The Mercedes GL-Class is aimed directly at big car lovers, which means North America is a key demographic. It’s large, luxurious and fast; so we had no trouble adding it to our fleet.
Until 2006 Mercedes SUV line topped out (at least size-wise) with the G-Class . While there is nothing wrong with the G-Wagons, it had two fundamental flaws for the growing SUV market. First, G-Class was originally developed for military use. While Mercedes has done a good job of adapting the off-road vehicle for on-road duty over the last thirty years, it needed to start with a fresh design so that the G-Class would not compromise its loyal fan base of deep-pocked off-roaders. Second is size. There are families that need space for more than five people. The GL-Class is over a foot longer than the G-Class, which means a third row of seating is possible.
In pictures the GL-Class looks like a bigger version of the M-Class . In reality the proportions are much larger and much more impressive. While exterior dimensions have GL about a foot longer than the M-Class, without friends or kids aboard, the GL finds room for ten more cubic feet of cargo room.
From the outside, it’s apparent that the overall appearance of the GL 550 is meant for people with a family, who also want luxury. Mercedes has never been accused of making anything look inexpensive, and the GL was not n exception. Everything on the outside of our tester was either a deep Arctic white or chrome. In fact, this may be the most chrome we’ve even seen on a Mercedes. The whole front end, the 12-inch AMG wheels, the side rails, the rear accent pieces, and the tailpipe, all have an extra shimmer to them. But this is all done with typically tasteful Mercedes way, so Pimp My Ride need not apply here.
Inside, Mercedes wants to do all the work for you. Of course there are power seats (eight-way adjustable), but the is also an electronically closing tailgate, power folding third row seats, and even power rear vent windows.
The interior will be familiar to any Mercedes fan. Not all the parts are recognizable from other Mercedes vehicles, but the layout has a feeling that is shared throughout the company’s entire line up. For example, the height of the dashboard and the instrument lay out feel ergonomically similar (but not identical) to the E-Class.
Our benchmark for the GL 550 is the S550 sedan we had in our fleet . While it might not seem fair to put a seven passenger SUV against a five passenger sedan, from the driver’s seat view there were a lot of similarities. The GL 550 did not have COMMAND center running the whole operations of the car like the S-Class, but it did offer the same ergonomically friendly layout for the radio/GPS/rearview camera from our S550.
The overall impression from the inside was that there was plenty more S-Class to the GL than we expected from the price point. The Mercedes starts the GL 550 at $81,300 with extra interior options like the premium leather and the dual headrest screens our tester came in a little over $85K (about $15K less than our S-Class).
The GL 550 does not act according to its size. The handling could be compared to the much smaller RAV4 we just had in out fleet. While comparing a Mercedes to a Toyota usually isn’t a complement, it is in this case. We liked the tight turning of the small SUV, and though it had a sporty feel. It was an accomplishment for the RAV4, but it’s an engineering miracle for the much larger and heavier GL 550.
The road handling is partially attributed to the low-profile street tires. This means our GL was nowhere near ready for off roading. Instead the all wheel drive system was there to make sure we could keep control on slick ground.
The engine is the same exact unit we had in our S550. It’s a 5.5-liter V8 engine that makes 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque (allowing it to tow up to 7,500 lbs). Without a boat attached, the 0 to 60 mph time is 6.4, which is as quick as Audi’s Q7 and quicker than a BMW 528i – not bad for a SUV that weighs in at 5,300 lbs.
It would be easy to dismiss our GL 550 as just a big SUV for people who like to be seen in a big SUV. By appearance it could be a lot of style over substance. After all, it’s got a lot of chrome, pretty white paint, and tires for the street; so it looks like it’s not ready for off-road duty. In some ways this is true. For those who want to be in luxury while traversing up a mountain, then that’s why Mercedes has the G-Class. But for those who need to carry a lot of people, tow a boat, or travel roads aren’t always paved, the GL 550 is a luxurious fit.