DETROIT – If ever there was a vehicle that came along at the wrong time, it's the Mercedes-Benz GL550. But don't get it twisted. That's the case with every full-size three-rowed sport utility.
In a phrase, The Mercedes GL550 is simply a wonderful vehicle that came to market at the wrong time. The big Ute has been on sale for more than a year, just in time to see gasoline prices rise from less than $3.00 per gallon to more than $4.00 per gallon.
It doesn't help that the GL550 has a 5.5-liter V8 that makes a whopping 382 horsepower and 391 pounds-feet of torque from 2,800 to 4,800 rpm. Translation: the GL550 can get off the line rather quickly, accelerate from 40 mph to 80 mph briskly and get you in trouble, speed wise, in the blink of an eye.
The engine was mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with a comfort and sport mode. The gear box was as smooth as we expected of a Mercedes. Power rippled to the pavement unobtrusively and the GL550 could reach 80 mph on the expressways here effortlessly.
It had an air suspension that erased most of the truck like feel of a vehicle its size. As long as we drove responsibly around corners and through the curves, the GL550 handled much like a big sedan rather than a seven passenger, three rowed sport utility. And though it's doubtful that anyone would fork over $82,455 for a vehicle to go sloshing through the woods, the GL550 was capable of rock crawling with the best of them.
The off-road driving program lets drivers simultaneously engage programming recalibrations of the traction system, antilock brakes, engine management and automatic transmission that are designed to enhance control in conditions typical of off-highway driving.
Downhill Speed Regulation was just what it sounds like. It automatically modulated the throttle, brakes, and ABS to maintain a preset crawl speed when descending hills. The GL550's speed is preprogrammed at 4 mph but it may be adjusted between 3 mph and 10 mph. It can be used when the gear selector is in Drive or Reverse.
And Hill-start assist prevented unwanted vehicle rollback when taking off from a stop on uphill or downhill grades (15 percent or over), hill-start assist automatically maintained brake pressure for approximately one second after the driver released the brake pedal.
There were some creature comforts, too. Leather was everywhere including the top of the dash. Satellite radio, a surround sound system, a six disc CD changer were of course part of the package. But there were also stainless steel running boards, 21-inch wheels, a power lift gate, a third row fixed sun roof, blue tinted glass, ambient interior lighting and a heated steering wheel and voice recognition.
We found the second row seats a bit much to flip forward to access the third row seats. But the third row had power seats that folded flat into the floor. We thought that a nice touch.
The time of stretching the wallet to purchase vehicles that may be a little out of reach should be gone, for the moment. The GL550 has an EPA rating of 13 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the hwy. However, Mercedes says expect the GL550's fuel efficiency range for most drivers to be more like 10 mpg and 16 mpg respectively.
What's more, the estimated annually fuel cost is, at $3.00 per gallon, $3,213 based on driving 15,000 miles a year. However, gasoline is more than $4.00 per gallon and most people who travel daily drive more than 15,000 during the course of a year.
The 2008 Mercedes-Benz GL550 is really a great full-size sport utility – if you can afford the purchase price and the operation costs.