2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 27, 2012

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class is a pricey way to go, but it's a luxury family wagon with great fuel economy and road manners, and some thoughtful new safety and luxury features to boot.

Forget the minivan. The SUV is America's family car. Everyone gets it--even the German car companies more famous for their super sedans and high-end sports cars. The newest, most luxurious SUV Germany has to offer is the 2013 Mercedes Benz GL Class.

The GL wears a Benz badge--a big one at that--but it's called Tuscaloosa, Alabama, its home since it was new in the 2007 model year. A sales hit from day one, the GL is a competitor for the likes of the Cadillac Escalade and Infiniti QX56, with a price tag ranging from about $62,000 to almost $88,000, before you pile on the choicest options.

It's an ultimate luxury SUV, but the GL doesn't go down the blingy trendy trail carved by those other sport-utes. The GL isn't quite as angular as it was last year, but it's still a little more traditional and subdued than its competition. The front end's more pronounced, and the rear fenders taper upward a bit--but it's still a very familiar, rugged look.

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Inside, the GL takes another step up the luxury ladder. It doesn't look so different but some of the features are, like a larger seven-inch screen on the dash for infotainment, and the knob controller on its console that runs them through an operating system called COMAND. Wood trim and leather upholstery give the cabin a warm, rich feel.

For performance, the GL relies on a trio of powertrains, all teamed to a paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic and four-wheel drive. The base GL is a turbodiesel six-cylinder with just 240 hp but 455 pound-feet of torque for 0-60 mph acceleration in about 8.3 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated as high as 24 mpg highway--one of the reasons the smooth, strong diesel is one of our favorite big SUVs of all.

Mercedes also offers a pair of gas V-8s in the new GL. The GL 450 has twin turbos and direct injection, and makes 362 horsepower for truly quick 0-60 mph times of about 6.2 seconds. The GL 550? It's even stronger, with an updated version of the same engine making 429 horsepower, pushing the SUV to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. As you can guess, highway gas mileage drops into the high teens on both of these powerful family wagons.

There's a first ever AMG edition, the GL 63 waiting in the wings, too. It promises 550 hp and acceleration times of under five seconds. It's coming early in 2013.

Of all the full-size luxury SUVs, the GL utes have some of the best road manners. Electric power steering is new, and though it isn't full of feedback, it's not loose or overly light. The GL's independent suspension has air shocks that give it a pillowy ride, and some versions offer an adaptive suspension that counteracts body lean. We'd normally prefer a more basic solution, but this way, a wider spread between comfort and sport driving modes tailors the GL to more drivers.

For off-roaders there's a package that add a low range, a locking center differential, tuned traction and stability control, and adjustable ride height that lifts the GL from 8.5 inches of ground clearance to a full foot. The trio of GL utes can tow up to 7500 pounds, too.

The GL's cabin is bigger and more comfortable than before. It's about an inch longer and an inch wider, and a half inch taller. In front, passenger can ride on ventilated seats with massage controls. The second-row seats can be heated. But the best trick the GL does is its new flip and fold feature. Not only do the power-folding third-row seats stow for more cargo space, the second-row seats tuck away with optional power assistance. It's not as large as a long-wheelbase Escalade, but the GL's interior is just immense.

On the safety front, the GL picks up a slew of new technologies. The usual airbags and stability control join a new 360-degree camera that adapts its display as you dial into a parking spot. The GL can also park itself, with available active park assist. Lane keeping assist nudges it back into a lane if you cross the median, and collision prevention assistance will bring the GL to a stop if it detects an obstacle in the road ahead at speeds of up to 20 mph. 

The GL also gains some cool new tech features for the new model year. Mbrace2 is Mercedes' connectivity suite; it links smartphones to the COMAND system, which means you can search Yelp for a great meal or hit Google for web searches while on the road.

Bluetooth is standard on the 2013 GL, and so are HD radio, a sunroof, a power tailgate, and power third row seats. Step up into more expensive models and the GL adds iPod connectivity, satellite radio, a panoramic sunroof, 20-inch wheels, and a navigation system--most of which can be ordered as options on other models, along with push button start, Harmon/Kardon or Bang & Olufsen audio, a rear-seat entertainment system, and more exotic selections of wood and leather.

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class goes on sale this September, priced from $63,305 for the GL 350 BlueTEC turbodiesel. The GL 450 starts at $64,805; the GL 550 at $87,805. All prices include $905 in destination charges. The ultra-powerful GL63 arrives in the first quarter of 2013.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Styling

It's an ultimate luxury suv, but the Mercedes-Benz GL Class doesn't go down the blingy, trendy trail carved by some other sport-utes.

While Cadillac encrusts the Escalade in layers of glitz, and Infiniti starts to veer down that path, the Mercedes-Benz GL is happy to stick with tradition. A curve's been added here or there, but the 2013 GL ute is still the traditional piece it was all through the last few years, and that's the right place for it to be.

The Benz ultimate-luxury SUV has softened up its act a bit. It's still subdued, and quite angular, but especially on the front end, the GL's grown more assertive. The grille is more pronounced, and the glass area now tapers upward at the rear. LED lighting laces across both the front and rear ends. It's just as rugged as before, but maybe a degree or two less boxlike. Spotters will be able to tell the GL 350 and GL 450 from the GL 550 from the flared wheel arches, sill plates, and 21-inch wheels. GL550s also get twin exhaust pipes, but so do some of the lesser V-8 models--so be warned.

