Review: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL450 4MATIC

Review: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL450 4MATIC

There has been a sudden race to the top in the luxury utility market. Within the last few months the like of Lamborghini, Bentley and even Rolls-Royce have announced plans to build SUVs for the world’s super wealthy.

But it’s not exactly like well-heeled shoppers are hurting for options right now — if you’ve got nearly $100,000 burning a hole in your pocket, there are plenty of flagships SUVs available at one of your local dealerships, including the Mercedes-Benz GL450 you see here. So, should the Titans of Industry wait on the forthcoming crop of ultra luxury SUVs, or will today’s GL satisfy their sweet tooth for wood and leather? Come with is as we find out.

What is it?

Hailing as Mercedes-Benz’s flagship SUV, the GL is positioned as a utility alternative to the S-Class sedan. In fact, Mercedes will soon rename the GL as the GLS, better reflecting its top billing alongside the S-Class.

Size is certainly an element of a flagship luxury vehicle and the GL doesn’t disappoint on that front. Comparable in size to other full-size SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade, the GL is an impressive sight to behold. That large footprint translates into a spacious cabin that can accommodate up to seven passengers in three rows.

But unlike the Escalade, the GL rides on a unibody platform, giving it a ride that is more car-like than truck-like. The GL also makes use of advanced drivetrains like the twin-turbo 3.0L V6 and seven-speed automatic transmission seen in our tester. The GL can also be had with a 3.0L turbodiesel and a more powerful 4.7L twin-turbo V8. For those crazed individuals interested in frightening the entire family, a high-performance GL63 AMG with 550 horsepower on tap is also available.

What’s it up against?

The GL’s chief rivals include the Audi Q7, Lexus LX570, Infiniti QX80 and Land Rover Range Rover. Buyers are also likely to consider the three-row Range Rover Sport, the aforementioned Cadillac Escalade and BMW’s X5. Environmentally conscious shoppers might also take a peek at the Tesla Model X.

How does it look?

The GL is one of the older vehicles in the Mercedes fleet, and its exterior styling is starting to reflect that fact. The GL is still handsome, but it’s just not a sleek as some of Mercedes’ newer designs, like its latest GLC small utility vehicle. That shortcoming should be remedied with a pending redesign.

But until the GLS arrives, the GL soldiers on with a front-end design that features a two-bar version of Mercedes’ grilled flanked by large headlights with LED accents at either side. The lower portion of the GL’s bumper incorporates a large center air inlet and two smaller intakes on the corners that house fog lights. A chrome lower strip smartens up the entire look.

In silhouette the GL is a classic two-box design, but there are a pair of character lines running at the top and lower portions of the sides door that up the interest factor. We doubt many owners will use the GL’s roof rack, but we think it adds a nice dash of utility, even if it’s only mostly for show. We found the GL’s running boards more of a hindrance than a help. The rigid boards stick out too far, ensuring you’ll soil the bottom portion of your favorite trousers any time there is inclement weather.

The rear of the GL is highlighted by over-sized taillights and a trio of chrome accents running widthwise on the power-operated hatch and bumper. Dual exhaust outlets are housed in the lower bumper.

And the inside?

The GL’s longevity in the Mercedes lineup is most noticeable when you slip inside. The GL still makes use of Mercedes’ old switchgear, meaning the center stack is flooded with small buttons. The overall design just feels dated.

The GL’s MBrace infotainment system is also a step behind — it uses a knob instead of a touchpad and the display screen is much smaller than anything else you’ll find in Mercedes’ lineup. Lift the center armrest and you’ll find an Aux jack and an Apple connector that’s been obsolete since 2012.

Materials also fall short in the GL. For example, the SUV uses chintzy plastic dials for its HVAC controls instead of the excellent metal toggle switches found in the cabin of the S-Class. Controls for the power front seats are also made out of cheap plastic.

But those shortcomings aside, the GL’s interior is actually a nice place to spend time. The leather in the GL isn’t exactly up to Bentley specs, but the front seats offered good comfort and support, even during some of our longer drives. Second row passengers have plenty of space and the GL’s third row has enough room for actual adult humans, which is more than we can say for most other three-row utility vehicles on the market.

Adding to the the GL’s luxury positioning, natural wood accents are used throughout the cabin. There are also heated and cooled front seats, but the GL lacks the massaging functions of its sedan counterpart. Shucks.

Cargo room behind the third row is on the tight side, but luckily the way-back seats can be laid flat with the flick of an electrically-operated switch.

But does it go?

Although the GL certainly has plenty of room for improvements, it’s hard to fault the way the big SUV drives. Equipped with Mercedes’ AIRMATIC air suspension, the GL quite literally wafts down the road on a cushion of air. That air ride is supremely comfortable, capable of rolling over even large road imperfections without transmitting any hard jolts into the cabin. Despite being softly sprung, the GL never felt floaty to us.

There is a Sport setting available for the AIRMATIC suspension, but it’s best left untouched. With a curb weight north of 5,300 pounds, the GL’s suspension isn’t exactly the limiting factor in its sportiness. During our use we found that the Sport setting only created a harsher ride.

Steering is slightly over-boosted for our tastes, but the electronically-operated rack does make it easier to wrestle the behemoth at slower speeds. Also helping in agility is a turning radius that was tighter than we were expecting.

The GL450 makes do with just six cylinders, but a pair of turbos ups horsepower to V8-like levels. The GL450 produces 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, netting a very respectable 0-60 time of 6.6 seconds. During our week with the GL we were never left wanting for power, with the 3.0L V6 providing plenty of giddy-up-and go for highway merging.

The GL’s seven-speed transmission works well in everyday driving, but the cogs can feel a little spread apart during certain driving situations. For example, during some overtaking maneuvers it felt like the gearbox should kick down a gear, but that downshift never came.

With more than two-and-a-half tons to lug around the GL450 was never going to be a green machine, and that’s apparent by the EPA’s 17/21/19 mpg city/highway/combined ratings. We found those figures to be a bit optimistic, with our week-long stint behind the wheel netting an average of about 16 mpg.

Leftlane’s bottom line

It may be getting a little long in the tooth, but there’s no disputing the GL’s top-level comfort on the open road. Still, we’d probably hold off on Mercedes’ flagship SUV until the GLS arrives, which promises to remedy many of the GL’s shortcomings. For those with deep pockets and a flair for utility vehicles, there’s no better time than now.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GL450 4MATIC base price, $65,200. As tested, $87,860.

Cinnabar Red Metallic paint, $720; Almond Beige/Black Leather, $1,620; Open-Pore Brown Ash Wood Trim, $160; Heated/Ventilated Front Seats, $570; Panorama Sunroof, $1,090; Trailer Hitch, $575; Heated 2nd-row seats, $620; Premium Package, $4,410; Lighting Package, $1,390; Appearance Package, $1,340; ACTIVE CURVE SYSTEM, $3,700; 3-Zone Automatic Climate Control, $1,450; Parking Assist Package, $1,290; Driver Assistance Package, $2,800; Destination, $925.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

  • Aesthetics

    B-

  • Technology

    B-

  • Green

    C+

  • Drive

    A-

  • Value

    B

  • Score

    B-

Review: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL450 4MATIC Reviewed by Drew Johnson on September 30 We take a look at Mercedes’ most luxurious SUV. Rating: 2.5

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