Safety & Reliability

As of this writing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had not yet crash-tested the GL-Class. The nine standard airbags include three-row side curtain airbags, a driver's knee airbag and seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the first and second rows. Active head restraints, all-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system are also standard.

Newly standard for 2009 is Mercedes' Pre-Safe system, which uses sensors in the braking and stability systems to intuit a likely collision. It then cinches up the seat belts, closes any open windows to minimize intrusions and adjusts the seats for maximum airbag effectiveness. Though in most cases there won't be enough time to fully perform those actions, Mercedes' Moran said, "the thinking there is that anything is better than nothing ... even if the window was down halfway and it got up three-quarters of the way, it would be better."

With Latch child-seat anchors for the outboard second- and third-row seats, don't be surprised if you're drafted to schlep the entire neighborhood's tots to day care. The second row has top-tether anchors for all three seats, and they're conveniently mounted midway down the back of the seats. Parents should note that all the anchors have removable plastic covers. They're a pain in the neck to pry off, so here's betting you'll leave them off — and lose them.

Poor reliability continues to be the GL's biggest drawback. In its first two years on the market, the SUV earned the worst possible score, Much Worse Than Average, from Consumer Reports. The publication cited body hardware as the GL's biggest trouble spot. I'd be more concerned if large luxury SUVs weren't generally such a reliability letdown; the Escalade earned dismal reliability scores, and although Consumer Reports didn't have sufficient data to rate the Range Rover in 2008, the SUV got poor ratings in prior years. The QX56 and Navigator are relative bright spots, with reliability ratings of Average. The recently redesigned LX 570 hasn't been on the market long enough to gauge.

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