2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Review
We head to Santa Fe to test the next GL.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: July 20th, 2012
Does the world, or at least the world outside of Beverly Hills, need a seven-seat SUV that tickles the $100K mark when well-equipped? Probably not, but Mercedes-Benz has delivered one anyway. As has the competition, with models such as the Infiniti QX56, Lexus LX 570, and Cadillac Escalade.
Now in its second generation, the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class grows a bit, adds more power, gets some more safety features, and adds a high-performance variant.
We traveled to the Southwest to test a German luxury vehicle built in the American South (Alabama to be precise). As we wandered around Santa Fe, New Mexico and parts beyond, we had just one question: ain't globalization grand?
Mercedes officials say that 53 percent of the global production for the GL-Class is intended for sale in the U.S., and given our country's appetite for more space, it's not surprising that the GL gets longer by about an inch and taller by about half an inch.
There are four trim levels: GL350, GL450, GL550, and GL63 AMG. New engines can be found under the hood of the GL450 and GL550, and the BlueTec turbodiesel from the GL350 gets more grunt. Finally, a GL63 AMG joins the lineup as the high-performance variant, scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2013.
Mercedes' Collision Prevention Assist debuts on the GL, and other safety systems, like Mercedes' Attention Assist and Active Curve System, are available.
Other standard and available options include: a rearview camera, tilt/telescope steering wheel, Bluetooth, power liftgate, power rear-three quarter windows, an iPod/MP3 interface, satellite radio, and an uplevel audio system.
The GL is aimed at well-heeled families who need to move seven passengers with speed and comfort. We'll see how well it achieves those goals below.
Features & Prices
Not including the $905 destination fee, pricing is as follows: the 350 starts at $62,400, the 450 at $63,900, and the 550 at $86,900, with all going on sale in September.
The available features are too numerous to fully list here, but based on what we saw during the launch, it's not hard to push a GL to the upper $90K range. Available features include a parking-assist system, power entry for the second and third row, blind-spot assist, a surround-view camera, adaptive lighting, tri-zone climate control, lane-keeping assist, crosswind stabilization, collision-prevention assist, and Mercedes' mbrace2 telematics system.
That's barely even scratching the surface. Let's just say we've bought used cars that cost less than some of the options packages.
On the Road
We spent time in the 350, 450, and 550 (GL63 AMGs weren't available to test), tromping to and fro across the open land in northern New Mexico. The GL350 BlueTec's 3.0-liter turbodiesel puts out 240 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque, and it was our first ride. We noticed that it had plenty of torque to move the 5,467-lb curb weight GL350 around, and it did so quietly, with nary any diesel clatter. Only at idle can one really hear the stereotypical diesel sound, and that's only if you're standing outside the GL. Our only real beef with the 350 was a throttle response that started out a tad slow before abruptly kicking in, making us a bit cautious before turning left in urban traffic.
All GLs have Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system and a seven-speed automatic transmission, so the primary performance differences between trims comes down to the engine. The 450 and 550 both get 4.7-liter twin-turbo V-8s, with the 450 pumping out 362 ponies and 406 lb-ft of torque while the 550 makes do with 429 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. When the AMG arrives, it will feature a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 that makes 550 horsepower and 560 lb-ft of torque.
We found the 550 to be the most satisfying from a performance standpoint, largely due to the bigger power numbers. Passing on desert two-lanes was effortless (throttle response on the 550 and 450 felt more seamless than on the 350) thanks to the gobs of torque available.
Dropping down to the 450 doesn't make for much of a drop-off, power-wise, although the difference in power is still noticeable.
When it comes to ride and handling, well, no 5,000-lb plus SUV will be our first choice for a run through the twisties. But no matter, as the GL handles turns with an aplomb not normally seen in this class. It's firmer than the QX56 and nimbler than an Escalade, and the available Active Curve System stymies body roll (the difference is noticeable on vehicles that don't have it, but body roll still isn't bad). The brakes are solid and reliable, especially if you overcook a corner and come in too hot.
The available lane-keeping assist system made its presence known when we tried it out, sending us right back into our lane. It's a good system, but it does get obtrusive when you need to swerve around an obstacle in the road.
In gentle cruise mode, the GL eats interstate miles with comfort and ease, pampering drivers and passengers alike (there's even available massaging seats) with little to no wind or road noise coming into the cabin.
The steering is on the light side, probably as a concession to the intended audience of well-to-do families, but it's accurate. We never felt uncomfortable pushing the GL, but we suspect most folks won't push it beyond racing to beat a red light.
There are subtle differences between the more-aggressively styled 550 and the 350 and 450, such as flared wheel arches and exposed tailpipes. Overall, the GL looks like the prototypical late-model Mercedes SUV, with a design that screams Stuttgart. Ground clearance, for those few will go off-road, varies from eight to 12 inches depending on suspension setting.
We've already noted the available massaging seats and quiet cabin. What we haven't yet mentioned is the available power-folding second- and third-row seats, which move aside for entry with one push of a button.
Even for taller passengers, there was plenty of legroom in the second row, although the third row is tight for adults for anything beyond a short distance.
The materials are upscale, with a look and feel that matches the price, and the nav system is one of the better ones we've worked with. Overall, not a bad place to do business.
Fuel Economy & Safety
Fuel economy numbers aren't yet finalized, but we're expecting it to be around 13 city/17 highway or so on the V-8s and somewhat higher on the BlueTec.
Available safety features include the usual complement of airbags plus a driver's knee airbag, traction control, an antiskid system, crosswind stabilization, collision prevention assist, attention assist, lane-keeping assist, and a blind-spot assist system.
Towing capacity is 7,500 lbs on all non-AMG models (the AMG is awaiting final numbers).
For the wealthy family on the go, the GL-Class is hard to argue with. Sure, buying one might require a second mortgage, and you won't be passing many gas pumps in the 450 or 550. But unlike the QX56 or the Escalade, the GL is actually a little bit entertaining to drive. And when being used as the family hauler it is, it pampers.
Does the world need this vehicle? No, no it doesn't. It costs a lot, burns through gas at prodigious rates, and tells the world that you're closer to being in the one percent than you'd like to admit. And rappers still think the Escalade is cooler.
Then again, the world doesn't need the SLS AMG either. And yet, if your bank account is big enough, you can have gull-winged glory in your garage. Sometimes ridiculousness sells.
So, no, no one needs a GL-Class. But those who want one will probably be pretty happy with what they get.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, click here: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.