By KBB.com Editors
One look at the luxury import segment and you see – very quickly – the preponderance of growth in the SUV category. While the M-Class has certainly enjoyed its share of success, its reception was hampered by the lack of a third-row seat at launch and, once a third row was finally introduced, the marginal comfort and accessibility of that seating did not impress buyers. Because many consumers required a larger vehicle, Mercedes-Benz created the GL-Class, a seven-passenger SUV with surprisingly modest exterior dimensions and host of engine choices including a 50-state legal diesel. With the GL, consumers retain the same sporty character and luxurious trappings of the M-Class, but in a slightly more expensive package offering far better utility.You'll Like This Car If...
If you want the benefits of Mercedes-Benz engineering, German build quality, American-style accommodations and the optional availability of a fuel-efficient turbo-diesel engine, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL delivers in spades.You May Not Like This Car If...
If third-row seating is not a requirement, you can get much of the same performance and luxury from the smaller M-Class. Those seeking a bit more exterior flash may be happier in a Cadillac Escalade or, if money is not object, a Mercedes-Benz G-Class.What's New for 2009
The GL320 CDI is replaced by the GL320 BlueTEC, which is available in all 50 states. Mercedes-Benz's PRE-SAFE occupant protection system and a new radio head unit are made standard on all trims, while the GL550 receives Keyless Go as standard equipment.Driving It Driving Impressions
Subjected to highly variable road conditions, including some fairly aggressive on-road twists and turns and an equally aggressive off-road experience, the GL450 handled itself with grace, especially when equipped with the standard air suspension and optional adaptive damping. Despite almost 5,300 pounds of curb weight and an overall length right around 200 inches, the GL450 drives like a much smaller, significantly lighter SUV. Response from the 4.6-liter DOHC V8 is great, made more so by the excellent seven-speed automatic transmission. The GL450 can handle anything an owner with payments remaining would care to give it. It may not be quite as off-road capable as a comparably priced Range Rover, but we like its balance between on-road practicality and off-road capability.Favorite Features
Adaptive Damping System
The GL's air suspension can constantly react to road surface variations, with an ability to change shock absorber settings 20 times per second. If the road is smooth, the system delivers relatively softer shock absorber action and a smooth ride; if the road gets bad, the shock absorbers become more firm for increased control. The result is an SUV with a comfortable ride when you want it and appropriately more responsive handling when you need it.
BlueTEC V6 Diesel Engine
Emissions guidelines kept the old GL320 CDI from being sold in all 50 states, but the new BlueTEC clean diesel not only clears the stringent NOx bar, it can cruise nearly 600 miles on a single tank of fuel.
The GL's bucket seats are well-shaped and supportive. The driver is fronted by a four-spoke steering wheel and what Mercedes-Benz describes as a "sport-oriented" instrument panel. The horizontal grab handles on the console are notable, alluding – both aesthetically and functionally – to the GL's off-road capability. We remain undecided regarding the shift lever being mounted to the steering column; it does provide for a clean, uninterrupted console, but is less-than-intuitive in its operation. To its credit, the design team has provided reasonably easy access to the third row and generous headroom throughout the interior.Exterior
With the 2009 GL-Class, Mercedes-Benz hits all the right exterior notes. In profile, the GL is very well-proportioned, disguising its overall length (200.3 inches) with short overhangs, an aggressive windshield angle, generous greenhouse, flared wheel arches (similar to the S-Class) and careful detailing. The traditional Mercedes-Benz face is framed by high-tech halogen headlamps; optional bi-xenon lamps include a swiveling feature for additional visibility in turns. Privacy glass covers both the "B" and "C" pillars, giving the appearance of one uninterrupted glass panel along the entire side of the vehicle. It is, from any angle, a highly unified design.Notable Standard Equipment
With assembly in Alabama, the GL-Class – like both the M-Class and R-Class – is value-driven. That's reflected in a long list of standard equipment, where several items are notable. Passive safety is addressed with two-stage front airbags for front-seat occupants, side airbags for both first- and second-row seats and side-curtain airbags spanning all three rows. Audiophiles will enjoy a standard in-dash six-disc CD changer, auxiliary input for MP3 players and Bluetooth connectivity. Those living in the sunbelt should appreciate the rear (stationary) sunroof with shade, while inhabitants of the snowbelt will benefit from standard full-time four-wheel drive. The GL550 adds 21-inch wheels, a rearview camera, running boards, full leather interior, Keyless Go, Parktronic park assist, heated rear seats and the harman/kardon LOGIC7 sound system.Notable Optional Equipment
Despite all that is standard, the GL's extensive list of options won't disappoint feature-oriented consumers. Driving in congested areas is a good argument for Distronic, Mercedes-Benz's adaptive cruise control. For occupants not in the front seats, the rear-seat entertainment system should provide plenty of entertainment. Offerings also include SIRIUS Real Time Traffic, DVD navigation, heated second-row seating, a rear-view back-up camera and a Class-IV trailer hitch to complement the GL's 7,500-pound tow rating.Under the Hood
There are three engine options for the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. The GL320 BlueTEC employs a powerful yet fuel-efficient 3.0-liter direct-injection turbo-diesel V6. With plenty of low-end torque for quick acceleration, the GL320 delivers an impressive 23 miles per gallon in highway driving. The GL450 is powered by a marvelous 4.6-liter V8. If, as advertised, the GL450 represents "more Mercedes to love," then this new V8 is more performance to adore. With four valves per cylinder, the engine delivers a seamless 335 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque and, more impressively, delivers that power and torque over a broad engine speed range. The powerhouse 5.5-liter V8 in the GL550 cranks out 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. Connecting the smooth power to all four wheels is a seven-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission.
3.0-liter V6 Turbo Diesel
210 horsepower @ 3800 rpm
398 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1600-2800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/23
335 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
339 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2700-5000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 13/18
382 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
391 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2800-4800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 13/17
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTEC's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starts around $58,000, while the GL450 bumps the price closer to $59,000 and the top-of-the-line GL550 starts just over $80,000. With the GL320 and GL450, adding only the Premium Package I and rear-seat entertainment brings the MSRP close to $67,000. A couple more checks of the option column would easily bring the price close to that of the well-equipped GL550. Of course, the $70,000-plus figure represents something of a bargain when compared to the new S-Class or, for that matter, a heavily-optioned E-Class. In terms of resale value, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is projected to be an excellent performer over time, with residuals along the same lines as the Land Rover Range Rover.