2010 Mercedes GL350 BlueTEC Road Test Review

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Mercedes had planned to upgrade the GL-Class back in 2006, when the ancient G-Class was scheduled to be redesigned.  Enthusiast outcry granted the G-Class a stay of execution, however, and now the GL-Class shares showroom space with the vehicle it was slated to replace.  Mercedes' largest SUV offers three-row seating, unibody construction and a new, more fuel-efficient clean diesel model. 

Of course, with the state of the market, the obvious criticism is similar to that leveled at big luxury sport-utes like the Lexus LX 570 and Land Rover Range Rover:  do we really need another great big luxury SUV?  The GL350 had a lot to answer for when it arrived in my hands; could it adequately justify its existence? 

The GL350 has a long-nosed, almost station wagon-like look that combines a contoured hood with an upright greenhouse.  Elegant creases and character lines give the big Mercedes the look of neatly pressed formal wear, and bear a family resemblance to the new compact GLK-Class sport-utes.  As a result, the GL350 looks somewhat smaller than it is.  The roof rack and windows are trimmed with aluminum brightwork, while LED daytime running lights and available curve-illuminating headlamps remind onlookers that this sport-ute's on the cutting edge of technology.  Twenty-inch wheels are shod with run-flat tires so the GL350 doesn't need to carry a spare tire. 

The interior is equally familiar for drivers of E-Class and ML-Class Mercedes products, as its design splits the difference between the two.  The E-Class' electronic column shifter and instrument panel are combined with the odd console grab handles and rounded air vents of the ML.  The whole cabin is draped in leather and burl walnut wood, and includes handsome ambient interior lighting.  Three-row seating is the GL350's primary reason for existence; the first two rows are large enough for adults while the third-row will accommodate adults but is best used for short trips.  With the third-row seat folded, the GL350 offers over 1,200 litres (43 cubic feet) of cargo space, easily accessed via the obligatory power tailgate. 

On the technology front, Mercedes' latest-generation COMAND system offers a six and a half inch display screen for its standard Bluetooth phone interface, six-disc in-dash CD changer and the Sirius Satellite Radio and iPod/MP3 interface.  Voice control is also available for the optional navigation system.  A panoramic sunroof with a sliding forward section sheds light on the nicely appointed cabin.  To keep passengers entertained on long trips, the GL350 can be ordered with a 610-watt harman/kardon audio system and rear-seat DVD entertainment. 

The GL350 is powered by a 3.0-litre all-aluminum, 210 horsepower, direct-injection turbodiesel V6 that produces up to 400 pound-feet of torque.  Though 210 horses is not a lot when it comes to motivating a vehicle that weighs over two tons, remember this is a turbodiesel, and the healthy torque figure ensures that keeping up with traffic is never an issue.  The payoff comes at the pump, where the GL350's equivalent of 10.2L/100km freeway mileage on the US EPA cycle gives it a comfortable range.  This range is a significant edge in the practicality contest, because it's not as conspicuous a consumer as its competitors from Lexus or Land Rover, who struggle to make 15-16L/100km.  The diesel engine's high torque also enables the GL350 to tow up to 3,400 kilos (7,500 pounds).  Mercedes' "BlueTEC" system, a specialized two-stage exhaust treatment system cleans the emissions enough that the GL350 meets the most stringent pollution restrictions.  More importantly, the 3.0 diesel is a supremely quiet engine, offering V8-like power and torque without the twitchy throttle or fuel thirst that comes with a big eight-cylinder powerplant.  The transmission is a smooth seven-speed automatic that makes the most of the engine's torque, and the GL350 never feels slow or underpowered in spite of its 2,450-kilo (5,400-pound) curb weight.  4MATIC all-wheel drive is standard equipment. 

Double control arms up front and a four-link rear end combined with Mercedes' AIRMATIC suspension provide this big sport-ute with carlike comfort.  The system has been modified to provide variable-height applications, enabling the GL350 to boast more than 30 centimeters (twelve inches) of ground clearance when the AIRMATIC is at its highest setting.  Traction control is integrated into the system.  Off-road assistance in the form of hill-start and hill-descent controllers is also available.  Mercedes' PRE-SAFE collision avoidance and mitigation system is standard on the GL350.  PRE-SAFE closes any open windows and the sunroof in the event of a rollover, pre-charges the brake system, and brings any reclined seats to full upright position.  This SUV feels secure enough that a rollover seems unlikely, though, thanks in part to variable-effort power steering and strong standard anti-lock brakes. 

GL350 pricing starts at $69,000, and includes the AIRMATIC adjustable suspension, sunroof and most amenities. Got a large group to haul in comfort?  The Mercedes GL350 will move up to seven passengers in style and with ease.  If the road gets rough--or disappears entirely--along the way, it's prepared for that as well.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: SUV, Mercedes-Benz, 2010, GL Class, GL 350 BlueTEC, $50,000 - $74,999,

Organizations: Mercedes-Benz

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