What better place to test the capabilities of our Mercedes-Benz GL450 than on a family vacation to Cape Cod? That’s what senior editor Joe Lorio figured when we dropped off the Four Seasons SUV with him in New York. The GL meets his expectations for the capacities of a full-size sport-utility vehicle, but it falls far short of his expectations for a Mercedes-Benz.
“The big cargo hold is nice, but you’re reaching up pretty high to load luggage,” he says. “I’ll give props to the third-row seat, which is better than most. The second-row bench, however, doesn’t slide fore and aft, limiting flexibility. It’s curious that the moonroof panel over the third row has no sunshade, as the other two do. Buyers in the Sun Belt will want to skip this option, as it would cook the interior.”
The Lorio clan’s vacation almost set an Automobile Magazine record for a single fuel fill-up. Joe paid $112 for almost 26 gallons, “and that was after driving out of one station because its prices were even higher.” Thanks to the big tank, though, the Lorios could drive a long way on a single tank, “and I got an indicated 20 mpg going back and forth to the Cape.”
While he finds the engine “very smooth and adequately powerful,” Lorio believes potential buyers ought to investigate the less expensive, more efficient diesel option.
He also finds the SUV’s Comand navigation/audio/information system easy to use, and “the rotary control feels like quality. This is the best of the current screen/interface systems. The split screen that simultaneously shows the backup camera and the overhead view is very helpful.”
Apart from all this, however, Lorio is not impressed.
“The steering is overboosted almost to the point that it feels sloppy. The suspension suffers from impact harshness, it hops over bumps, and it causes a lot of head toss. The GL may not ride as badly as a Cadillac Escalade, but it’s not far off.”
The quality of the interior leather, he says, seems more designed for easy clean up than for a luxurious feel. “The GL has none of the poise and polish of an E-class wagon, and it’s miles from the new S-class,” Lorio concludes. “I just don’t think Mercedes-Benz has a good handle on the crossover/SUV category. Next to a Range Rover, there’s simply no comparison.”
Before returning it to Ann Arbor, New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman had a brief stint in the GL and mostly concurred with his neighbor.
“Driving it up Park Avenue, lightly loaded with four passengers, made me pine for the smooth-riding ways of my solid-axle four-by-four International Travelall,” Kitman says.
There’s a comparison test in the making.
“There are two ways to look at our Four Seasons GL,” Kitman says. “One is that it is a miracle of modern technology, something so big and hulking made easy to drive thanks to the wonders of stability and rollover controls, scads of horsepower, and a seven-speed automatic. The other is that for most people, it is an absurd conveyance, too large by half. It needs all those safety aids because it is hulking and hard to see out of.”
Once the GL450 returned to Michigan, Your Humble Servant took it home to metro Detroit and, under moderately heavy braking during the Friday evening rush hour, discovered severely warped discs. The SUV hauled our two pooches to a big leash-free doggy park on a Sunday when the tire-pressure warning signal came on. The right-rear tire was low: less than 30 psi. The 275/45-HR19 Continental 4x4 Contacts are not the biggest in the business, although surely their unsprung weight and recommended tire pressures of 39 psi for the fronts and 47 psi for the rears contributes to the ride quality Lorio and Kitman despise so much. By Monday it was clear that the right rear couldn’t retain 47 psi, so we whisked the Benz away to our local Discount Tire store and mounted a donut spare on the right rear while the shop fixed a slow leak. The tire store found a nail in the tread, but while it was fixing the slow leak, the shop damaged the tire beyond repair. The store replaced the factory tire for free and returned the Mercedes to us with 18,915 miles on the clock.
Videographer Sandon Voelker next used the GL for a weekend family visit in rural Michigan. Its next stop will be the dealership, where we’ll have the brake rotors checked and probably replaced. Watch for our report on both in this space next month.