Best Of The Best 2006: Growing Larger

The new Mercedes-Benz GL 450 is a study in contradictions: It is a German-engineered, American-made, full-size sport-utility vehicle that drives like a car; its rear children’s seats provide enough legroom to ac­commodate adults comfortably; and its base price of $54,900 belies its luxury status.

Mercedes builds the GL in the same Alabama factory as its M-Class midsize SUV, and the two share a number of attributes, including stiff unibody chassis, leather- and wood-clad interiors, and rack-and-pinion steering. The obvious difference between the two vehicles is their size. The GL is considerably larger. But the GL also surpasses the M-Class with an optional but essential off-road package that adds two locking differentials, a two-speed transfer case, an adaptive air suspension, and 10.9 inches of ground clearance (up from the standard 7.9 inches). The standard-issue 4.7-liter V-8 develops 335 hp, which might sound modest among 400 hp Dodges and Jeeps, but the GL is something of a lightweight in this class—a lightweight that still can tow a three-horse trailer.



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