2007 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
2007 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Totally new full-size SUV.
The 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL 450 is the auto maker's first full-size sport utility vehicle. This all-new GL-Class of SUVs features three rows of seating and can seat up to seven passengers.
Large and luxurious, the GL is built in the United States alongside the M-Class mid-size SUV and the R-Class touring wagon. The GL is designed to appeal to Mercedes-Benz sedan owners who want the off-road, four-wheel-drive, seven-passenger and 7500-pound towing capabilities that come with a full-size SUV along with the luxury and safety features they have in their other Mercedes vehicles.
While their names sound similar, don't confuse the new GL-Class with the venerable G-Class or Gelandewagen. The GL shares nothing in common with the utiliarian G-Class, which will remain part of the Mercedes model lineup.
Initially available in one form, the Mercedes-Benz GL 450 is large and capable off road yet feels surprisingly car-like on the road. That car-like feeling comes in part because this is the first full-size SUV built around a unibody architecture instead of traditional body-on-frame construction. Mercedes says the GL is strong enough to tow a 30-foot boat, a trailer carrying three horses, or a good-sized Airstream travel trailer.
The GL-Class launches with a single model. The 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL 450 comes with a 335-hp V8 engine similar to the one in the new S-Class sedan. Additional models will be coming, starting early in calendar year 2007 with the GL 320 CDI, which comes with a diesel engine. Later, the GL will be available with Mercedes' breakthrough BlueTec diesel powertrain.
The Mercedes-Benz GL 450 ($54,900) comes with a 4.6-liter V8 engine, seven-speed automatic transmission, the 4MATIC four-wheel drive system, and the Airmatic air suspension system. It comes with seating for seven and with a third row that powers up or down at the touch of a button.
Options include Distronic radar-controlled cruise control; a rear-seat entertainment system with two screens; Keyless Go, which allows the car to be started as long as the key is inside the vehicle; Parktronic, which uses sonar to detect obstacles near the vehicle; a power rear tailgate; Harman/Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system; and DVD navigation.
Safety features that come standard include eight airbags, including side airbags for all four outboard first and second-row seating positions as well as side curtain airbags that protect occupants in all three rows. It comes with active front head restraints, LATCH tethers for child safety seats, and three-point safety belts for all seating positions; make sure everyone in the vehicle always wears those seat belts because they're your first line of defense in a crash. Active safety features (to help you avoid a crash) include an Electronic Stability Program, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist Plus, and four-wheel electronic traction control. Optional safety features include Parktronic and a rear-view camera, each of which can help alert the driver obstacles or people, including children, behind the vehicle.
The GL carries the styling cues seen in newest generation of Mercedes' mid-size M-Class (ML), but applies them to a larger package and adds some strong, perhaps even masculine touches. For example, both in front and at the rear, a metal skid plate (designed to protect underlying mechanical parts from damage when driving off pavement) is a prominent feature that underscores the GL's image of strength.
The GL's face looks much like that of the ML, except for the use of round fog lamps instead of oval-shaped accessory lights. Like the ML, the hood features what Mercedes calls a pair of power domes.
Seen in profile, the GL's nicely raked windshield and large, 18-inch wheels (with 19- and even 20-inch wheels available) and bulging wheel arches help balance what is basically a tall and long vehicle. But even being tall and long, the GL doesn't look as bulky as, say, General Motor's full-size SUVs, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, and even with the squared-off rear edge of its D-pillar, the GL doesn't look as boxy as DaimlerChrysler's other full-size, three-row SUV, the Jeep Commander.
Viewed from the rear, the GL presents a formidable obstacle. It's tall and wide, with a large rear hatch opening, large tail lamps and all of it sitting above a substantial skid plate bracketed on either side by large, rectangular exhaust pipes.
Compared to the ML, the GL is nearly a foot longer and also an inch wider in track (the axle width including wheels), though it is less than half an inch wider overall and not quite an inch taller.
Despite their similar styling, the Mercedes SUVs share only their front doors; otherwise, each has unique sheetmetal.
As large as the GL may appear, it's 2 inches shorter than the R-Class touring wagon, which also has three rows of seating, though with room for only six occupants.
The GL is built using unibody construction rather than the body-on-frame design that full-size pickups and SUVs traditionally use. Mercedes notes that because of this architecture, the GL-Class weighs in at anywhere from 300 pounds to 600 pounds lighter than its full-size competitors. To make sure the GL class is strong enough, 60 percent of the vehicle structure is made from special high-strength steel.
