Introduction to the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class

For 2010, the diesel-powered GL-Class gets a slight torque increase and a higher model designation to match, now dubbed GL350 Bluetec. That model and the GL450 get revised front and rear fascias, as well as a redesigned instrument cluster and seats.

Not everyone wants their ride pimped. Full-size luxury SUVs might be the official vehicle of 24-inch wheels and subwoofers the size of garbage cans, but plenty of folks are simply looking for a plush interior with room for seven, a powerful engine and a prestigious brand image. For them, the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class delivers on all counts, yet it also manages to stick out in this ostentatious segment by actually having meticulous engineering and refinement, too.

Unlike some of the traditional luxury SUVs it competes against, the GL-Class is a crossover, and as such its car-based design leads to improved road manners and better interior packaging. Its ride is worthy of a luxury sedan, and though its handling is hardly up to Porsche Cayenne territory, the GL is nevertheless better than several of its truck-based competitors. And while it doesn't have as much cargo capacity as the Cadillac Escalade, for instance, its power fold-flat third-row seat makes transforming it from family hauler to stuff hauler that much easier.

There are three graduates in the class of GL: two featuring V8 engines and the other a turbocharged clean-diesel V6. The latter gets a minute increase in displacement for 2010 (it still rounds out at 3.0 liters of displacement, mind you), along with an additional 2 pound-feet of torque for a grand total of 400. Yet this is apparently enough justification for Mercedes to up the model's nameplate number from last year's GL320 Bluetec (referring to its "Bluetec" clean diesel technology) to GL350 Bluetec.

Regardless of these trivialities, a diesel engine in this sort of vehicle makes a lot of sense, delivering ample torque around town and excellent fuel economy for a big luxury SUV. Indeed, it achieves only 1 mpg combined fewer than the Escalade Hybrid, which is slower and more expensive.

The top-of-the-line 2010 GL550, meanwhile, maintains its 21-inch wheels, fender flares and giant three-pointed Benz star that's so brash it practically screams "Ich bin ein Mercedes!" This is certainly the flashiest choice within the GL-Class lineup, but its negligible acceleration benefit over the GL450 and its loaded-to-the-gills features list and resulting sky-high price make it our least favorite model of the range.

Even so, no other luxury SUV provides the same balance of driving refinement and interior space as the 2010 Mercedes GL-Class. While some like the Audi Q7 or Range Rover models provide the former, they can't comfortably haul around seven adults. Meanwhile, models like the Escalade, Lincoln Navigator and Infiniti QX56 have the space but struggle to match the GL in terms of refinement. That makes the GL-Class the sensible choice -- though with available 21-inch wheels, rear-seat entertainment and inherent Benz-based street presence, it's got some appeal for the pimp-my-ride crowd, too.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is a full-size luxury crossover that seats seven people. It is available in GL350 Bluetec, GL450 and GL550 trim levels, which correspond to the engine choice.

The GL350 Bluetec comes standard with 20-inch wheels, an adaptive air suspension, a sunroof, automatic headlights, roof rails, automatic wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear air-conditioning controls, heated eight-way power front seats, MB-Tex premium vinyl upholstery, third-row power split-folding seatbacks, the COMAND electronics interface and an eight-speaker stereo with in-dash six-CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack. The GL450 substitutes 19-inch wheels and a gasoline-powered V8 engine.

Standard on the GL550 and optional on the other trims are the following packages. The Premium I package adds a power tailgate, power-folding mirrors, a rearview camera, driver memory functions, auto-dimming driver-side and interior mirrors, a hard-drive-based navigation system, voice controls, 4GB of digital music storage, HD radio, satellite radio, an iPod interface and a 115-volt AC power outlet. The Premium II package adds all the previous items, plus keyless ignition/entry and a Harman Kardon surround-sound system. The Full Leather Seating package adds leather upholstery, "comfort headrests" and ambient interior lighting. The Lighting package adds LED daytime running lights and adaptive bi-xenon headlights with washers. Parking sensors, running boards, ventilated front seats and tri-zone climate controls are options on the 350 and 450, and standard on the 550.

The GL550 further adds 21-inch AMG wheels, performance tires and a more aggressive-looking front fascia. Also standard are "multicontour" front seats with enhanced lumbar support, a massage feature and passenger memory functions.

The GL Appearance package available on the GL450 adds brushed aluminum running boards and 20-inch wheels. Stand-alone options available on all GL-Class models include a trailer hitch, roof crossbars, a wood-and-leather steering wheel, a heated steering wheel, a rear-seat entertainment system and heated rear seats.

Powertrains and Performance
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec features a 3.0-liter diesel-powered turbocharged V6, which features 50-state-legal "clean diesel" technology. This engine produces 210 hp and more importantly, 400 lb-ft of torque. Like all GL-Class models, it is attached to a seven-speed automatic transmission and "4Matic" all-wheel drive. Though we haven't tested the latest GL diesel, we estimate it will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 9 seconds. Fuel economy for the Bluetec is 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined.

The Mercedes GL450 gets a 4.7-liter gasoline-powered V8 good for 335 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque. It went from zero to 60 mph in a rapid 6.7 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 13/17/14.

Bumping up to the GL550 brings with it a 5.5-liter V8 that produces 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. It goes from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, while estimated fuel economy is 12/17/14.

When properly equipped, each of the GL-Class models can tow up to 7,500 pounds.

Standard safety features on the 2010 Mercedes GL-Class include stability control, antilock brakes, a driver knee airbag, first- and second-row side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and whiplash-reducing front head restraints. Hill start assist, hill descent control and the TeleAid emergency communication system are also standard. A rearview camera and parking sensors are optional on the GL350 and GL450, and standard on the GL550. In brake testing, the three GL-Class' stopping distances from 60 mph ranged from 122 feet to 126 -- excellent performance for a large luxury SUV.

Interior Design and Special Features
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GL's cabin is comfortable and luxuriously appointed. Fit and finish is superb, the seats are exceptionally supportive and headroom and legroom are ample in nearly every position. However, even though the GL had its COMAND electronics interface upgraded last 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 preferred console-mounted control wheel used in more recently introduced Mercedes-Benz models.

The GL is one of the most spacious luxury crossovers on the market, as its third row is big enough to seat two average-sized adults in comfort -- something the Audi Q7 can't claim. The second row could use a sliding adjustment, however, to allow for more legroom in both the second and third rows. The GL provides 83 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume, which falls in below truck-based large SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade and Infiniti QX56.

Driving Impressions
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. The Benz is also pleasantly quiet on the highway, with minimal wind and road noise. Although the diesel GL350 Bluetec isn't going to break any acceleration records, passing and merging maneuvers come easily. In addition, the GL320's V6 is so quiet and refined you're scarcely aware it's actually a diesel.

Some may find the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GL's handling to be a bit wallowy -- but it's generally better than the handling of many truck-based behemoths that the GL competes with. Meanwhile, the GL's steering, although a bit slow, is nicely weighted and never numb.