2011 GL-Class New Car Test Drive
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class appeals to drivers who want the off-road and towing capabilities of a full-size SUV with the comfort and maneuverability of a car-based crossover, and preferably one with a three-pointed star on the hood. The GL-Class is a full-size, seven-passenger luxury crossover SUV. Larger than the BMW X5, the Mercedes GL-Class is the same length as the Audi Q7. It's the biggest Mercedes available in the U.S. and it's built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
New for 2011 is a refreshed front grille and bumpers on the Mercedes-Benz GL550, including LED taillights and daytime running lamps. Also, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class gets an optional blind spot monitoring system, which can help the driver spot a vehicle in the next lane.
All Mercedes GL-Class models come with a 7-speed automatic and 4MATIC full-time all-wheel drive, which distributes power to front and rear wheels equally. All GL-Class models employ air suspension for good ride comfort on a variety of surfaces and level attitude regardless of load. A full suite of safety equipment is standard across the GL-Class.
The GL-Class shares its basic platform with the M-Class and R-Class. (Don't confuse the GL550 with the venerable G550 Gelandewagen designed for rugged terrain because the GL-Class shares nothing in common with the utilitarian G-Class beyond the engine and transmission.)
The Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is large and surprisingly capable off road yet we found it feels reasonably car-like on the road. That car-like feeling comes in part because it is built around a unibody architecture instead of traditional body-on-frame construction. The 2011 GL-Class is rated to tow up to 7500 pounds, but we recommend an American pickup truck for anything approaching that much weight.
Competitors of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class include Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX56, Lexus LX570, and Range Rover. The GL-Class offers a compelling argument of efficiency, space and features, including the ability to carry adults in the third row. Options quickly drive up the price, however.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class offers three models differentiated primarily by engines and features. The GL350 uses a 3.0-liter BlueTEC turbo-diesel with 210 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. The GL450 comes with a 4.7-liter gasoline V8 (335 hp/339 lb-ft), while the GL550 uses a 5.5-liter V8 (382 hp/391 lb-ft). All GL-Class offerings come with a 7-speed automatic transmission, 4MATIC all-wheel drive, and Airmatic air suspension. All come with seating for seven and with a third row that powers up or down at the touch of a button.
GL350 ($60,950) and GL450 ($61,950) are similarly equipped, with MB-Tex faux leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, power driver's seat, heated power mirrors, heated windshield washer system, reading lamps, burl walnut trim, first-row moonroof, third-row panorama roof, rain-sensing wipers, HomeLink, cruise control, six power windows, and trip computer.
Options include the Full Leather Seating Package ($1930), which includes leather upholstery, Comfort front headrests, premium interior lighting and ambient lighting; and Tri-Zone Automatic Climate Control ($1450), which includes rear air conditioning. Buyers can choose between a wood/leather steering wheel ($590) and a heated steering wheel ($225). A Class IV trailer hitch is optional ($550). Additional options include heated/ventilated front seats, Parktronic proximity sensors, running boards, lighting package (adaptive bi-Xenon headlamps with heated washers), dual-screen DVD rear entertainment system, LED daytime running lights), illuminated door sills, roof rails and metallic paint. Premium package 1 ($4,280) includes HDD navigation COMAND/voice recognition with Zagat guide, HD and Sirius radio, and MP3 inputs, power folding mirrors, power tilt/telescope steering column and driver memory, power liftgate, 115-volt outlet (house current), and auto-dimming mirrors; Premium Package 2 adds a harman/kardon Logic 7 sound system and Keyless go to all the features in Premium Package 1.
GL550 ($84,450) comes with many above options as standard, including full leather, three-zone climate control (rear air conditioning), navigation, rearview camera, Parktronic, harman kardon audio, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps, infrared-reflective glass, metallic paint, Adaptive Damping Suspension, and Keyless Go. Options are limited to a chrome package, roof cross bars, trailer hitch, rear-seat entertainment system, heated steering wheel and rear seats, illuminated door sills, and an upgrade to Nappa leather upholstery.
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. GL-Class models come with active front head restraints, LATCH tethers for child safety seats, adjustable headrests 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, four-wheel electronic traction control, and all-wheel drive. The 2011 GL350 and GL450 come standard with run-flat tires. Optional safety features include a park-assist system, a rear-view camera and, new for 2011, Blind Spot Assist, which monitors both driver-and passenger-side blind spots. Visual and audible warnings will alert the driver when a turn signal is activated with another vehicle in either blind spot. The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class uses a proprietary Pre-Safe system, which can sense an impending collision by myriad input factors. Introduced previously on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans, Pre-Safe automatically tightens the front seat belts and moves the front passenger seat to a position that can provide better protection. Side windows close to provide better support for the curtain air bags. If the system senses an impending rollover, the sunroof also closes.