I am a fan of the Mercedes GL350 Bluetec. The available turbo-diesel engine does a great job moving the relatively large vehicle without using too much fuel and the interior is as nice as any Benz this side of an S-class. Plus the diesel is the cheapest way to get a GL.
Getting a GL550 doesn’t make much sense to me. It costs a lot more than an Infiniti QX56, tows less, and doesn’t move with the same authority as the Infiniti. Although the GL550 weighs less and make less power, it still manages to burn more gas than a QX56. There are certainly some luxury SUV shoppers who want nothing to do with a diesel engine, but it’s tough to understand why those shoppers would choose a GL550 over the competition.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Phil is right to point out that on a rational and objective level, the GL550 isn’t the best seven-seat SUV you can buy. And I don’t care. There is something captivating about the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class that overrules other logical arguments. Our Capri blue tester, with its 21-inch wheels and brushed aluminum running boards, looks so much more imposing and sexy than any competitor. Then when you step inside, you find that the GL550 is perhaps the most opulently trimmed seven-passenger vehicle on the market.
The relaxed driving experience, slick dashboard design, elegant ambient lighting, and sumptuous seats make it easy to fall in love with the GL550. Buying the GL350 diesel would be cheaper and more eco-friendly, and the Infiniti QX56 is objectively a better vehicle, but it’s hard to ignore the appeal of a fabulous, V-8-powered Mercedes-Benz.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
The Mercedes GL550 is like half of a joke that is part of the #whitepeopleproblems internet meme: it would go something along the lines of “Oh no! There are not one, but two V-8-powered GLs to choose from! However will I decide?”
Mercedes offers both the GL450 and the GL550 with V-8 power; the former with 335 hp from a 4.6-liter V-8 and the latter with 382 hp from a 5.5-liter V-8. The two V-8s also wear different price tags: the 450 starts at $63,445 including destination, the 550 starts at a whopping $86,175. Is it worth it? Totally. As Jake says, it is hard to ignore the allure of the large, burbling German V-8. The 5.5-liter turns the GL into a Q-ship in a way that the 4.6-liter does not; it’s powerful, fast, and luxurious.
The GL550 is for those who want an S-class but need more space and capability, both of which the GL has in spades. I used the GL to help move a friend of mine, and with the rear two rows folded, the capacious 83.3 cu ft cargo area swallowed about a third of her belongings. Thanks to the well-calibrated automatic damping system and air suspension, I never once worried about body roll affecting all of the cargo. And with a one-touch, power-folding third row turning the GL from a cargo hauler to a family hauler is a cinch.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
The GL550 is a typical Mercedes-Benz; it’s super luxurious, super fast, and super expensive. I agree with Phil’s argument for the Infiniti, but I’m guessing that most GL buyers are repeat Mercedes-Benz customers. With a starting price of price of more than $86,000, the GL550 is the Mercedes-Benz that you step up to after outgrowing your ML or, as Donny mentioned, that you trade for your S-class when you need more utility or people/cargo room.
Being a fairly short person, I really appreciate the GL550’s wide running boards. Those on our four seasons Infiniti QX56 are so narrow that even I, also a small-footed person, have to step sideways to squeeze more than just my forefoot onto them. The GLs running boards also look really cool, but the relatively low ratio of rubber grips to chrome can make them a bit slippery when wet.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
I’m glad Nordlicht reminded us that there is a much less expensive version of the GL available, the GL450, because this GL550 sure is a pricey beast. Then again, as big, three-row SUVs go, it doesn’t get much better than this. The vehicle is very well sorted dynamically. I tossed the GL550 into a series of roundabouts and was astonished by the body control and the composure, thanks to the sophisticated chassis featuring adaptive damping and air suspension. The GL550 also has tremendous acceleration for such a huge, heavy, tall vehicle. Naturally, with this much power on tap from a 5.5-liter V-8, fuel economy is dismal at 12/17 mpg city/highway. The model to have is the Bluetec diesel for sure.
So, yeah, I can see why an affluent family would want to buy this vehicle. And you certainly would have to be affluent to buy a $90,000 SUV. There’s every conceivable luxury feature in the cabin, and I like the perspective out the fairly upright windshield; the visibility is good despite the thick A-pillars. I love the second moonroof over the third-row seat. I also like the thick grab handles that flank the center console; they add symmetry and utility. I do wish that the GL had the full Comand system interface with a rotating dial, like other Mercedes-Benzes do. The telematics work well, but the interface isn’t as good as what you get in a Hyundai.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
More often than not, sliding behind the wheel of what the EPA classifies as a large SUV is akin to taking the helm of a large yacht. The vehicles, though plenty powerful, are large, heavy, and hard to maneuver. The GL is one of the few exceptions to that norm. When compared to brutes like the Cadillac Escalade or the Infiniti QX, the GL is about 3 inches narrower, 3 inches lower, and a whopping eight inches shorter overall than the Infiniti. Moving less mass inherently eases the task at hand, but kudos also has to go to the Benz’s air suspension system – the ride height is kept at a moderate level (I found the running boards redundant, personally), and the compliant car-like ride is extremely comfortable.
As others have noted, despite its power and superb NVH manners, the 5.5-liter V-8 is quite thirsty, even though the GL has a seven-speed automatic and is lighter than most competitors. Those weary of diesel power have the more approachable, less-powerful GL450 to choose from, but it’s still hard to beat the GL350 Bluetec’s impressive fuel economy and cruising range.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
2012 Mercedes-Benz GL550 4Matic
MSRP (with destination): $86,175
PRICE AS TESTED: $89,125
Horsepower: 382 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 391 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm
WHEELS AND TIRES:
21-inch aluminum wheels
Continental CrossContact LX 295/40WR-21 tires
FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
Cargo: 83.3 cu ft
Legroom (front/middle/rear): 40.3/39.5/34.2 in
Headroom (front/middle/rear): 40.1/40.6/38.2 in
Towing: 7500 lb
Four-wheel air suspension
Adaptive damping system
Height adjustable suspension
Four-wheel fender flares
Brushed aluminum running boards
Power tilt/sliding sunroof
6.5-inch media interface display
40GB hard drive w/navigation
Harman/Kardon surround sound audio system
Walnut wood trim
Power folding, 50/50 split 3rd row seats
Automatic climate control
Parking assist system
Infrared glass and privacy glass
Rear view camera
Tire pressure monitoring system
OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
Heated steering wheel- $225
Trailer hitch- $550
Rear seat entertainment- $1950
Accessory chrome package- $225
KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE:
Heated rear seats- $620
Cargo area tray and cargo box- $160
Illumination kit for running boards- $650
Mercedes-Benz claims the GL550 goes zero to 60 in an estimated 6.4 seconds.