2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class

Rating

75/100

Background

It’s the little things that make top-tier luxury vehicles special. It’s the solid click as the door closes, or the subtle heft to a button or a knob that lets you know corners weren’t cut. Mercedes has been getting the little things right for a long time, and this holds true for the company’s largest and most versatile SUV, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. Ever since the current GL’s latest redesign a few years back, its competitors have been scrambling to keep up.
Of course, there are plenty of family-friendly options that are more affordable than the GL-Class. But if you have the means, the GL-Class is a most tempting lifestyle choice. All-wheel drive is standard on all GL-Class models, as is plenty of ground clearance for the occasional off-road adventure. Materials quality, fit and finish, technology and safety features are all at the top of the class. The available engines range from a fuel-efficient diesel V6 to a pair of muscular gasoline V8s. Few vehicles at any price pack this much luxury and functionality into a single package.
The GL-Class does face some competition at the top. The Land Rover LR4 has serious off-road credentials and nearly matches the GL-Class for total space, while undercutting it on price. You could also check out the Infiniti QX80; it has attitude to spare but falls a bit short on refinement and interior capacity. There’s also the aging Lexus LX 570, which remains a contender if off-road prowess is a high priority. All of these competitors are classy and capable, but it’s hard to beat the SUVS "A" rated 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class if you’re looking for a large luxury SUV that does it all.

Drive

Compared to a truck-based full-size SUV like the Cadillac Escalade, the 2016 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.
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 the V6’s healthy 455 lb-ft of torque gives it enough grunt to pull a good-sized trailer with ease. The GL450’s 362-hp gasoline V6 provides V8 thrust without the associated 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.

Exterior

The 2016 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 (powered by diesel fuel and gasoline, respectively), but are otherwise similarly equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, a self-leveling air suspension, automatic headlights, LED running lights and taillights, 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 trim. Electronics highlights 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, an SD card reader and a USB port.
The Premium package for these two models adds power-folding exterior mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming, keyless entry and ignition, 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 with real-time traffic, voice controls, 10GB of digital music storage, an iPod/media player interface and satellite radio.
The Lighting package bundles adaptive bi-xenon headlights and automatic high beams. The Appearance package includes 20-inch alloy wheels, lighted running boards and chrome exhaust tips (GL450 only). The Lane Tracking package adds a blind-spot monitor and lane-keeping assist, while the Parking Assist package adds front and rear parking sensors, an automated parallel-parking system and a 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 V8 engine, 21-inch alloy wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, 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, which consists of adaptive cruise control and several advanced safety technologies (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; on the GL450, it also adds the GL550’s standard adaptive dampers.
The high-performance GL63 AMG starts with most of the above, then adds an even more powerful V8, a sport exhaust, 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 inside and out, enhanced bolstering for the front seats, upgraded "designo" leather upholstery and a flat-bottomed sport steering wheel.
All four GL models can also be outfitted with a trailer hitch, an illuminated grille badge, 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.

Interior

One key to the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class’s appeal is its cabin. Though the standard MB-Tex vinyl upholstery on GL350 and GL450 models does seem a bit low-budget for a car at this price, you’d probably be hard-pressed to tell it apart from the real leather of some other brands. In general, the materials quality and construction are top-notch. Moreover, the choice of four different kinds of genuine wood trim and optional upgrades like diamond-quilted premium leather seating surfaces make it easy to give the space an even higher-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 massage functions are unquestionably the way to go if you can stomach the added cost. While the GL550 and GL63 both come standard with the multicontour chairs, the latter gets an upgraded set with aggressive sport bolstering that complements the added performance.
Mercedes’ trademark COMAND system uses a large console-mounted knob to access a broad range 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 cargo 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.

Safety

Standard safety features on the 2016 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. A five-year subscription to mbrace is standard on all GL-Class models, with optional subscription upgrades available that include perks like a 24-hour personal VIP service.
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 mitigation with automatic braking and "active" blind spot and lane-keeping assist systems that can automatically guide the auto back into its lane if the driver fails to heed their 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.

Specs

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V6 engine rated at 240 horsepower 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 gasoline-fueled 3.0-liter turbocharged 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, putting it mid-pack in terms of quickness. Like the GL’s other gasoline engines, the V6 includes an automated stop-start system, but fuel economy is unremarkable at 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 a blazing 5.4 seconds. Fuel economy checks in at just 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 absurd 4.8 seconds.
Properly equipped, all GL-Class models can haul a maximum of 7,500 pounds.

Value

Room for seven adults; authoritative power; available fuel-efficient diesel V6; classy and quiet interior; strong brakes.

Verdict

Roomy, powerful and solidly built, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is one of the very best three-row crossover SUVs you can buy.

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