2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Road Test Review
2013 Mercedes-Benz GL450 makes for big-time crossover luxury
Scores High: Refined drivetrains, advanced safety tech, comfortable and functional interior
Scores Low: Expensive options, steering can feel slightly vague
Total Car Score Analysis
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class marks the second generation of this full-size, seven-seater luxury SUV from the German marque. "One of our best products... one of our most American products," is how Mercedes-Benz describes its latest GL. Three new engines (including one diesel) bring increased power and fuel efficiency. The gasoline-powered GL450 we road tested is expected to be the most popular variant.
The all-new GL goes on sale in September 2012, and although there are no trim levels as such there are plenty of options and high-tech features available, especially on the safety front.
With the first generation GL proving a sales success with luxury crossover buyers, Mercedes-Benz clearly didn't want – or need – to fix what wasn't broken. Dimensions have grown by an inch in regards to width and length, plus half an inch in height. But anyone familiar with its predecessor will have no problem recognizing this model as a GL. A new shape to the lights at each end help update the GL’s road presence, as it remains unabashedly forceful and masculine. Less obvious exterior updates include the use of aluminum for the hood and fenders. These helped keep weight gain on the all-new GL (despite the addition of numerous standard safety and technology features) down to a mere 50 pounds.
The longer the drive, the more the big Mercedes ute comes into its own. Miles just slide under the tires as if they were yards. There's no straining of any component – especially not the driver or passengers – just an agreeable blend of grace and power.
The Mercedes-Benz GL uses air suspension at each corner for a cushioned yet controlled ride. The driver may select from Comfort or Sport settings, but the difference isn't radical; Comfort should suffice for most drivers most of the time.
Propelling the GL450 is a 4.6-liter V8 engine that’s turbocharged to create 362 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. That's easily enough to get this 5,400-pound machine up and speed, and to provide a towing capacity of up to 7,500 pounds (all 2013 GL drivetrains are rated to tow as much). The V6 diesel-powered GL350 Bluetec – which starts at $1,500 less – offers 455 lb-ft. of torque, while the GL550 has an authoritative 429 hp and 516 lb-ft.
These engines are coupled to a seven-speed automatic transmission that allows manual selection with steering wheel-mounted paddles, or operates with a velveteen smoothness when left to its own devices.
For a vehicle of this size, the GL’s turning circle is relatively compact. Electrically assisted steering inevitably brings a little vagueness, but it does facilitate safety and technology features such as lane-departure warning and parking assistance. And it does offer increased fuel efficiency; Mercedes-Benz claims fuel consumption figures of 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway for the GL450 (the GL550 earns 13/18 mpg while the GL350 diesel nets 18/24 mpg).
Interior Design and Function
The driver of a Mercedes-Benz GL might always feel a little thrill from climbing into the heated/cooled front seats, checking the mirror for those in the electrically operated second and third rows, then looking over the leather-covered dashboard to survey the road ahead.
In standard Benz tradition, the GL’s front seat adjustments are made with buttons set into the upper door panels. A small lever on the steering column lets the steering wheel tilt and telescope to its optimum position (power adjustment is optional). Press the Engine On button (Keyless Go is another option) and then check the rev counter to make sure it worked. Because for such a large, open cabin, it's almost eerie how calm it can be, even with that diesel V6 in operation. There's barely a rumble of engine, road or wind noise at virtually any speed. And that's even when the optional panoramic sunroof turning turns most of the ceiling into glass.
The rear passenger doors open wide enough for quick access to the third row seats (usually occupied by the younger and more nimble members of the family anyway). Passengers in the (reclining) second row seats won’t feel deprived of leg, shoulder and head room. It is even possible for an average-sized adult or two to sit at the very back of the GL, but not for long journeys.
Cargo volume, at 16 cubic feet with the third-row seat in place, may prove tight for a week's worth of shopping, assuming a family big enough to require a GL. The rearmost seat splits and fold 50/50 while the middle row follows a 60/40 pattern. With both sets stashed, cargo space expands to a cavernous 93.8 cubic feet – and the standard power tailgate secures it with ease. One negative: although the second-row seats can power-fold away at the touch of a button (another optional function), they have to be reinstated manually and they're heavy enough to prove challenging for some.
Primary Features and Options
The Mercedes-Benz GL is a sport utility vehicle, so all-wheel drive is almost obligatory. The standard 4Matic system supplies continuous power to each wheel while an electronic differential apportions that drive to whichever wheels it thinks will do the best work with it. It's a rapid-response system, where changes can take place within fractions of a second based on road conditions and wheel slip.
The safety technology offered on the new GL is seriously impressive. As well as familiar features like driver attention assist and a rearview camera, Mercedes-Benz offers active curve control (to keep everything the right way up through fast corners) and also crosswind stabilization. Considering the GL is a long and tall conveyance, a nasty gust while crossing a suspension bridge could be unsettling. But this standard-issue safety net automatically (and selectively) applies the brakes to counter such conditions, letting everyone on board breathe a lot easier.
Collision Prevention Assist is a newcomer to the GL's standard safety portfolio. It uses radar to detect objects in front – be they stationary or just slower – and warns the driver accordingly. Mercedes-Benz also offers a virtual 360-degree view of the vehicle, as well as active parking assistance.
For those who may actually venture into the wilds, an On/Off-Road Package is available for the GL. It includes a transfer case to access lower gears, a locking center differential, and the ability to raise the vehicle for increased ground clearance.
One feature that is becoming popular elsewhere – but conspicuous by its absence here – is a foot-actuated liftgate. Users with their hands full can wave a foot beneath the rear bumper and the rear hatch opens on other SUVs. Apparently, it wasn't possible to incorporate this into the new GL at this time.
Buyers shopping the 2013 GL should think carefully about equipment choices. On top of a fairly hefty base price, piling on the options can easily add more than $10,000 to the final tally.
It's Perfect For...
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL hasn’t deviated from its original mission, and given the crossover’s success over the past six years, that’s expected. As before, when it comes to taking privileged families from their mansions to their lake houses – or ski chalets – in extreme safety and tranquility, the GL abides.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $64,805 (including $905 destination charge)
Options on Test Vehicle: Keyless Go, Panorama Roof, Blind Spot Monitoring, electric steering column adjust, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Curve System, Power Easy-Entry for second row, surround-view, navigation, heated/cooled front seats
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including $905 destination charge): $75,815
The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.