If you’re looking for a car that can comfortably transport seven co-workers to happy hour on Friday, haul an antique dresser home from a Saturday estate sale and haul a ski boat to the lake Sunday morning, you have a number of appealing SUVs from which to choose. If you want a luxury model that can handle all these tasks and do it with a healthy dose of panache, however, you’ll find yourself with a list of far fewer options that’s topped by the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.
While this dearth of choices alone would earn this large seven-passenger luxury SUV a spot on many must-test-drive lists, its unique strengths help it stand out in this small but highly competitive segment. Take the range of available powertrains, for example, with everything from a relatively fuel-efficient turbocharged diesel V6 all the way up to the high-performance GL63 AMG model’s 550-horsepower V8. Standard all-wheel drive and 7.9 inches of ground clearance also mean this deluxe truck is up to tackling everything from ugly winter road conditions to minor summertime off-pavement forays.
Then there’s the GL’s spacious passenger cabin that includes an adult-sized third-row seat, something few three-row luxury SUVs can claim. As you’d expect from a car wearing the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star, the range of available style, comfort and advanced safety options — including diamond-stitched leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats with built-in massage and a collision warning system with automatic braking — is extensive. Cabin quality is also second to none in the segment.
As far as downsides are concerned, the GL-Class’s size can make it feel a bit ponderous on the road, a quality that isn’t helped any by the overly light steering feel in all but the GL63 AMG. The other potential drawback is that the price tag can soar to breathtaking heights once you start adding all those desirable aforementioned options.
While the GL-Class has won our admiration, thorough shoppers might still want to have a look at some of its rivals. The 2015 Lexus LX 570 combines a positively posh interior with a powerful V8 engine and truly remarkable off-roading abilities. The same can be said of the 2015 Land Rover LR4, which stands out by undercutting the GL by more than $10,000. The 2015 Infiniti QX80 offers macho styling, user-friendly technology features and its own big V8. The 2015 Cadillac Escalade could also be worth a look.
While all of these competitors are both classy and practical, ultimately we believe the SUVS "A" rated 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is a top choice for a large luxury SUV that provides refinement, sophistication and utility.
Compared to a truck-based full-size SUV like the Cadillac Escalade, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class definitely feels like a cut above, thanks in large part to the smooth drive quality produced by the adaptive air suspension. Handling is solid but rather uninspiring due to the vehicle’s size, weight and overly light steering feel. One dynamic bright spot is the GL’s extraordinary brakes, which provide a little extra peace of mind with stopping abilities on par with some sport sedans.
When it comes to propulsion, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the available powertrains. The GL350’s diesel-powered engine is no speed demon, but it’s fine for everyday driving and, with its healthy 455 lb-ft of torque, the small V6 has sufficient grunt to pull a good-sized trailer. The GL450’s new 362-hp gasoline V6 should provide satisfying acceleration with the same output as the 8-cylinder engine it’s replacing but much better fuel economy. The GL550’s 429-hp, 4.6-liter V8 has muscle to spare, making the 550-hp, 5.5-liter V8 at the heart of the GL63 AMG a case of admittedly thrilling overkill.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is a large, seven-passenger SUV available in four models: GL350 Bluetec, GL450, GL550 and GL63 AMG.
The GL350 Bluetec and GL450 have different turbocharged V6 engines (one diesel, the other gasoline, respectively), but are otherwise similarly equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, a self-leveling air suspension, automatic headlights, LED running lights, a sunroof, automatic wipers, roof rails, rear privacy glass, power rear quarter-windows and a power liftgate. Inside the standard features list continues with dual-zone automatic climate control, "MB-Tex" premium vinyl upholstery, heated eight-way power front seats (with four-way lumbar adjustment), a power-folding third-row seat, a rear cargo area cover, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and genuine wood interior trim. Electronic standard features include the knob-based COMAND interface, a 7-inch central display, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity, Mercedes mbrace2 emergency communications (including smartphone app integration), a 115-volt household-style power outlet and a sound system that features a CD/DVD player, HD radio, an auxiliary sound jack and a USB port.
The Premium package for these two models adds power-folding exterior mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming, keyless ignition and entry, power front head restraints, memory settings for the driver and front passenger seats, a power-adjustable steering wheel, heated and cooled cupholders, lighted door sills and multicolor ambient lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a navigation system, traffic reporting, voice controls, 10GB of digital music storage, an iPod/media player interface and satellite radio.
The Lighting package bundles bi-xenon headlights with Active Curve Illumination and adaptive high-beam assist. The Appearance package includes 20-inch alloy wheels, lighted running boards and chrome exhaust tips (GL450 only). The Lane Tracking package adds blind-spot warning and assist and lane-keeping assist, while the Parking Assist package adds front and rear parking sensors, an automated parallel-parking feature and a 360-degree surround-view camera system. Also available are three-zone automatic climate control, ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, a 13-speaker Harman Kardon sound system and "multicontour" front seats that add a massaging feature and adjustable side bolsters and shoulder supports.
