2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Redesigned luxury SUV is big, seats seven.
The second generation of the full-size, seven-seat SUV from Mercedes-Benz has been completely redesigned for the 2013 model year and it's big in form as well as function. The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class battles the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac Escalade, and Lexus LX570.
For ammunition, the 2013 GL-Class offers a range of engines, including a V6 diesel engine for the fuel-conscious. The look of the new 2013 GL-Class is streamlined (or as streamlined as a 5000-plus pound SUV can be), with sleek bumpers and front grille. The interiors across the line, from the optional panoramic sunroof to the floor mats, are swank in the typical Mercedes style.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC turbo diesel bookends at the lower end of the range, with the high-performance GL63 AMG (550 horsepower, 560 pound-feet of torque) at the other with a hand-built AMG 5.5-liter biturbo, direct injection V8. Snuggled in between these two contrasting cars are the bread-and-butter Mercedes-Benz GL450 (362 hp, 406 lb.-ft.) and GL550 (429 hp, 516 lb.-ft.), both equipped with new direct-injection biturbo V8 engines. All the entrants share a 7-speed automatic and 4MATIC all-wheel drive that splits power 50-50 between the front and rear wheels in normal driving conditions.
Wind noise rarely finds it way into the cavernous interior of the GL-Class, and tire roar is generally hushed as well. After a two-day session test-driving a trio of the new GL-Class models through the crisp air of northern New Mexico, we found the truck claws the pavement and feels much smaller on the road that it is. On a wobbly off-road route descending to the Rio Grande, the GL350 diesel demonstrated tenacious hold, even at speeds of up to 50 mph on the gritty surface.
There is so much to feed the senses in this truck, that prospective buyers might miss some of the advanced engineering underneath, like the magnesium reinforced dashboard or the aluminum hood and fenders. Mercedes claims the new GL-Class is about 200 pounds lighter than the previous-generation models, while still growing an inch here and there in length and width.
Overall though, it's advanced technology that gives the GL-Class a trump card. The GL-Class is stuffed with all bits of digital magic, and many of the systems are standard equipment, including the air-ride suspension that smoothes out all but the most rugged travel. The optional Active Curve System acts on the suspension to reduce lean in turns, meaning that your passengers can leave the Dramamine at home. Lean isn't totally eliminated, but it is tamed. Those who venture off-road should consider the off road package, which includes a pair of locking differentials and front underside protection, but it's not a necessity.
Cavernous passenger space, with three rows of roomy seating, big cargo space, generous power, and quality of fit and finish add to the appeal of the GL-Class.
Fuel costs and purchase prices require some thoughtful budgeting, though. Options can drive prices up quickly: One of the test vehicles we drove, a GL450, was loaded with more than $25,000 worth of extras. Load a GL450 with special colors, design interiors and the top-line technology, and you're writing a larger check then you'd do for an Escalade. The most popular model, the GL450 4MATIC, an EPA-estimated 13/18 mpg City/Highway rating.
Those committed to the German cache will find a cozy ride all around, safety systems that define what Mercedes does best, and a bold, stylish chunk of sheet metal that makes a tasteful statement on the road and off the road. But realize the new GL-Class models look best when they're dirt-free.
The 2013 GL-Class is available in a choice of models built around their engines.
GL350 BlueTEC 4MATIC ($61,570) comes with a 240-horsepower biturbo diesel engine with 455 pound-feet of torque, 4MATIC all-wheel drive and Airmatic suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels. Standard features include MB-Tex upholstery, SmartKey, power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlamps, in dash 6-disc CD/DVD changer. Leather upholstery with walnut trim comes standard. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which can change at any time without notice, and do not include $905 destination fee.)
GL450 4MATIC ($63,900) comes with a 362-hp V8 rated at 406 foot-pounds of torque, with LED taillights and daytime running lamps, privacy glass, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated eight-way power front seats, mbrace2 system. GL550 4MATIC ($86,900) features 479 horsepower and 516 foot-pounds of torque, wood/leather multi-function steering wheel with shift paddles, Keyless-Go, privacy glass, power telescoping and tilting steering wheel, Parktronic with active parking assist, 21-inch AMG twin five-spoke wheels, AMG styling.
Options for GL-Class include the Active Curve System ($2,900) for flatter handling on paved roads, the Off Road package ($2,050) for rugged terrain, Bang & Olufsen sound system ($6,400), rear-seat entertainment system ($1,950), heated windshield washer reservoir ($105), heated steering wheel ($225), a parking assistance package ($1,290), three-zone automatic climate control with rear AC ($1,450), and a light package with bi-xenon headlamps with active curve illumination.
Safety features common to all models include airbags for the driver and front passenger, a kneebag for the driver, and windowbags for all three rows of seats, Steer Control assistance, an active Blind Spot assist function that illuminates in the side mirrors, and ESP with Crosswind Assist, a novel feature that users sensors from a myriad of systems to reduce the effects of cross winds on the high-riding truck during brief, strong gusts of wind. The new Collision Prevention Assist system can sense an impending collision and automatically tighten the front seat belts. An optional Driver Assistance Package alerts the driver when the car drifts out of its lane.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class presents a mildly aggressive posture, with handsome flanks and tasteful character lines, and a sweeping glass greenhouse that allows very good visibility from most angles. The GL-Class reeks of luxury, and its designers have restrained the bling factor, presenting a fairly subdued architecture and a form that's a bit more curvaceous that the previous models.
