Finally, there's a large, seven-passenger sport utility vehicle that has a higher fuel mileage rating than some five-passenger, family size sedans.
In fact, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL320 SUV has a higher fuel economy rating than the six-cylinder-powered, 2009 Dodge Avenger, Chrysler Sebring, Mitsubishi Galant sedans and even bests several minivans as well as the compact Pontiac G6 with six-cylinder engine.
The edge comes from the GL320's diesel powerplant that wrings impressive mileage out of every gallon of fuel. The federal government rating for this nearly 17-foot-long SUV is 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway.
2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
A look at the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
2009 Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTEC
BASE PRICE: $58,200.
AS TESTED: $71,125.
TYPE: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, seven-passenger, full-size sport utility vehicle.
ENGINE: 3-liter, double overhead cam, turbocharged, direct-injection diesel, in-line six cylinder engine.
MILEAGE: 17 mpg (city), 23 mpg (highway).
TOP SPEED: NA.
LENGTH: 200.6 inches.
WHEELBASE: 121.1 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 5,313 pounds.
BUILT AT: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
OPTIONS: Premium package I (includes Keyless Go, navigation system, power driver's seat and front passenger's seat with memory, Sirius satellite radio, Harman/kardon surround sound system) $6,600; leather seat trim with burl walnut interior trim $2,130; rear-seat entertainment system $1,850; Adaptive Damping System $750; Capri Blue metallic exterior paint $720.
DESTINATION CHARGE: $875.
In my real-world test drive, I managed 23 mpg in combined city/highway travel, and I went nearly 600 miles and still didn't need to fill up the 26.4-gallon fuel tank.
Best of all, owners don't give up a thing in luxury accouterments and four-wheel drive capability.
And the 3-liter, direct-injection, turbocharged, diesel, inline six cylinder in this largest Mercedes SUV is certified to be clean enough emissions-wise - with today's improved low-sulfur diesel fuel - to qualify to be sold in all 50 states.
The fuel savings, advanced pollution control and roomy, luxury interior come at a price, though.
The 2009 GL320, which is a tad smaller overall than a Cadillac Escalade SUV, has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $59,075.
This starting price could buy two Galants. But the GL320 is $4,000 less than a base, gasoline-powered Escalade and is priced lower than the base, gasoline versions of the GL-Class, both of which have V-8s.
The GL320 also has a lower starting retail price than the 2009 Lexus LX 570 with gasoline V-8, which goes for $76,730. But the smaller-sized, 2009 BMW X5 with diesel six-cylinder and even better fuel mileage rating - 18/26 mpg - has a starting retail price of just over $52,000.
Mercedes also added its so-called BlueTEC diesel powerplant to the E-Class sedan and M-Class crossover SUV to boost mileage and attract buyers who can afford to waste fuel but don't want to.
Diesel engines have long been known for their thrifty use of fuel as well as their long-term durability. They're also known for quick, strong torque, or that "oomph" that seems to come out of nowhere when the accelerator goes down, and it's definitely one of the pleasures of the GL320.
Horsepower is just 210 in this big, more than 5,000-pound people hauler, but torque peaks at 398 foot-pounds at a low, 1,600 rpm. This is more torque than the 339 foot-pounds starting at 2,700 rpm that's generated by the 335-horsepower, 4.5-liter, gasoline V-8 in the Mercedes GL450 that's rated at just 13 mpg in city driving.
The torque in the diesel-powered GL comes on in smooth, responsive fashion, and it's so easily managed that this SUV moves quickly to snag openings in traffic in some congested highway situations.
In fact, the test Mercedes SUV never felt underpowered or lagging, and I marveled at the seamless operation of the seven-speed, electronically controlled transmission.
But it takes a while to get the hang of the short stalk near the dashboard that's the newfangled shifter. To put it into "Park," for example, there's no moving the lever up. Instead, a driver pushes the "P" button.
All passengers in the GL320 noticed how quiet it was inside. Many didn't notice any diesel sounds. I found the interior was so insulated from exterior sounds, I heard a bit of the typical diesel engine racket only when I had windows down or when I was standing outside the vehicle.
The interior - with $6,600 optional leather package - was impeccable, with stitches and gaps between pieces well aligned. There was a quality and pampered feel all around - from the solid thud of the doors closing to the power-operated rear liftgate and power-operated rear seats that moved on their own into the floor when additional cargo space was needed.
Maximum cargo space is a healthy 83.3 cubic feet.
The tester also had two sunroofs, which provided an airy feel from front to back.
Surprisingly, I could sit rather comfortably in the third row seats without my knees brushing the seatbacks ahead.
But the Mercedes navigation system seemed clumsy to use, with a lot of effort required to input destination addresses. And it wouldn't work unless the radio was turned on. The same was true for the rearview camera.
The GL320 rides high above the road. This is good for front and side views out of the vehicle, but there's noticeable body lean, this way and that, during turns and in curves.
Still, the suspension is nicely tuned to allow some feedback from the road to the driver, but it's not enough to bother passengers or make the GL320 feel rough over bumps. At slow speeds in off-road terrain, however, the vehicle can bob from one side to the other over the rough stuff and jiggle passengers considerably.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how small the turning circle is for this large SUV with 20-inch wheels and tires.
The four-wheel drive is permanent and doesn't require any buttons to be pushed by the driver, and it capably powers through even most off-road situations.
Although the U.S. government hasn't done crash tests on the GL-Class - diesel or otherwise - the vehicle comes well-equipped with safety items including nine air bags, rollover sensors, electronic stability control and four-wheel traction control.
Consumer Reports says the GL-Class has a poor reliability rating.
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