2011 Mercedes-Benz GL 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC Review

GL 350 BlueTEC2011 Mercedes-Benz GL350

Large, luxury SUVs are so good at radiating wealth and consuming petroleum, we sometime forget about their other attributes.

Take the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class for example. With its imposing looks and size, three rows of seating and the Mercedes-Benz star on the hood, you wouldn’t expect it to cost less than 70 grand — and it doesn’t.

But the discussion shouldn’t end there — and it won’t. Because having just completed a week-long test in a 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC, we have much to discuss about it.

But first, a little back-story: The GL-Class debuted in 2007, based on a modified version of the unibody platform under the “smaller” M-Class. Like the ML, the GL-Class is produced at the automaker’s facility in Alabama.

GL was ostensibly a replacement for the classic, body-on-frame G-Class SUV. But public pressure forced Mercedes-Benz to keep the venerable Geländewagen in the catalogue alongside the new GL.

In 2009, a third engine was added to the GL line — the 3.0L V6 BlueTEC diesel — to compliment the 335-hp, 4.6L V8 and the 382-hp, 5.5L V8. A minor refreshing in 2010 gave it some new fascia, complete with bi-xenon headlamps and cool LED daytime running lights.

The M-Class gets reborn for 2012, so we might see an all-new GL in a year or two, but not just yet…

Price as tested
BlueTEC models like our tester start at $70,500, and feature the 3.0L turbodiesel V6, good for 210 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. Yep, 400 big ones, for all your stump-pulling pleasures.

All GL models feature the 7G-TRONIC 7-speed automatic transmission, 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive and AIRMATIC air suspension. The optional Adaptive Damping System (ADS) was not equipped on our tester, but the Premium Package was, adding $4,500 to the MSRP and a ton of extra convenience pieces to an already luxurious cabin.

Premium Package bits include the COMMAND APS interface system with HDD navigation and DVD changer, rearview camera, power tailgate, passive blind spot assist, keyless entry, heated rear seats, iPod and USB connections as well as a 115V power socket.

Our tester was also sporting the new-for-2010 20” alloy wheels (19-inchers with all-season rubber are optional), and the long-wearing ARTICO seating material (man made, looks like leather).

So that’s an even $75,000 for this big Mercedes-Benz, before taxes and any prep charges.

GL 350 BlueTEC is rated at 12.4L/100km city and 8.8L/100km highway. Not Honda Civic territory, but when companied to a V8 GL (16.6/11.4 for the GL 450, 17.1/11.9 for the GL 550), you can appreciate the diesel’s efficiency.

Topping our list of likes has to be that efficient and powerful diesel engine. It moves the GL with authority, and never feels over-extended or harsh. All GL models have a considerable tow rating of 7,500 lbs (3,402 kg), but if I were doing a lot of towing, the BlueTEC would surely be my GL of choice.

The 7-speed tranny shifts very smoothly, and is well teamed with the diesel, keeping it from revving very much. It can skip gears when downshifting, and you notice it when it does, slowing the vehicle a bit more than a usual “coast down”.

Mercedes-Benz-GL350-2011_i042011 Mercedes-Benz GL350

Steering is surprising tight and accurate for such a large beast, with the typical very strong “on centre” feel favoured by Merecedes-Benz.

The ride, courtesy of air suspension, is extremely comfortable — put-you-to-sleep comfortable. GL’s competitors from Audi (Q7) and BMW (X5) are sportier, but I don’t think Mercedes-Benz gives a hoot. A completely luxurious ride is what this GL has been programmed to produce and it does so without compromise.

As you would expect, the cabin is spacious and well appointed. There are copious amounts of head, leg, and shoulder room in the second-row seating area. The third row actually accommodates two adults in relative comfort.

It's super easy to fold all the seats down, if you need to carry something large and long in the cargo area.

The styling leans toward "old school" SUV, but I’m a fan. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t, and creates huge interior space. The new headlights and LED lighting bits are great modern touches.

A few of the interior pieces feel a bit dated. The navigation screen seems small, compared to the rest of the interior, and you need to option up to obtain iPod and USB connections.

The COMAND APS interface is no easier to use than other such systems. But it’s no worse either. The ultimate interface has yet to be invented, as automakers bring more and more adjustable parameters into their vehicles.

As is the case with all third-row endowed vehicles, when that rearmost seatback is up, cargo space is quite compromised.

And price. No question you can find less expensive 7-seater alternatives, even among luxury brands.

Mercedes-Benz-GL350-2011_i05 You can’t argue with the space and luxury the GL provides. But I never expected to enjoy the driving experience as much as I did. I gravitate to more sporty and small stuff, but the GL 350 BlueTEC offers the driver lots of entertaining stimulus.

Maybe not in the sporting mode, but entertaining nonetheless. The steering makes you feel in control, almost making the vehicle drive smaller than it is. The torque-laden diesel is fun and satisfying to modulate through traffic and on the highway. Everything you touch is well crafted. It’s super smooth over any road surface. You have a sense of well-being behind the wheel, and there is lots of electronic stuff to keep you busy if you get bored.