle as a people carrier, when for most owners a minivan, perhaps even Mercedes-Benz’s own R-class, would suffice. If it seems like I have mixed feelings about the GL-class, I do: I can’t help but admire its looks and its capabilities, but I also can’t ignore its wastefulness. [Admittedly, I have the same feelings when I get into a Range Rover.] That said, the Bluetec diesel at least attempts to address that issue, and it’s a damn fine powertrain.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Twenty-three miles per gallon out of a monster like this is pretty darn impressive, but that’s the trip computer’s indicated mileage over the last 700-some journalist-driven miles. Granted, the EPA’s rating for this vehicle is a more modest 17 mpg in the city, 21 mpg on the highway, and 19 mpg combined, but even those numbers are very good for a 5400-pound, seven-passenger vehicle.
Captaining the GL350 feels a bit like driving a bus, which is appropriate, since there are four seating positions with the LATCH system for kids’ car seats. Unfortunately, you’d have a tough time getting to the two children in the back row, but if your kids are old enough to buckle themselves, the GL-class makes a solid ritzy alternative to a minivan.
I found the driver’s seat to be slightly uncomfortable (not adjustable enough and slightly too firm), but I forgot about that the moment the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6’s 400 lb-ft of torque took over.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
As we’ve heard from several luxury automakers recently, the full-size SUV market isn’t dead. There will always be customers with the means to purchase the biggest and most luxurious SUVs on the market. The total number of big SUV sales will never be as high as it was during the SUV binge of the 1990s, but these vehicles represent too much potential profit for automakers to abandon the segment. There are a few ways to continue offering big SUVs once the more aggressive CAFE regulations take effect. One would be simply to continue selling heavy gas guzzlers and just pay the required fines. Another way is to use diesel engines, hybrid systems, and lighter weight materials.
Mercedes, along with every other German automaker, sees diesel engines as the low-hanging fruit on the quest to fuel economy. Everyone knows diesel engines are incredibly popular in Europe and these powerplants are particularly suited to heavy SUVs that may tow trailers or haul lots of adults around. The lack of horsepower is rarely an issue and the abundance of torque gives you the illusion of decent acceleration. If you have a genuine use for a large SUV, at least Mercedes is giving you a way to feel less guilty with the Bluetec diesel option.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
I wish this beast were staying through the weekend. I have a 500-mile trip coming up, and short of an S-class, I can think of no finer Mercedes-Benz product to use for such a long-distance interstate haul — especially if more than five people are involved.
At $74,000, the GL is certainly an indulgence, but unlike many temptations in life, there seem to be few, if any, side effects that rear their heads after taking the plunge. The GL’s air suspension provides a smooth but not floaty ride; the interior is impeccably appointed; the cabin is eerily quiet. So too is that turbo-diesel V-6, which provides a surprising amount of power, approximately 21 mpg on the freeway, and roughly 500 miles of range.
Is it for everyone? Contrary to the mantra adopted by American consumers in the late 1990s, not everyone needs a loaded-to-the-hilt, all-wheel-drive, seven-seat SUV. But for those who do, and also desire a vehicle well suited to the traditional family-style road trip, there’s almost no besting the GL.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
2011 Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec
Base price (with destination): $61,825
Price as tested: $74,635
3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6 engine
7-speed automatic transmission
4Matic permanent all-wheel drive
4-wheel Airmatic suspension
Hill start assist
Speed sensitive power steering
4-wheel electric traction control
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Tire pressure monitoring system
19-inch alloy wheels
Power tilt/sliding sunroof
Fixed panorama sunroof over 3rd row seats
Comand system with 6.5-inch display
In-dash 6-disc DVD/CD changer
Three rows of seating
8-speaker audio system
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Premium leather-wrapped steering wheel
Heated front seats
Options on this vehicle:
P02 package — $6330
Comand with HDD navigation
Voice control for audio/phone/navi
Power folding mirrors
Driver’s seat/steering memory
Sirius satellite radio
Logic7 Dolby Digital with harman/kardon speakers
Rear seat entertainment — $1950
3-zone climate control — $1450
Lighting package — $985
Bi-Xenon headlamps with active curve illumination
LED daytime running lights
Headlamp washing system
Steel grey exterior paint — $720
Blind spot assist — $600
Trailer hitch — $550
Class IV hitch
7500-pound towing capacity
Heated steering wheel — $225
Key options not on vehicle:
Full leather seating package — $1930
Heated rear seats — $620
17 / 21 / 19 mpg
Size: 3.0L turbocharged-diesel V-6
Horsepower: 210 hp @ 3400 rpm
Torque: 400 lb-ft @ 1600-2400 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Curb weight: 5423 lb