Until now, Mercedes-Benz's lineup included a couple of SUVs and the new R-class crossover, but none of its vehicles accommodated seven passengers-a shortcoming that clearly interfered with the automaker's plan to compete in practically every market niche. (We should see the tri-pointed star on a unicycle soon.)
Enter the three-row GL450. Not surprisingly, it drives almost identically to the M-class on which it is primarily based. The steering is light and smooth; no thumps or crashes mar the ride; and the quiet, comfortable, well-appointed cabin seals out road noise. Air springs are optional on the M-class, but here they're standard equipment, and they help keep body roll to a minimum. Under hard acceleration or braking, however, the GL pitches forward and back like a headbanging teenager. It doesn't help that the brakes take a good jab before they engage.
Very little of the 4.6-liter V-8's rumblings make their way inside this unibody SUV. An estimated 0-to-60-mph time of 7.4 seconds demonstrates the 5249-pound truck's get-up-and-go, but, nevertheless, the GL feels slow-and it certainly won't get any livelier when you ask it to pull 7500 pounds, its maximum tow rating. However, a more powerful variant, the GL550, will be released in about a year if the GL450 sells well. Wisely, Mercedes plans no AMG version.
The GL is a worthy entry in its segment, but it has none of the charisma of the Cadillac Escalade or Mercedes-Benz's own G-class, which it was supposed to supplant. In fact, Mercedes is hedging its bets by keeping the ancient, preternaturally cool Gel,,ndewagen in its lineup for at least four more years. The GL is certainly a comfortable and capable SUV, but there are plenty of those. There's only one G-wagen, though.