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Mercedes-Benz GL – 80% New for 2013

Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC

Mercedes’ (@mbusa) top of the line SUV, the 7-passenger GL (#2013GL-Class), is new for 2013.  As the top selling premium luxury sport utility vehicle, GL certainly is a healthy profit contributor to parent company Daimler AG.  Built at Mercedes-Benz Tuscaloosa, Alabama assembly plant, 53% of GL production is sold in the United States.  The 2013 GL is the second generation GL and continues to be derived from the platform that also underpins the 5-passenger ML.  About 80% of the GL is all new for its second generation.  We had a chance to drive several versions of the new GL at its global press preview in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC

Evolutionary Exterior Styling: Styling is evolutionary and immediately identifiable as a Mercedes SUV.  In comparison to a competitor like the bling-laden Cadillac Escalade, the GL can come across as positively Spartan.  A few more bright accents might be welcome, but that might be a typical American reaction. Studying the GL’s style shows an SUV that is purposeful and strong with a touch of elegance.  The GL looks smaller than it is.  Its overall length is about 203-inches long – this is about four-inches shorter than the short version of the Ford Expedition.  In each major exterior dimension, the 2013 GL is slightly bigger than its predecessor.

Interior from Mercedes’ Playbook: Mercedes demands high quality interior fit and finish.  The instrument panel cover in the GL is a work of art.  The seat trim in the base model is stretched tight.  Overall, the interior is upscale but not ostentatious.  The ergonomics are first rate; easy to understand and use after only  a moment’s study.  The GL won’t pass the rental car test (dark, midnight, pouring rain, rental car lot, need to get started and go without thinking), but with as much technology as in the vehicle, Mercedes engineers have simplified most operations.  A good thing about Mercedes’ feature strategy is that technology can be turned on and off at the driver’s command.

Pricing Reasonable to Nosebleed: The base price of the GL is $62,400 for the GL350 BlueTEC diesel.  The high volume GL450 comes in at $63,900.  The GL550 is $86,900 to start.  The GL550 we drove had a sticker just north of $110,000 and had every gizmo known to man (or Mercedes) on it.

Off-Road Capable, On-Road Refinement Targeted at the American buyer, the GL has go anywhere, with anything, anytime credentials.  We did not get a chance to take the GL on aggressive off-road terrain, but it has been designed to take on the toughest challenges. With its ON&OFFROAD package the GL can ford a two-foot deep stream, climb a 100% grade, and lean up to a 35-degree tilt angle.

Mercedes GL is Off-Road Capable

The GL is smooth riding, quiet and responsive on the highway.  As a big, heavy SUV is has good handling for all the conditions experienced in our seven hours behind the wheel or riding in the vehicle.  Freeway, secondary roads, dirt forest roads, climbing… effortless.

Impressive Powertrain Lineup: The base powertrain for the GL is a 362HP 4.7L gasoline direct injection Bi-Turbo V8 in the GL450.  It will be about 60% of the mix.  The fuel economy leader is the GL350 BlueTEC with a 240HP 3.0L V6 turbo diesel accounting for about 20% of the mix.  Until the range topping GL63 AMG is launched in Spring 2013, the high performance title goes to the GL550 powered by a 429HP version of the 4.7L gasoline direct injection Bi-Turbo V8.  The GL63 AMG gets a 5.5L twin turbocharged V8 with 550HP.  The diesel, as expected, is the slowest of the four to reach 60mph at an estimated 8.3 seconds.  The GL63 AMG is estimated to take only 4.8 seconds 0 to 60mph.  Not bad for a vehicle weighing almost three tons.

The BlueTEC diesel is unobtrusive.  In fact, inside the vehicle there is very little “dieselness”.  It is quiet, smooth and responsive.  The GL450 felt the happiest of the three engine choices we were able to drive.  Even though the 450 has “only” 362HP, it feels eager and willing.  For brute force performance, the GL550 is very impressive but in some ways feels too serious and overdone.  While a drive in the GL63 AMG is months off, it can only be even more over the top than the GL550.

Technology Galore: The GL approaches the old adage of “it answers questions nobody is asking”.  In AutoPacific’s research we sometimes hear that “my car is doing too much I don’t want it to do”.  The GL could approach that, but to Mercedes’ credit, most features are driver controlled.  The standard features list is impressive:  power moonroof, dual zone climate control, heated 8-way power front seats, COMAND system, rearview camera, 4.5-inch display between the speedometer and tachometer in the instrument cluster, 6-disc CD/DVD changer, HD radio, Bluetooth, Homelink, privacy glass, power folding 3rd row seats, power liftgate, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlamps, LED daytime running lamps and tail lamps, AIRMATIC self-leveling suspension, attention assist, collision prevention assist, crosswind stabilization, WHEW.  Navigation comes with the first step-up premium package ($3,500) that also includes iPod/MP3 media interface, SiriusXM satellite radio, auto-dimming mirrors, power folding mirrors, ambient lighting, power tilt-telescoping steering wheel and memory seats.  From our perspective, this first premium package should be standard equipment in this class vehicle.

Optional technology includes:  a Driver Assistance Package with Distronic Plus and Pre-Safe braking, active blind spot monitoring, active lane keeping assist; ON&OFFROAD package with front underside protection and six transmission settings; Parking Assistance Package; Active Curve System; Easy Entry for 2nd row seats; night view assist; Bang & Olufsen sound system (the most expensive option on the list at $6,400).  It’s when you check all these boxes on a GL550 that you can top $110,000.

Three Negatives: Designo Seat Trim The optional upscale Designo trim looks like it was stitched in a Tijuana, Mexico upholstery shop.  Its diamond pattern sew style looks contrived in a vehicle of this caliber.  Cruise Control Stalk Clinging to tradition, Mercedes has decided to continue with stalk mounted cruise controls on the left side of the steering column.  They did relocate it, however, now mounting it as the lowest of three left-side stalks on the steering column.  Previously, it was the top lever and Americans often confused the cruise control stalk for the turn signals.  Mercedes engineers admit this was the subject of much discussion, but they decided to stick with the cruise control stalk.  We would recommend steering wheel mounted controls like most of the rest of the industry.  Navigation System Graphics The map graphics on the navigation system seem to be a generation or so old.  Lacking color and information many other systems offer, the optional Mercedes navigation system leaves us wondering if we just didn’t find a hidden control somewhere to liven up the screen and graphics.

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