While the GL may look sleeker than its competitors, Mercedes brags that the 2007 GL 450 offers both best-in-class interior room as well as ease of entry and exit.
With all seats in their upright position, there's still 14 cubic feet of storage between the third-row seatbacks and the closed rear hatch door. A power folding feature for the third row is standard equipment on the GL with controls near the rear hatch and next to the right-side second-row passenger's seat. Power down those third-row seats, and cargo capacity expands to 43.8 cubic feet. Fold down the 60/40-split second row seats and the GL provides as much as 83.3 cubic feet for cargo. There's also room under the cargo floor for a full-size spare tire.
Standard equipment includes eight-way power front seats, 14 air conditioning outlet vents, eight cup holders, air vents, and reading lamps.
The interior layout is familiar to Mercedes drivers, with either faux or real leather trim for the seats (Mercedes notes that not all luxury car buyers want real leather seating surfaces), wood trim and metal rings around gauges, air vents, and cup holders.
The second-row seats provide ample legroom. When occupied by only two people, the back of the center section can be folded down as an armrest and storage tray.
We climbed into the third row and found room for two adults to ride back there, each in a separate seat. The room is enhanced by foot wells for your feet so you don't sit with your knees at chest level, and even the third-row seats are thickly padded to provide comfort. Fears of claustrophobia back there evaporate quickly thanks to the standard sunroof that extends over the third row.
The GL can be equipped with a 440-watt, 11-speaker harmon/kardon Logic 7 sound system, with Sirius Satellite Radio and with a DVD video entertainment system with screens mounted in the rear of both front-seat headrests and with a 6CD changer.
Driving the 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL 450 doesn't feel at all like driving the typical full-size sport utility vehicle. While this is a substantially sized vehicle, it is not truck-like. The Mercedes has a much more car-like dynamic.
The 335-hp V8 engine can propel the GL 450 from a standing start to 60 miles per hour in a car-like 7.4 seconds. This powerplant, with four valves per cylinder, is part of a brand new family of V8 engines from Mercedes-Benz.
A standard, seven-speed automatic transmission helps keep the engine operating in the sweet part of a power band that provides maximum torque from 2700 rpm all the way up to 5000. Mercedes notes that the GL is the only full-size SUV offering such a seven-speed gearbox.
The 4MATIC four-wheel-drive system features front, center and rear differentials. The sure-footed 4MATIC system is designed to maintain mobility even when only wheel has traction. In normal driving, the system distributes power equally to front and rear wheels. The system includes DSR, a sort of cruise control for regulating downhill speed, and Hill-Start Assist, which keeps the GL from rolling backward when launched after being stopped on uphill slope. 4MATIC also adjusts anti-lock brake controls to provide quicker stops on slippery and unpaved surfaces when off-roading.
Airmatic is an air suspension system that uses air bladders instead of coil springs to adjust ride height by as much as three inches as well as ride firmness and body control parameters, so the driver can select from comfort and more aggressively sporty settings. The system automatically lowers the vehicle to enhance handling and aerodynamic efficiency at speeds of 77 mph or higher.
Those serious about venturing far from pavement can opt for a special off-road package that includes special wheels and tires, a two-speed transfer case, locking center and rear differentials, adaptive dampening and with ground clearance height-adjustment options of as much as 12.4 inches, compared to the standard 7.9 inches of clearance.
We did our driving on freeways in and out of San Francisco's airport and on roads through Napa Valley wine country. Steering feedback was consistent, brakes (14-inches in diameter on the front wheels and 13 inches on the rear) were responsive and consistently predictable and the GL 450 offered nice balanced dynamic capabilities when hustled through the curves on the narrow, hilly roads that wind through the vine-covered hillsides.
The full-size Mercedes-Benz GL 450 is larger than the mid-size ML and offers a much more family-friendly package than the G-Class. The GL provides more car-like dynamics than the traditional, full-size, body-on-frame SUVs from other automakers, yet can tow big trailers.
New Car Test Drive contributor Larry Edsall filed this report from California's Napa Valley.
Mercedes-Benz GL 450 ($54,900).
Options As Tested
bi-xenon headlights with active curve feature and corner-illuminating front fog lights, 11-speaker harman/kardon Logic 7 surround sound, Parktronic, power tailgate, DVD navigation, rear-view camera, sunroof package.
Mercedes-Benz GL 450 ($54,900).
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