When Mercedes-Benz announced a new, three-row-seat sport/utility would be built on the second-gen M-Class chassis architecture and that it would replace the mil-spec G-Wagen, one of our editors wrote, "There goes the neighborhood. Mercedes is wimping out by killing off an icon and replacing it with an overwrought station wagon. How could they?"

That editor was me. But I'm pleased to advise you that it all came out fine. Continued customer demand garnered the brick-shaped G500 and G55 AMG a reprieve from the axe, and the new GL-Class came out so well it earned our 2007 Sport/Utility of the Year award. The latter draws it an automatic berth in our long-term-test fleet. The bad news is the party's over, because our Barolo Red over Macadamia beige tester was one of the most popular SUVs to ever spend a year in the MT garage.

Most cabin cruisers like this have 5.3- to 6.2-liter engines, so we wondered if the GL's 335-horse, 4.7-liter V-8 would have enough punch for fully loaded duty. Not a problem. Part of the credit goes to the superb seven-speed automatic transmission, which offers a ratio for every occasion without hunting. This powertrain combo drew universal praise from the staff as quiet, smooth, and powerful. Mercedes has since launched the even gutsier GL550, but we're not sure you need to go there unless you want to. Mileage over our test was a respectable 15.6 mpg, which included off-roading, gas-wasting photo-shoot support, and track testing.

One of the elements that elevated the GL to SUOTY-winning levels is its useable rear seat. There's room back there for real adults, not just 50th percentilers. Our GL had the power 60/40-split third-row seats, and positioning them up and down at the touch of a button proved super-handy, although one editor was bummed that you can access the way back only via the passenger side of the truck. The interior held up well, showing virtually no wear even after 25,000-plus miles of hard work, although the light cabin color dirtied easily.

Not everyone was thrilled with the environment, though. One staffer complained there were just too many buttons and their layout and function weren't intuitive. Mercedes has made great strides in this area of late, particularly in terms of its audio/nav systems, but you'll still need to spend a few hours in the driveway, with the owner's manual on your lap, to learn where everything is and how it works. Two editors observed that the rearview mirrors were on the smallish side for such a large truck that's likely to be towing a boat or trailer.

The GL's adjustable airbag suspension is a thing of wonder. Damping can be set to your choice of Sport, Comfort, or self-adjusting between the two. Most preferred the Sport setting, as the GL just handles better that way. The underguts also are adjustable for ride height, particularly handy for off-roading, although positioned at the highest ground-clearance setting renders the ride a bit choppy, as there's very little suspension-rebound travel left. A staffer took the GL to the home-improvement store and filled the SUV's rear with 20 50-pound sacks of gravel. The suspension adjusted itself to where the GL was level again, and the ride and handling were unaffected, as if to say, "So-what else ya got?"

Service issues were minimal. The tire-pressure-monitoring system signaled two low tires at the same time, and so we assumed something was amiss. There was: The system was properly warning us that two tires had nails in them. The DVD player froze up just after we took delivery, so the dealer rebooted it, and the problem never recurred. The tires were shot at just over 22,000, so on went a new set. We installed rear brake pads at the 25K-mile service, and the dealer also replaced a whirring engine idler pulley (under warranty). Otherwise, it was steady as she goes.

Like Sinatra sang, "It was a very good year" for the Mercedes-Benz GL450. It was always on the move, demonstrated a ton of capability in many areas, and proved no hassle in terms of reliability. Even after the chance to discover its every foible-and there aren't many-we were pleased with the GL450's long-term test and that we chose it as a Sport/Utility of the Year winner.

From The Logbook

"Drove it to Vegas for a music festival (Tom Petty, My Morning Jacket, Jurassic 5, and Fiona Apple, to name a few). Filled the seats with seven adults and no one complained. Many remarked how smooth and quiet the GL was. Suspension set on Comfort, it just gobbled up I-15."
- Brian Vance

"Probably the best transmission in the entire SUV or pickup-truck kingdom. Battery location under the rear seat is a pain, though, for jumping or charging."
- Mark Williams

"SUOTY yes, but no, I don't like it. Laggy brakes, alternating between mush and harsh ride, incomprehensible second system controls. Give me a good minivan instead."
- Kim Reynolds

"Superb powertrain, do-it-all suspension, lots of creature features, and serious capability. Smooth and quiet; big, yet shrinks around you. So this is what owning a corporate jet is like."
- Matt Stone


Our Car
Base price $55, 600
Options Premium 1 Package ($4500: Parktronic, power tailgate, DVD nav, power tilt/telescoping steering, hands-free comm., etc.); Rear Seat Entertainment Package ($2650: DVD player, dual rear screens); Off Road Package ($2200: adaptive damping, locking differentials, f/r skidplates); Leather interior ($1650); three-zone Climate Control ($1320); misc ($4215)
MSRP, as tested $72,135
Total mileage 25,771
Avg fuel economy 15.6 mpg
Problem areas One-time DVD system failure
Maintenance cost $476
Normal-wear cost $1,303
3-year residual value $34,625
Recalls None


2007 Mercedes-Benz GL450
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Engine type 90 V-8, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 284.6 cu in/4663 cc
Compression ratio 10.7:1
Power (SAE net) 335 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 339 lb-ft @ 2700 rpm
Weight to power 16.3 lb/hp
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Axle/final-drive ratios 3.70:1/2.70:1/2.93:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, adj air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, adj air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 18.6:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3.6
Brakes, f;r 14.7-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels, f;r 19.0 x 8.5 in, cast aluminum
Tires, f;r 265/60R18 110 Michelin Latitude Tour HP
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 121.1 in
Track, f/r 65.0/65.1 in
Length x width x height 200.3 x 75.6 x 72.4 in
Turning circle 39.7 ft
Ground clearance 7.8-10.9 in
Apprch/depart angle 33.0/27.0 deg
Curb weight 5468 lb
Weight dist., f/r 51/49%
Seating capacity 7
Headroom, f/r 40.1/40.6/38.5 in
Legroom, f/r 43.0/40.0/34.0 in
Shoulder room, f/r 58.3/58.9/50.5 in
Cargo volume 83.3/43.8/10.6 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.2 sec
0-40 3.4
0-50 4.7
0-60 6.5
0-70 8.5
0-80 10.9
0-90 14
Quarter mile 14.9 sec @ 93.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 129 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.76 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.2 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 1900 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, f/m side, f/m/r curtain
Basic warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
Roadside assistance Unlimited
Fuel capacity 26.4 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 15/19 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.17 lb/mile

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