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2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader June 2016

A couple decades ago, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class would have been unimaginable among the Stuttgart brain trust. The carmaker did offer the military-derived G-Class for SUV customers, of course, but Mercedes families drove station wagons with rear-facing third-row seats, and that's just the way it was.

Fast-forward to America in 2016, however, and wagons have long since been superseded by high-riding 3-row crossovers. Indeed, Mercedes already conceded this point with the first-generation GL-Class, but they've really taken the gloves off this time around, bidding a decisive "auf Wiedersehen" to the good old days with the current, second-generation GL-Class.

It's hard to exaggerate the epic scale of this vehicle. The 7-seat GL has the passenger space of a minivan, the ride of an S-Class luxury sedan and the acceleration of a sports car. It has every tech gadget in the book. There's even a completely absurd AMG version that makes 550 horsepower.

Not for the faint of heart is this Benz -- but then, that's kind of the point. Truth be told, the new GL isn't your typical, modern Mercedes wagon; it's more like a Cadillac Escalade with a thick layer of German performance, refinement and quality on top.

It may not be what Stuttgart traditionalists would prefer, but there's no denying the excellence of Benz's supersized crossover creation.

What's New for 2016?

The GL is unchanged for 2016, pending a revised GLS model due out for the 2017 model year.

What We Like

Outstanding gas and diesel engines; sumptuous interior with all the toys; adult-friendly third row; excellent highway manners; real off-road capability with optional equipment

What We Don't

Massive size isn't for everyone; some expected luxuries (such as keyless entry/start) cost extra; aging design about to be updated

How Much?

$65,000-$121,900

Fuel Economy

All GL-Class models feature 4MATIC all-wheel drive and a 7-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles. Note that the GL 63 AMG gets a modified transmission for quicker shifts.

The GL350 BlueTEC is powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline 6-cylinder that cranks out 240 hp and a beastly 455 lb-ft of torque. This is truthfully our favorite GL engine, as it whisks the nearly 3-ton crossover around effortlessly while returning an impressive 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Don't be dissuaded by the leisurely 8.3-second acceleration to 60 miles per hour; in real-world driving, the BlueTEC has more than enough oomph.

The GL450 switches to a gasoline-powered, twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 rated at 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. You get more outright speed with the 450, but fuel economy dips to 17 mpg city/21 mpg hwy.

Next up is the GL550, which offers a turbocharged 4.6-liter V8 that makes 429 hp and 516 lb-ft. The trip to 60 mph takes just 5.5 seconds (1.1 seconds quicker than the GL450), and the 550's passing power feels even more fearsome than the numbers suggest. Not surprisingly, fuel economy is even worse at 13 mpg city/18 mpg hwy.

Finally, if you simply can't get by with less than 500 horses at your disposal, the GL 63 AMG will save the day with a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 that pumps out 550 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. The AMG version's fuel economy is nearly identical to that of the GL550 at 13 mpg city/17 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class comes in four variants, from a (relatively) modest clean-diesel model to an over-the-top high-performance AMG version.

The GL350 BlueTEC ($65,000) includes amenities such as an AIRMATIC air suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, LED running lights and taillights, aluminum roof rails, a power lift gate, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, wood trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette (MB-Tex) upholstery, power front seats with adjustable driver lumbar support, power-folding third-row seats, a 4.5-in color driver information display, Bluetooth and the COMAND infotainment system with a 7-in display, a USB audio port and an SD-card reader.

Opt for the GL450 ($66,600), and you'll get essentially the same features. The twin-turbo gasoline V6 under the hood is the main difference.

The GL550 ($91,300) obviously costs a whole lot more, and in return you get the 4.6-liter twin-turbo V8, plus standard adaptive suspension dampers, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, 21-in AMG alloy wheels, power-closing doors, keyless entry/start, a wood-and-leather steering wheel, top-stitched dashboard trim, upgraded wood inlays, 3-zone climate control, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, multicontour front seats with massage functions, auto-dimming mirrors (with exterior power folding), a power adjustable steering column, driver memory settings, a navigation system, voice controls and a 13-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with digital music storage.

Most of the GL550's extra standard features can be added to the GL350 BlueTEC or GL450 as options.

The GL 63 AMG ($120,900) goes all out with the 5.5-liter V8, plus an AMG body kit, a roll-resistant suspension system (dubbed the Active Curve System), performance brakes, a sport exhaust, a panoramic sunroof, illuminated running boards, a sport steering wheel, sport front seats and various exclusive AMG interior flourishes.

The GL 63's panoramic sunroof and active suspension can be added to lesser models. Optional across the GL-Class line are a heated steering wheel, power second-row easy entry and a rear-seat entertainment system with twin LCD monitors. The GL450 and GL550 are eligible for an unusual On/Off-Road package that includes a 6-mode driving program selector with an increased maximum ride height, a 2-speed transfer case with low-range gearing and front underbody protection.

Safety

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and seven airbags (front, front-side, driver's-knee and full-length side-curtain), as well as a driver alertness monitor and a rearview camera.

Available driver aids include a surround-view camera system, adaptive cruise control, a collision-mitigation system with automatic emergency braking, a self-parking system, an active blind spot monitoring system and lane-keep assist.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash-tested the current Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, though we suspect it'll fare well in a collision.

Behind the Wheel

By all rights, the GL-Class should drive like a short bus because that's approximately how large this crossover is, but Mercedes has worked some magic with the GL's driving character, employing a light yet accurate steering system to great effect. We're not saying the GL is nimble -- far from it -- but it's not intimidating to drive either, and that's the important thing.

As for cruising comfort, well, this is where the GL really excels. The standard air suspension takes the bumps out of almost any surface, and the cabin remains library-quiet at speed. Off-road, meanwhile, the available dual-range transfer case makes the GL a 3-row Range Rover alternative for more adventurous families. By the way, all three rows are legitimately adult-friendly, which is more than many 3-row crossovers can say.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Cadillac Escalade -- Think of the Escalade as the GL's boisterous American cousin. It's a relatively cheap date, and you'll have a lot of fun inside its plush, well-appointed cabin.

2016 Infiniti QX80 -- Based on the capable Nissan Patrol SUV produced for overseas markets, the QX80 is a legitimate off-roader with a luxurious interior, clad with distinctive (and controversial) exterior styling.

2016 Land Rover Range Rover Sport -- The Range Rover Sport offers similar pricing to the GL, though it isn't as large or as lumbering to drive. It does now include third-row seating, however, and it offers more modern styling.

Used Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 Wagon -- The GL-Class is basically at the top of the SUV pyramid, so if you're looking for a used alternative, how about a certified pre-owned example of the world's wildest station wagon? The AMG E63's track-ready handling puts the GL to shame, and its practical interior offers much of the SUV's functionality.

Autotrader's Advice

While there's something tempting about the big power of the GL550 and GL 63 AMG versions, real-world demands make the GL350 BlueTEC the one we'd order. It's attractively priced and remarkably fuel efficient for such a big rig.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: New Car Review - Autotrader