From the rear, the GL-Class shows a bit of poundage but the mass is broken up by a pair of rectangular exhaust tips and LED taillights. Riding on a long wheelbase of 121.1 inches, the GL-Class avoids the slab-sided stance that often affects large SUVs. The high-profile, 20-inch wheels provide handsome comfort on rough tarmac.
Up front, the GL-Class wears the trademark vertical front fascia, with the two-bar grill dominated by an uber-sized chrome three-pointed star that is about as subtle as Michael Phelps.
Below is a mesh lower grill and skid plates. LED daytime running lights are tucked into the lower bumper and the projector-beam headlamps slice slightly into the fenders. The running boards are metal and there are some deft touches of chrome around the greenhouse.
Most of all, the GL-Class is big, so make sure there's enough room in the garage: The GL-Class stretches to 202 inches in overall length, nearly 17 feet.
Massive outside, the GL-Class models are surprisingly cosseting inside.
Serenity at all speeds helps the effect, as do the stunning optional marshmallow-colored bucket seats from Mercedes's designo line in one of the models we tested. Eye-catching stitching in contrasting colors decorates the length of the posh instrument panel. MB-Tex upholstery comes standard, and it looks and feels more like leather than vinyl; it's durable and easy to clean, according to Mercedes.
The upright view is excellent. Visibility out the rear hatch is dicey, though drivers can compensate with the outside mirrors.
Contrast that feel with the stats on cargo room: the GL-Class delivers 143.6 cubic feet of cabin volume, with up to 93.8 cubic feet of cargo area with both rear seat rows stowed. Both rear rows are powered, and can be folded by pushing a button. Nifty.
The second-row seats offer ample space, with ample foot and leg room and nicely padded seats.
The third-row seats are roomy enough for six-footers to fit neatly in the way back. When equipped with the panoramic sunroof, third-row passengers can enjoy open-air motoring with the rest of the cabin crew.
Bluetooth is standard on the 2013 GL-Class, and so are HD radio, a conventional sunroof, a power tailgate, and those power third-row seats. The higher trim level models add as standard iPod connectivity, satellite radio, a panoramic sunroof, 20-inch wheels, and a navigation system. Many of those features can be had as extras on lesser trims.
The COMAND system is standard on the GL, utilizing a control wheel similar to BMW's iDrive, and information is displayed on a 7-inch LCD, small for this class of SUV.
The center stack is stacked indeed, with buttons. We momentarily confused the tiny graphics on a couple of them, and turned on the heated seat function when we wanted seat ventilation. Switchgear will be familiar to most Mercedes drivers; it's appropriate without being overly confusing.
Another screen, tucked between the speedometer and tachometer, lets the driver glance down to see important information (phone, navigation, entertainment), and it's clear and sharp. The four-spoke steering wheel with smooth wood trim adds some sex appeal, as do the cup holders, which can be selected to keep Big Gulps cold.
Dynamically, the GL models chew up interstates, tackle washboard roads at brisk speeds with minimal shake, and feel far more like a land yacht that a Mack tractor. Kudos to the AIRMATIC system.
The 2013 GL-Class comes with 4MATIC all-wheel drive as standard equipment, giving drivers traction in wintry conditions and on slippery surfaces.
The Environmental Protection Agency hasn't released official mileage figures for the GL-Class.
The GL550 generates more power than does the GL450, but it felt like it had only minimally more thrust.
The diesel advantage of the GL350 BlueTEC is fuel efficiency.
The 7-speed automatic transmission shifts very quickly in Manual mode, the driver changing gears using paddles on the steering wheel.
In a vehicle with a high center of gravity, like most sizable SUVs, the Airmatic is a bit of a miracle in this application; it that employs air bladders instead of coil springs to adjust ride height. Adaptive damping allows the driver to select the Comfort or Sport setting for a softer ride or sportier handling.
Most of the nanny systems incorporated in these models work seamlessly, although it took a bit of getting used to the lane departure check, which operates at speeds above 37 mph, using a small camera in the windshield that recognizes lane markings. Using the electronic stability program to intervene, the system will vibrate the steering wheel or bump the steering back on course if one strays over the lines. Blind-spot is a no-brainer: very useful.
The brakes are big and commendable, which is important on a 5,400-pound vehicle: On GL450 and GL550, 14.8-inch ventilated and perforated rotors provide stopping power up front, and there are 13.6-inch disc brakes ventilated and perforated in back. The GL63 AMG employs larger front discs (15.4 inches). The less powerful GL350 uses smaller front discs (13.8 inches) and they are not perforated.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class heralds a major makeover for this seven-seat luxury SUV, with refreshed styling inside and out, a slew of new safety functions, and a boost in power output. The GL-Class comes loaded with advanced technology. It offers three roomy rows capable of seating adults and lots of cargo space, and quality fit and finish. There's generous power available from the engines.
Stephen Williams filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the GL350, GL450, and GL550 in northern New Mexico.
Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC 4MATIC ($61,570); GL450 4MATIC ($63,900); GL550 4MATIC ($86,900); GL63 AMG.
Options As Tested
Premium 1 Package ($3,500); Lighting Package ($1,190) includes bi-xenon headlights with Active Curve Illumination, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Headlight washing system; wood/leather steering wheel ($590); On/Off Road Package ($1,800) includes AIRMATIC air suspension, 2-speed transfer case, 6-mode driving program selector, front underride protection; Driver Assistance Package ($2,800) includes DISTRONIC PLUS with PRE-SAFE Brake, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist; active Curve System ($2,900); Adaptive Dampting System (1,050); PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist ($970); Trailer Hitch ($550).
Mercedes-Benz GL450 4MATIC ($63,900).
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