Full 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Review
What's New for 2009
For the 2009 Mercedes GL-Class, a new diesel-powered GL320 Bluetec model replaces the previous GL320 CDI. The Bluetec model's cleaner emissions allow it to be 50-state legal. There are also some revisions to the GL's standard and optional equipment. Highlights include an enhanced rear-seat entertainment system, hard-drive-based functionality for the navigation system, an updated COMAND interface with a 6.5-inch display and a dedicated iPod connector.
In the full-size luxury SUV segment, many automakers consider "the more ostentatious, the better" to be a design goal. That's why it's nice to see that the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is all about understated class. The GL boasts mechanical sophistication and superior craftsmanship that set it apart from other blinged-out, seven-passenger SUVs. Not surprisingly, this big Benz has been a favorite of ours ever since it debuted two years ago.
This year marks the debut of the diesel-fueled GL320 Bluetec, which replaces the previous GL320 CDI. Unlike the CDI, which wasn't available for sale in California or California-emissions states, the GL320 is 50-state certified, thanks to a new technology that cleans up the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6's emissions by injecting urea into the exhaust. Like the CDI before it, the GL320 Bluetec offers significantly better fuel economy than its gasoline-propelled counterparts do. It also provides adequate power for those who can live without the authoritative thrust of the optional V8s. Price is a consideration, too. Not only does the GL320's sticker price start at $1,000 less than the GL450, but the 2009 GL320 also qualifies for an $1,800 federal tax credit.
The GL-Class models compete with full-size luxury SUVs like the Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade, Lexus GX 570 and Lincoln Navigator. The domestics certainly have some advantages, particularly in regard to maximum cargo capacity, but they can't match the GL's polish and on-road handling. The GX 570 is just as opulent as the GL, but its demeanor is more off-road-oriented. That leaves the Q7 as the vehicle closest in concept and execution. There's even a forthcoming diesel-powered Audi Q7 TDI to match up against the GL320 Bluetec. You'll certainly want to look at both, but you can't go wrong with the classy and capable 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is a large seven-passenger luxury SUV available in three trim levels. The GL320 Bluetec and GL450 are equipped identically except for their power plants and wheels. The 320 comes standard with diesel power and 20-inch wheels, while the 450 boasts a V8 but downsizes to 19-inch wheels. Standard equipment for both models includes a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, MB Tex leatherette upholstery, power-adjustable heated front seats, a power 50/50-split-folding third-row seat, power rear quarter-windows, the COMAND multimedia interface and an eight-speaker audio system with a six-CD changer, Bluetooth, an SD card reader and an auxiliary audio jack.
Options for the GL450 and GL320 Bluetec include a Premium I package, which adds a power liftgate, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless ignition and entry, front-seat memory functions, a power steering column, a 115-volt AC power outlet, parking sensors with a rearview camera and a hard-drive-based navigation system with voice activation, real-time traffic and Zagat restaurant reviews. Also part of this package is a Harman Kardon surround-sound system with satellite radio and HD radio. The premium II package includes all of the Premium I equipment plus adaptive bi-xenon headlights, tri-zone climate control and rear air-conditioning. The heating package adds a heated steering wheel and rear seats, while the full-leather package upgrades the already well-crafted interior. In addition, the GL450 and GL320 Bluetec can be equipped with a GL appearance package that adds 20-inch wheels and various metallic trim enhancements.
The GL550 includes most of the above equipment as standard and adds 21-inch wheels and unique exterior styling details. Stand-alone options include an adaptive damping system, a trailer hitch good for up to 7,500 pounds when properly equipped, heated and ventilated front seats, an iPod/MP3 adapter and a rear-seat entertainment system with 8-inch screens.
Powertrains and Performance
The GL320 Bluetec is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 that makes 210 horsepower and an impressive 398 pound-feet of torque. The GL450's power plant is a 4.7-liter V8 that makes 335 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque. The GL550, meanwhile, gains motivation from a 5.5-liter V8 that churns out 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. All models are equipped with a seven-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
EPA fuel economy estimates vary greatly among models. The 2009 GL320 Bluetec achieves 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined, while the GL450 only manages 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 15 mpg combined. Not surprisingly, the model with the biggest engine fares even worse, as the GL550 is rated at just 13/17/14 mpg.
Standard safety features on the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class include stability control, antilock brakes, whiplash-reducing front headrests, a driver-side knee airbag, first- and second-row side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags with an integrated rollover sensor. Hill start assist, hill descent control and TeleAid are also included. Buyers of the GL450 and GL320 Bluetec wanting a rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors should note that they are only available as part of a premium package. These items are standard on the GL550.
Interior Design and Special Features
The GL's cabin is comfortable and luxuriously appointed. Fit and finish is superb, seats are exceptionally supportive and headroom and legroom are ample in nearly every position. However, even though the GL has an updated COMAND interface this year, we've still found it finicky to use. It employs awkward push-buttons on a center-stack-mounted circular control pad instead of the console-mounted control wheel used in the C-Class and S-Class.
Another of the GL-Class' shortcomings is the second row's inability to move fore and aft, as it can get tight with taller occupants seated up front. We do, however, like the one-touch up and down function on all four windows. The flush-folding rear headrests are also a nice touch, as they improve the driver's rearward vision (an innovation missing on Benz's R-Class). Third-row access is also well thought out. With the second- and third-row seats lowered, 83 cubic feet of cargo volume are available -- that's far fewer cubes than in competing models like the Escalade, but it's likely sufficient for most buyers.
Power is impressive with either of the V8-powered GLs. Both are quicker to 60 mph than any other comparable large SUV we've tested, including the Audi Q7 4.2 and Cadillac Escalade. The Benz is also pleasantly quiet on the highway, with minimal wind and road noise. The GL320 Bluetec ultimately lacks the oomph of its V8-powered counterparts, but its torquey power delivery is satisfactory under most circumstances. In terms of handling, Mercedes' GL is made for luxury, not for sport, and it shows. For example, the GL's steering is nicely weighted, but it's a tad slow, and the soft suspension might feel too floaty for some drivers. Relative to other full-size SUVs, though, the 2009 Mercedes GL is reasonably agile and maneuverable.