Reviews

2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Walk Around

The 2011 Mercedes GL550 is updated with a redesigned lower fascia, grille, bumpers, and LED tail lights and daytime running lights for a more contemporary look. On the 2011 GL550, a unique front metal skid plate, along with 21-inch wheels, fat tires and dual-split exhaust pipes, make the top-of-the-line model the most imposing of the bunch.

The GL-Class are big vehicles. The GL-Class is taller than the Audi Q7 and BMW X5. It's the same length as an Audi Q7, but it's nine inches longer than the BMW X5, though the BMW needs another two feet to make a U-turn than the Audi or Mercedes. Stretching to 121 inches, the Mercedes GL-Class wheelbase is substantially longer than that of the Audi and BMW. The GL-Class is four inches longer overall than the Range Rover and Lexus LX570. The Cadillac Escalade is 22 inches longer than the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, and the Cadillac's wheelbase is nine inches longer. However, the GL-Class is three inches shorter than the Mercedes-Benz R-Class touring wagon, which also has three rows of seating, though with less room for six occupants.

Seen in profile, the Mercedes GL-Class features a nicely raked windshield and bulging wheel arches over large wheels (19-inches or better), which balance the proportions of a tall and long vehicle. Although tall and long, the GL-Class doesn't look as bulky as the Cadillac Escalade. Viewed from the rear, the GL-Class offers a formidable stance. It looks tall and, though narrow for the class, it looks wide, with a large rear hatch opening and large LED tail lights, all sitting above a substantial skid plate bracketed on either side by large, rectangular exhaust pipes.

The GL-Class is built using unibody construction rather than the body-on-frame design that full-size pickups and SUVs traditionally use. Mercedes notes that because of this architecture, the GL-Class is 300-600 pounds lighter than its full-size competitors. To make sure the GL-Class is strong enough, 60 percent of the vehicle structure is made from special high-strength steel.

Interior

The Mercedes GL-Class was designed to offer class-leading interior room and ease of entry and exit.

Cargo capacity is one of its strengths. With all seats in their upright position, there's still 14 cubic feet of storage between the third-row seatbacks and the closed rear hatch. A power folding feature for the third row is standard equipment on the GL-Class with controls near the rear hatch and next to the right-side second-row passenger's seat. Power down those third-row seats, and cargo capacity expands to 43.8 cubic feet. Fold down the 60/40-split second row seats and the GL-Class provides as much as 83.3 cubic feet for cargo. The load floor is flat, which is good for many cargoes. Gaps in the floor where the seats meet create holes that a dog could step in, however, which is not good. You may want to lay a board or something in there for Fido. There's room under the cargo floor for a full-size spare tire.

The interior layout is familiar to Mercedes drivers, with MB-Tex (vinyl) or real leather trim for the seats (because not all luxury car buyers want leather seating surfaces), wood trim and metal rings around gauges, air vents, and cup holders. Switchgear is comprehensive without being overwhelming, and the shift lever on the steering column and paddles on the wheel allow for maximum console space.

Second-row seats provide ample room, with more head and legroom than a Cadillac Escalade or Chevrolet Suburban offer. The rear door openings are substantial so shoes and long legs don't hit the B-pillar when climbing out. When occupied by only two people, the back of the center section can be folded down as an armrest and storage tray.

We climbed into the third row and found room for two six-foot adults to ride back there, each in a separate seat; again with more headroom and nearly eight inches more legroom than the Escalade, and just half an inch less legroom than the much longer Suburban. The room is enhanced by foot wells for your feet so you don't sit with your knees at chest level, and even the third-row seats are thickly padded to provide comfort. Fears of claustrophobia back there evaporate quickly thanks to the sunroof that extends over the third row and opening quarter windows.

The COMAND system features a 6.5-inch color display screen, six-disc DVD changer, and a Bluetooth interface that allows a phone still in a pocket or purse to be operated through the audio system. COMAND can be equipped with an optional iPod/MP3 interface, Sirius satellite radio, HD radio, and an enhanced voice control system. It can play tracks stored on a data CD, DVD or SD memory card. The system can also display maps and directions for the optional hard-drive navigation system, which can be set up for SIRIUS real-time traffic info and Zagat restaurant ratings as well.

All GL-Class models can be equipped with an optional 610-watt digital harman/kardon Logic7 audio system, and a rear-seat entertainment system that includes two eight-inch screens mounted in the rear of the front-seat headrests wireless headphones and an integrated DVD player with dual-source capability. If you're in the habit of throwing your right arm behind the passenger seat when backing up, watch your rings don't scratch the screen.

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