Last year, Holly Reich delivered a 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL450 Test Drive and Review, awarding the then new SUV four stars. Recently, I drove the 2008 Mercedes-Benz GL550, the über version of the big sport utility vehicle to make my own assessment.
I have to agree with Holly's significant comment about the GL: "The timing of the introduction of the 2007 GL450 is unfortunate. Mercedes brings out its first big SUV just as rising gas prices dominate the headlines." Even more true in 2008 than it was in 2007, and powerfully accurate about the V8-powered GL550. Rated by the EPA to deliver 13 mpg city/17 mpg highway, the GL550 consumes conspicuously. But with a base price of $77,375, Mercedes-Benz is not concerned with the woes of the middle class SUV buyer -- this is a high-zoot SUV designed to run with the wealthy.
The big star is under the hood, in the form of a very potent, 5.5 liter V8 engine that's tuned to deliver 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. Even given the GL's 5434 lb curb weight, that's enough power to provide serious motivation. Power goes to all four wheels via Mercedes' 4Matic system and a seven-speed automatic transmission. Handling is crisp for a big SUV, with enough braking to slow down all that mass in predictable fashion.
My knock on the GL550, beside fuel economy, is that horrible audio interface. After a week in the vehicle, I still couldn't figure out how to change the radio station easily. Every function sent me to the owners manual, and the array of similarly-sized buttons made it impossible to operate safely while driving. Familiarity would ease this complaint with more driving, but the initial learning curve is too steep for my comfort.
GL550 comes packaged with tons of luxury and fashion extras, including exterior trim pieces, leather seating surfaces, and other interior flourishes. My test vehicle was loaded to the gills, including headrest-mounted video screens, GPS navigation and air-conditioned front seats. Most impressive was the overall build quality -- the GL550 was solid, delivered great feel everywhere you put your hands, and simply oozed class and elegance, especially in black paint. Some SUVs just make you feel rich by driving them -- GL550 is one of those SUVs.
The closest competitor for GL550 is the Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged, and I'd be hard-pressed to make a selection. GL550 does a slightly better job of people-hauling, with greater capacity and superior passenger amenities. Both are fun to drive, and polished to a fine sheen in every detail.
Would I stretch my budget for a GL550? With a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $78,250, probably not. But if money were no issue, the big SUV would be sitting in the driveway of my multi-million dollar mansion right now. Right alongside that Range Rover Supercharged. And that Porsche 911. And that Corvette Z06. And...
Visit our 2008 Mercedes-Benz GL550 Photo Gallery to see pictures of the GL.