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Big Mercedes SUV is light on its feet

The 2007 GL 450 is bigger and better than Mercedes' other SUV models - but it costs big, too.

By Alex Taylor III, Fortune Magazine senior editor



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(Fortune Magazine) -- With gasoline at $3.20 a gallon where I live, does anyone need another seven-passenger SUV? A more fuel-efficient minivan - if you can stand the soccer mom image - will carry as many people and drink less gas.

Well, it turns out Mercedes loyalists want a big SUV. Many with growing families have been bailing out of the five-seat ML-class for the roomier Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator. Of course, they may have been turned off by quality problems in early versions of the ML.

No problems were apparent in the 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL 450 I tested, and I expect it should live up to the demanding standards of those who drive behind the three-pointed star.

Both the concept and the execution are outstanding. With a base sticker price of $54,900, the GL is thousands less than a similarly-equipped Cadillac Escalade or Land Rover Range Rover - two other leading contenders in the luxury SUV sweepstakes.

Mercedes are seldom anything but tasteful, and the clean, modern design makes the GL look smaller than it is. Next to the awkward R-class Mercedes, the GL appears handsome by comparison.

Over the years, I've grown to appreciate Mercedes' knack for updating its designs while still keeping the heritage of the vehicles instantly identifiable. The interior of the GL is luscious and tasteful, with creamy leather set off by high-gloss maple accents, and the controls are instantly familiar to anyone with a Mercedes background.

As befits a Benz, the level of standard safety equipment is high, and includes an electronic stability program, brake assist, active front head restraints, and seatbelt pretensioners. But various options - including the by-now-obligatory two-screen DVD player for back-seat passengers at $2,630 - drove the price of my test vehicle up to $68,075.

But you can't fault the performance. With a 335 horsepower V-8 connected to a seven-speed transmission and a claimed zero-to-60 time of 7.4 seconds (one tester made it in 6.7 seconds), the GL was capable of passing almost everything on the road - except, as the old joke goes, a gas station. You can expect to get about 15 mpg.

On my test roads, the GL felt light on its feet for a big vehicle - even when loaded with a family of four and a week's worth of groceries. It cornered without any noticeable body roll and never felt out of place in traffic.

If you really need a vehicle that weighs more than 2 tons and costs as much as two Ford Explorers, what's not to like in the GL?

Photos and details:

Mercedes-Benz GL-classexternal link



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