The Mercedes-Benz M-Class first arrived in 1997, essentially creating the luxury crossover SUV market. Since then, that market has grown to include Lexus, Audi, and BMW— and Mercedes-Benz has grown with it. You may not realize it, but the German automaker sells seven SUVs, for both trail and track.
The G-Class (or “G-Wagen,” from its original name Geländewagen, "cross country vehicle") started life as a military vehicle, produced by Steyr-Daimler-Puch in the 1970s, and went on sale via Mercedes-Benz for civilian use in 1979. This vehicle is something of a living fossil; a vehicle that has managed to survive the decades through brute strength. Though it may have gained some creature comforts through the years, at its heart is a rugged off-road chassis that is there when you need it. The current G-Class entered the market in 1990, receiving updates in 2005 and 2006. Despite its clumsy on-road handling, high starting price, and terrible fuel economy, it has become a must-have in the garages of athletes and celebrities.
The base model (if you can call it that) is the G550. Starting at $119,900, its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 puts out 416 horsepower. The G-Wagen is also available in AMG variants; the G55 AMG ($139,900) also features a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8, making 563 horsepower. The range topping model is the G65 AMG, featuring a twin-turbo 6.0L V12, churning out 621 horsepower and a stupendous 738 pound feet of torque.
The Mercedes-Benz SUV lineup is much more than just chariots for the stars. There are plenty of options for the rest of us–from compact crossovers to three-row SUVs.
The smallest, and most nimble entrant in the lineup is the GLA-Class. The name is meant to blend G-Class and the CLA-Class compact car, on which it is based. It has sporty handling and pretty powerful engines, but is unfortunately tight on cargo space.
Think of the GLA as a high-riding CLA-Class Wagon. Nothing wrong with that, as both share a cabin aesthetic that is easy on the eyes, helping it rank second among all Luxury Subcompact SUVs. Pricing ranges from $32,500 for the base 208-horsepower GLA250, upwards of $50,000 for the 355-horsepower GLA45 AMG. The base GLA250 is also the most fuel-efficient gas model of the Mercedes SUV lineup, returning 25/35 mpg city/highway.
What if you want more space than the GLA-Class, and want something that is more of a true SUV, but don’t want to go up to the big full-size Mercedes-Benz SUVs? The GLC-Class is the perfect blend of size and comfort. The GLC is part of Mercedes’ recent model shakeup, replacing the GLK-Class. The GLK had a luxurious cabin, but a cramped rear seat and firm ride. The GLC immediately addressed these issues, with two rows of spacious, comfortable seats, and a silky smooth ride.
For its inaugural year, the GLC is just available as the GLC400, featuring a turbocharged 241-hp 2.0-liter I4 and either rear wheel drive ($38,950) or 4MATIC 4-wheel drive ($40,950). In addition to the long list of standard luxury features, critics praise the easy-to-use COMAND infotainment system, dashboard buttons, and touchpad. It’s a thorough enough overhaul to warrant a change in name from GLK to GLC.
Perhaps one of the more confusing name changes involves one of the cornerstones of the Mercedes-Benz SUV lineup, originally dubbed the M-Class (appearing as ML350 on vehicle badging), this mid-size luxury SUV now goes by the less-recognizable GLE-Class.
Despite the quizzical name change, the GLE embodies everything that makes these Mercedes models so great; lavish cabin, potent choice of engines, and a very smooth ride. While the GLE has ample cargo space, there is a “coupe variant” that has a neat four-door fastback look, but that directly cuts into cargo space. If you enjoy having room for all your bags on long weekends, avoid the coupe version.
The base model is the GLE350, which starts at $51,100 and features a 3.5-liter V6 making 302 horsepower. There are many new Mercedes AMG performance models, including the GLE450 AMG, which is a good compromise at $65,100. It features a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 making 362 horsepower. But the real grunt comes with the Mercedes AMG GL63. At $99,950, it cranks 550 horsepower from a twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8.
One of the best new features of the GLE is the updated version of the Mercedes Benz COMAND infotainment system. Past iterations used a clunky dial system that proved distracting. The new system keeps the dial, but also has a touchpad that opens up menu navigation by just a stroke of your finger.
Not content to rename just its GLK- and M-Class Mercedes models, the German automaker also changed the name of its most accommodating SUV. The three-row, seven-passenger GL-Class will be named GLS-Class for the 2017 model year. That model is still too far off for us to glean any expert opinions, but the 2016 GL will still be in dealer lots for some time, and that’s not a bad thing. The GL ranks third among Luxury Large SUVS.
The GL features the best of quantity and quality, boasting a long list of standard luxury features and an impressive 93.8 cubic feet of cargo space, with all the seats down. With the seats up, occupants can enjoy spacious, comfortable seating, with ample head and legroom.
The range-topping model is the GL63 AMG, which fetches $121,100. Under the hood is a twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 making 550 horsepower. Given what the GL already provides, the GL63 AMG cranks every single attribute noted here about Mercedes-Benz SUVs up to 11.
The GL will be replaced with the GLS for the upcoming 2017 model year. When it does, it will get a new face, and the much-improved COMAND update, but will retain the three-row spaciousness, unrivaled comfort and ability to go off-road. When it goes on sale, the GLS will embody all of the ruggedness that went into the original Mercedes G-Wagen, and all of the luxury and technology that Mercedes has baked into its SUVs since.