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2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class was new.


Performance: 8.5

Reviewers like the way the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class drives, especially for such a large SUV. They say that even the smallest engine, a diesel-powered V6, is plenty powerful for most consumers. The two larger gas-powered engines available in the GL450 and GL550 earn even better reviews for their performance, but keep in mind that they have dismal fuel economy ratings. All three models win praise for their handling, which writers say is less truck-like than most luxury large SUVs. Overall, reviewers recommend the fuel-sipping GL350 BlueTEC for its winning combination of price, fuel economy, and performance.

  • "There is little to no diesel rattle and I never caught even of whiff of diesel smell. The automatic transmission's shifts were imperceptible. The power and torque are terrific and there is almost no turbo lag. That the GL gets fuel economy in the near-20-something range is a bonus.” -- AutoWeek
  • "Buyers can choose between a fuel-sipping diesel, a strong 4.7-liter V-8, and an even more powerful 5.5-liter V-8. We’d take the diesel.” -- Car and Driver

Acceleration and Power

The Mercedes GL-Class has three engine options, which all come with standard all-wheel drive. The base GL350 BlueTEC is a diesel-powered V6 that makes 210 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. The GL350 is the least expensive and most fuel-efficient option, getting an EPA-rated 17/21 mpg city/highway. The next step up, the GL450, has a gas-powered 5.5-liter V8 with 335 ponies under the hood and 339 pound-feet of torque. This model gets 13 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway. Finally, the GL550’s 5.7-liter V8 makes 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque, and rates a dismal 12 /17 mpg city/highway. Both the GL450 and GL550 require premium gasoline, another cost added onto their already high annual fuel costs. The EPA estimates that the BlueTEC base model will run $3,053 in fuel costs per year, while the premium GL550 will cost $4,027 annually. This means that opting for the GL350 instead of the GL550 could save you $974 per year, or $81 per month in fuel costs alone.

Most reviewers say that the GL350 has plenty of power for the everyday driver, especially since the amount of torque it offers helps make up for the slow off-the-line performance typical of diesel engines. The other engines are more powerful, earning positive comments from nearly every reviewer.  In order for the GL350’s diesel engine to meet emissions standards, it includes an extra exhaust-treatment system. This type of exhaust treatment requires periodic visits to the dealer for maintenance, something to keep in mind when shopping.

  • "For most SUV buyers seeking Mercedes cachet at a fair price, the torquey, turbocharged BlueTEC diesel is by far the optimal engine. With 210 hp and a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque (more than either of the two V8s), the diesel V6 provides blazing power for passing and freeway merging as well as plenty of oomph for towing." -- Car Gurus
  • "Both V8s deliver effortless thrust, and while the GL550 has more punch, the GL450 is plenty strong for any task. The BlueTEC diesel can feel slightly lethargic off the line, and some testers want quicker highway passing response, but its turbodiesel V6 never feels underpowered. All engines benefit from a smooth, alert automatic transmission.” -- Consumer Guide
  • "If getting off the line doesn't mean all that much to your driving pleasure, the GL350's V6 diesel is more economical but delivers plenty of low-speed punch around town and is so quiet only the badging gives it away.” -- Edmunds

Handling and Braking

Generally, reviewers say that the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class handles better than most of its competition because it’s built on a unibody car frame rather than a truck-based platform. The GL’s air suspension system allows drivers to choose whether they prefer Sport or Comfort mode, but some reviewers mention that this also causes the ride to feel a bit floaty. This same system can also be adjusted manually, to raise or lower the ride height.

  • "The thing I keep thinking about when I drive a GL is the impeccable road manners for a vehicle this big. The steering is on the money, and this thing just sails over road imperfections.” -- AutoWeek
  • "The GL’s impeccable road manners remain intact. It never tries to be a sports car, but the steering is slop-free and accurate, and the GL350 wafts over bumps in a way that seems to say, ‘You’re in a giant Mercedes. I know you don’t want to be disturbed.’" -- Car and Driver
  • "All GL models are composed for the most part, but they can't absorb sharp ridges without some jarring… All are stable at speed, but also sway and rock more than optimal on uneven surfaces.” -- Consumer Guide
  • "The GL's handling is a bit soft for those who like to carve precise lines through the corners, but it's generally better than the handling from the truck-based behemoths. And though the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL's steering might be a bit slow for sporty drivers, it's nicely weighted and provides excellent straight-line tracking.” -- Edmunds
  • "Captaining the GL350 feels a bit like driving a bus.” -- Automobile Magazine
  • "This fairly large Benz falls far short of the kind of nimbleness and driving excitement offered by other European SUVs in its price range.” -- Car Gurus

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