As with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes' trend-setting M-Class luxury sport utility vehicle saw plenty of would-be customers lured away by three-row, seven-seat competitors. As Jeep responded with a stretched Commander, so Mercedes has produced a three-row version of its new SUV.
Like Mercedes' R-Class people-mover, the GL-Class has three rows of seats, but manages to wrap them in a package that avoids the vaguely minivan-esque profile of the R-Class. A raked hood imparts a sporty appearance that is augmented by the muscular flared wheel arches. Twin power domes running the length of the hood recall similar cues in the company's classic 300SL Gullwing sports cars.
Mercedes says the GL-Class was designed specifically for the U.S. market. To prove it, the company touts the presence of cupholders designed to withstand the mass of 44-ounce Big Gulp buckets. The opulent interior is as finely appointed with leather and wood as one would expect in this category, but the car is blighted by the presence of Mercedes' inscrutable COMAND electronic system for entertainment, navigation and climate control. Maybe if enough of us spill our Big Gulps on the useless computer system, Mercedes will respond with some simple-to-use knobs.
Under the Hood
The mainstream power plant is the corporate 4.6-liter V-8 gasoline engine, but the company is heavily touting the planned availability of its 3.2-liter V-6 diesel engine. The diesel engine will provide 26 mpg efficiency in a full-size SUV, while its BlueTec emission-control system will meet government regulations in all 50 states, which is unusual for a diesel today.
The GL-Class uses a combination of cheaper-to-replace bolt-on steel crash boxes and lightweight aluminum sections to minimize weight and repair expense while maximizing crash safety. As with every Mercedes, the GL-Class is loaded with smart airbags, load-limiting seatbelts, antilock brakes, stability control and nearly every other safety doodad available. A three-row air curtain helps prevent ejection in rollovers, while seat-mounted side airbags provide additional torso protection in side impacts for passengers in the first and second rows.