What is the American Dream? To some it’s social mobility. Through determination and hard work they can have more and nicer things. For others it’s simply an opportunity to be better off than their parents were. However the term is defined, it’s part of the very fabric of the United States.
|1. The GL450 is powered by a 4.6L bi-turbo V8 that puts out 362 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque.
2. Fuel economy is 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway.
3. There’s 16 cu-ft of space behind the 3rd row and 50 cu-ft behind the 2nd.
4. The GL450 is rated to tow 7,500 lbs.
5. Pricing starts at $63,900 plus destination.
If someone applies their talents and puts in the hours, wondrous things happen; they can earn a management position at a high-tech startup; own a palatial home in a gated community; and even justify a subscription to Wine Spectator. Of course the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class should probably be on that list as well; few vehicles are a better reward for strenuous toil than this high-brow hauler. If the American Dream was a car, this could be it. After all, what’s more American than buying something from a foreign company?
TERROIR – SENSE OF PLACE
Appropriately the GL competes in a uniquely American segment of the market characterized by big, bold-looking vehicles. It’s a large crossover SUV that squares-off against the sophisticated Audi Q7, bodacious Cadillac Escalade and irrelevant Lincoln Navigator. It offers buyers chiseled good looks, a sumptuous interior and ample luggage space. This combination of attributes makes the GL a perfect vehicle for the American roadscape, but that’s not the limit of its tricks.
As one would expect in a luxury SUV from Mercedes-Benz the GL450’s cabin is nothing short of spectacular. Sitting in the driver’s seat is like reclining inside a Texas longhorn, minus the total darkness and methane gas. The dashboard and door panels are draped in acres of sinuous leather accented with delicate stitching. The quality and attention to detail are immediately obvious; the interior looks like it was pulled from the company’s Sonderklasse flagship sedan.
Naturally everything is dressed up with real wood trim, chocolaty burled walnut in the vehicle provided to AutoGuide for testing. Unfortunately it looked good enough to eat and we’re still picking splinters out of our gums (Dear Mercedes, sorry about the bite marks…).
One thoughtful touch is the brightwork that dresses up various parts of the cockpit. It features a smooth satin finish, which not only pleases the eye but protects ocular organs from annoying glare. Chrome trim used in other vehicles can blind when the sun shines.
The throne-like front seats are supportive and road-trip ready. One could easily spend six, eight or even 10 hours in the saddle without undue fatigue. The second-row chairs are nearly as comfortable and spacious, but the biggest revelation is the aft-most bench.
Surprisingly the GL’s third row is actually usable… by real adults! I’m six feet tall and comfortably fit back there. My knees weren’t buried in the second-row seatbacks and my noggin wasn’t jammed into the headliner. I could probably last for an hour or more without much grumbling, and that is an accomplishment. Many “three-row” vehicles are pretty useless for transporting passengers since the back-most chairs can barely handle munchkins let alone America-sized humans.
Making those seating arrangements even sweeter is the optional EASY ENTRY one-touch, power-folding second-row. Just push a button and the chairs fold, tip and slide, opening a pathway that’s wide enough for a parade to pass through. The price of all that electromechanical convenience is an extra $400.
As with just about every modern vehicle the GL is overflowing with technology. The car provided to AutoGuide was loaded with things like 4MATIC all-wheel drive and Airmatic suspension, Pre-Safe, Attention Assist, Night View Assist Plus, the list goes on. Each of those features is officially spelled in full caps, though we’ve turned down the volume. There’s no need to shout; the features speak for themselves.
One of the GL450’s technological highlights is Distronic Plus, the company’s brand of radar-based cruise control. Like other systems on the market it monitors the road ahead and accelerates or decelerates the vehicle according to traffic conditions. It can even bring the luxury barge to a complete halt if necessary, which is a very eerie feeling as you’re barreling toward the Chevy Silverado that’s stopped in front of you. To resume automatic speed-control just tap the gas.
Night vision is another noteworthy bit of tech. One press of a dashboard-mounted button and it turns on in low-light situations, displaying what’s ahead on the navigation screen. It’s of little value at high speed but it is handy for spotting pedestrians or other obstacles at slower velocities, particularly in urban areas. This feature is probably more useful in crowded Europe opposed to wide-open America.
The centerpiece of the GL’s cabin is the company’s Comand system, a clever acronym that stands for Cockpit Management and Data. Like BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI this telematics technology features a control knob mounted on the center console. By twisting, rocking and pressing the circular protuberance various functions can be accessed. Unlike competing systems, Comand is refreshingly easy to learn and use, with a simple menu structure and redundant hard buttons on the dashboard.
Not ones to settle for good enough, Mercedes engineers took a similarly high-tech approach to the reciprocating bits ahead of the firewall. GL450s are powered by a cutting-edge 4.6-liter twin-turbo V8. The engine delivers a stampede of horses, 362 in total. Torque output is equally impressive. Thanks to its duet of blowers the V8 huffs out 406 lb-ft, enough to tow a battleship up America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley, though it’d be a little hard to launch the ship once it reached the summit; glaciers are less-than-ideal surfaces for sailing, but the GL’s 4MATIC all-wheel drive could handle the ice with no problems.
This high-riding Benz has plenty of get up and go, be it around town or at arrest-worthy velocities. Acceleration is authoritative, if not explosive.
The vehicle’s force-fed V8 is notable for what it puts out but also for what it doesn’t. The powerplant is smoother than a granite countertop. If you thought freshly washed panties were silky try the GL450 on for size… on second thought, don’t. There’s absolutely no whooshing, zero clattering and no undesirable noise; it just pulls.
Like any proper American vehicle it also burns a lot of fuel. The GL450 ought to deliver 14 miles per gallon in urban conditions and up to 19 on highway jaunts. In mixed AutoGuide driving the vehicle hit nearly 17 MPG, better than the EPA average by almost one mile per gallon.
When it comes to deliveries, 450s makes up the bulk of GL purchases; it’s the volume model of the lineup, accounting for about 60 percent of sales. But it’s not the only one offered. Economy-conscious shoppers can opt for a miserly diesel model. The GL350 BlueTEC offers a heap of torque and up to 26 miles per gallon on the highway. Additionally there’s a more powerful GL550, which features a retuned engine that cranks out 429 ponies. Of course if crazy horsepower isn’t enough the folks at AMG have a prescription for complete insanity. They’ve figured out how to harness the power of an active volcano. The GL63 AMG has a Krakatoa-rivaling 550 horsepower.
A seven-speed automatic transmission is standard with every GL. Emily Post, an author famous for her books about etiquette must have been involved in this gearbox’s development because it always minds its manners; upshifts are smooth and downshifts prompt. You can almost hear it say “please” and “thank you.”
The rest of the driving experience is just as pleasant. When it comes to the steering, braking and handling there’s nothing to complain about. Adjusting the Airmatic suspension between its different driving modes resulted in minor but perceptible differences in how the vehicle drove. In the “comfort” setting the ride was noticeably smoother and the throttle tip-in more gradual; in “sport” the vehicle’s responses were sharpened slightly.
Is the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class the perfect vehicle for America? It certainly could be, and the fact that it’s built in Alabama only burnishes its patriotism. It has commanding presence, a great interior and it excels at hauling both people and payload.
Base price for the GL450 is about $65,000, but the up-level sample provided for testing clocked in at 85 large. Be warned, the options add up fast. Massaging front seats are $1,100; the driver assistance package is $2,800; a heated steering wheel will set you back $225, but that’s the price you pay for an S-Class on stilts. No one said the American Dream was cheap.