The GL550 starts with all of the above, then adds a stronger V8 engine, 21-inch alloy wheels, sporty exterior styling cues, soft-close doors, different wood trim and unique dashboard stitching.
Optional items on all three of the above models (GL350, GL450, GL550) include a panoramic sunroof, heated second-row seats and the Driver Assistance package, with adaptive cruise control and advanced driver warning systems (see the Safety section below for details). The GL450 and GL550 can also be equipped with an On-/Off-Road package that includes a six-mode terrain selector, a two-speed transfer case and front underbody protection.
The high-performance GL63 AMG starts with most of the above, then adds an even more powerful V8, exclusive 21-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes, adaptive stabilizer bars (the "Active Curve System" in Mercedes-speak), AMG-specific styling elements, upgrade "designo" leather upholstery and a microfiber-trimmed sport steering wheel.
All four GL models can also be fitted out with a trailer hitch, an illuminated grille badge, upgraded leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, power-sliding second-row seats for third-row access, rear side window sunshades, a rear entertainment system and a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen BeoSound sound system.
All of the above aside, the key to the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class’s appeal is its passenger cabin. Though the standard MB-Tex vinyl upholstery on GL350 and GL450 models does seem a bit low-budget for a luxury vehicle, you’d probably be hard pressed to tell it apart from the real leather of some other brands, while in general the materials quality and construction are top-notch. The choice of four different kinds of genuine wood trim and optional upgrades like diamond-quilted premium leather seating surfaces also give the space a noticeably high-end look and feel.
There’s more to the interior than just looking good, though, starting with roomy adult-size accommodations in all three rows. The standard front seats are agreeable enough, but the optional "multicontour" seats with heating, ventilation and a massage function are the way to go for anyone who expects to spend long stints behind the steering wheel.
Mercedes’ trademark COMAND system uses a large console-mounted knob to access a long list of settings and controls via menus on the dash-mounted display. It takes a while to completely get the hang of, but it’s ultimately an elegant way of managing all this technology without a sea of physical buttons.
When it comes to hauling freight in addition to (or instead of) people, the GL-Class offers a healthy 16 cubic feet of space behind the third-row seats, a number similar to that offered by the trunk of your average midsize sedan. Folding down both sections of the 50/50-split third row gets you 49.4 cubic feet, while dropping both the second and third rows creates a cargo hold with 93.8 cubic feet of space that’s comparable to those in other large SUVs.
Standard safety features on the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class include antilock brakes, stability and traction control, automatic crosswind stabilization, trailer stability assist, front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, active front head restraints, a forward collision warning system and a driver attention/drowsiness monitor. Also standard are a rearview camera and the mbrace2 communications system that includes automatic collision notification, an SOS button, stolen car location, geo-fencing, alarm notification and remote door lock/unlock.
The available Lane Tracking package (standard on GL550, optional on GL350 and GL450) monitors blind spots and lane-drifting and alerts the driver by vibrating the wheel or emitting a beep. The optional Driver Assistance package (standard on GL63) adds collision warning with auto-braking and "active" blind spot and lane keeping assist systems that can automatically guide the auto back into the current lane if the driver fails to heed the system’s warnings.
In SUVS brake testing, all non-AMG GL-Class models came to a stop from 60 miles per hour in around 115 feet, an exceptionally short distance for such a heavy car with all-season tires.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V6 engine rated at 240 hp and 455 pound-feet of torque. Like every other GL-Class model, it features a 7-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. In SUVS performance tests, the GL350 went from zero to 60 miles per hour in 8.4 seconds, a slow time compared to other vehicles in this segment. EPA-estimated fuel economy is very good, though, at 22 miles per gallon combined (19 city/26 highway).
The GL450 gets a new gasoline-fueled 3.0-liter turbocharged gasoline V6 that produces 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes estimates it will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.6 seconds, which would be faster than average for the segment. Like the rest of its gasoline-powered GL siblings, this engine now includes an automated stop-start system designed to boost fuel economy, which is a good bit better than the V8 engine it’s replacing with EPA ratings of 19 miles per gallon combined (17 city/21 highway).
The GL550 is propelled by a twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V8 that pumps out 429 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. In SUVS testing, it hit 60 miles per hour in 5.4 seconds and returns EPA estimates of 15 miles per gallon combined (13 city/18 highway).
Last, but certainly not least, is the GL63 AMG, which features a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 rated at 550 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. It has an AMG-tuned 7-speed automatic. EPA fuel economy numbers are dismal at 14 miles per gallon combined (13 city/17 highway). According to Mercedes, this AMG variant will go from zero to 60 in an extraordinary 4.8 seconds.
Properly equipped, all GL-Class models can haul a maximum of 7,500 pounds.
Room for seven adults; authoritative power; available fuel-efficient diesel V6; classy and quiet interior; strong brakes.
Roomy, powerful and solidly built, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is one of the very best three-row crossover SUVs you can buy.