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.