We really like the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. In fact, we liked it so much we crowned the Mercedes-Benz GL450 our 2007 Sport/Utility of the Year, crediting its pleasant in-town demeanor and surprising off-road capabilities. This year, there haven't been many changes to the GL-Class formula. The GL320 CDI and GL450 remain the same, and new for 2008 is the addition of the GL550.

The CDI is the most frugal of the group with the lowest starting price ($54,275) and the best fuel economy, returning 24 mpg on the highway. With a combined 20 mpg, this AWD GL matches the economy of the 2WD Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. And the turbo-3.0 V-6 in the Benz makes a healthy 398 lb-ft of torque, only 19 lb-ft less than the electronically assisted 6.2L V-8 in the Caddy. The big downside is availability, as the CDI is only 42-state legal.

That's changing for the 2009 model year, as Benz's GL, R, and ML-Class vehicles will receive the much talked about -- and 50-state legal -- BlueTEC diesel. Currently available in the E-Class sedan, the BlueTEC meets even the most stringent emissions standards thanks to an intricate, four-stage emissions cleaning system. We recently drove a handful of BlueTEC-equipped SUVs in Vermont, and came away impressed, averaging 28.4 mpg during the trip in an ML-Class. Behind the wheel the BlueTEC feels similar to the CDI, torque output remains the same, but horsepower falls by five to 210.

On the more extravagant (and gas-sucking) end of the spectrum is the new for 2008 GL550. It's powered by a 382-hp, 5.5L V-8 and comes equipped with just about the entire options list, including the COMMAND DVD navigation system, a Harmon/Kardon sound system, three-zone climate control, 21-in. wheels, and a rearview camera. Of course this doesn't come cheap; the GL550 starts at an eye-popping $80,373.

The GL450 remains essentially unchanged, which isn't a bad thing. It's the only model in the GL lineup that can be optioned with an Off Road package, which includes a two-speed transfer case, locking center and rear differentials, and an air suspension which can increase ground clearance by 12 in.

All GL models come with four-wheel independent suspension, 7500-lb Class IV towing capacity, and Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. The large interior can fit seven passengers, and 43.8 cu ft of cargo space can be had when the third row is folded down. With the middle seats folded away, the cargo area is completely flat for easy loading and can hold up to 83 cu ft of storage. Mercedes proven seven-speed automatic provides smooth shifts, and safety features are plentiful with active headrests, dual two-stage front airbags, side airbags, and curtain airbags for all three rows.

In total, the GL-Class looks to continue its impressive trend through 2008, and we're eagerly awaiting the BlueTEC addition in 2009. The GL450 remains a competent city cruiser with the ability rough it every once in a while if necessary. Or as editor-in-chief Angus MacKenzie puts it, "The GL can certainly go off road, but it also delivers carlike levels of performance and refinement on road. It's the combination of feel, style, and usefulness that set it apart."



2008 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
Base Price $54,275-$80,373
Vehicle layout Front-engine, AWD/4WD
Engine 3.0L/215-hp/398-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 6-cyl; 4.6L/335-hp/339-lb-ft DOHC V-8; 5.5L/382-hp/391-lb-ft DOHC V-8
Transmission 7-speed auto
Curb weight (dist f/r) 5300-5400 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 121.1 in
Length x width x height 200.6 x 83.7 x 75.4 in
Headroom, f/m/r 40.1/40.6/38.5 in
Legroom, f/m/r 43.0/40.0/34.0 in
Shoulder room, f/m/r 58.3/58.9/50.5 in
Cargo vol behind f/m/r 83.3/43.8/14.3 cu ft
EPA City/Hwy Econ 13-18/17-27 mpg
CO2 Emissions 1.0-1.3 lb/mile