Inside, the GL reconfigures the look of the prior version into a neater order, while packaging in some new features. Most like the Infiniti, the GL has a matte-finish glow here too that avoids the blingy excesses. There's a standard seven-inch screen on the dash for infotainment, and the knob controller on its console runs those features through the COMAND operating system. Wood trim and leather upholstery warm up the cabin, and a range of optional upgraded trims change out eucalyptus or burl walnut for more exotic touches like olive ash wood and perforated designo leather.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Performance

The diesel's our pick, but a new GL63 could change our minds; we'd skip the expensive active-handling option.

By this time next year, four different GL SUVs will be rolling behind Mercedes-Benz three-star logos. The last to arrive--early in calendar-year 2013--will be an ultra-powerful, first-ever AMG-tuned GL63. With 550 horsepower, it's predicted to be good for a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds.

For now, the GL will rely on a trio of drivetrains, all of which have some major updates from the prior version. The base version, in terms of pricing, is the GL 350 BlueTEC, the turbodiesel edition that gets the best fuel economy of the entire lineup. The 3.0-liter turbodiesel is rated at just 240 horsepower, but brutish diesel torque of 455 pound-feet twists its way through the GL's standard paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive system for a 0-60 mph time estimated at 8.3 seconds. There's some turbo lag, and the diesel's powerband is pretty narrow, and try as we could on our drive through scenic New Mexico, we couldn't press it harder than 110 mph. But the diesel's fuel economy is estimated as high as 24 mpg highway--one of the reasons the smooth, strong powerplant still makes this version one of our favorite big SUVs of all.

There's a twin-turbo, 4.7-liter V-8 in both of the other GLs on offer. They're closely related, and both have features like direct injection that are supposed to help in the quest for better gas mileage. The GL 450's version of this engine makes 362 hp and 406 lb-ft for truly quick 0-60 mph times of about 6.2 seconds. The GL 550? It's even stronger, with an updated version of the same engine making 429 hp and 516 lb-ft, pushing the SUV to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. Both are a little more gruff than the creamy Benz V-8s of even the recent past, but that's said to be the trade-off for more efficient power. As you can guess, highway gas mileage drops into the high teens on both of these powerful family wagons, though they're marginally better than in the first-generation GL.

The GL utes are some of the most composed full-size SUVs on the market, and the new electric power steering and optional active anti-roll bars don't change that. The steering feel on versions with smaller wheels and tires--19-inchers and under--doesn't feel so loose or light as it could, but it's not overrun with feedback. The variable-ratio rack has different response at low speeds than it does at high ones; the transition's much less obvious here than in some of Mercedes' smaller, lighter cars.

Better at isolating road surfaces than the GM utes (and far better than Ford's Expedition and Navigator), the GL has an independent suspension and standard air springs that are tuned for a pillowy ride; optional active dampers have Sport and Comfort modes that widen the spread, making the highway ride a touch softer while firming up the ride and steering a moderate amount. One thing there's much less of: the side-to-side head pitch we've noticed in the past in almost all Mercedes SUVs. There's also an optional semi-active system with anti-roll bars that can firm up as the GL leans into corners; it's expensive, and it counters some natural body motion that some drivers will expect to encounter, and will rely on as they press the GL into tighter curves. We prefer the more basic setup, and can do without the biggest wheel-and-tire combinations that set up some jiggle in the GL's ride.

For off-roaders there's a package that add a low range, a locking center differential, tuned traction and stability control, and adjustable ride height that lifts the GL from 8.5 inches of ground clearance to a full foot. The trio of GL utes can tow up to 7,500 pounds, too.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Comfort & Quality

The Mercedes-Benz GL is immense, if not as big as a long-wheelbase GM ute, and third-row access is among the best in its class.

Slightly longer, wider, and taller than in the first generation, this second-edition Mercedes GL Class gets a little better on making almost all of its vast space to people and cargo.

By the numbers, the 2013 GL Class is 202.6 inches overall, with a 121.1-inch wheelbase. It sits 72.8 inches tall, and 84.3 inches wide. That makes it about an inch longer and an inch wider than before, and a half-inch taller--measurable differences, but given the GL's size, not dramatic ones.

The GL's front seats are fine, and don't require too much of a step up to access. The basic functionality is eight-way power adjustments; they can be optioned up with 10-way power controls, ventilation, heating, and multi-contour control, which adds massaging and adjustable thigh and thorax support, along with four modes of on-the-go shiatsu, everything from "slow" to "fast and vigorous."

In the second row, there's a bit of innovation that doesn't affect the generous head and leg room. These second-row seats benefit from wider door cuts, which makes it easier to get in, but they also have a new Easy-Entry feature--either a manual handle or a power actuation, that flips and folds them forward for superior access to the third-row seats. The power controls also slide the front seats forward to accommodate the folded second-row seats, a nice touch--but the sounds of the motors moving the seats aren't the most precise ones we've heard in a Mercedes.

The third-row seats are split 50/50, and all models have power-fold ability, so the bench seat can be stowed or used for passengers. Even adults will fit back here, better than in most full-size utes.

Folding the seats in various ways opens up the GL's cargo space to cavernous proportions. With the third row up, there's 16 cubic feet of space; with the third-row seats flipped forward, the GL has 49.4 cubic feet of storage space. With the second row folded forward, it has 93.8 cubic feet of room--an immense amount of space, if not quite so much as a full-size GM SUV.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Safety

No safety scores are available, but the new GL has 360-degree views for parking, adaptive cruise, and the power to stop itself from danger ahead.

Safety is one of Mercedes' longtime marketing advantages, and in the 2013 GL, there's more safety technology than ever.

As of yet, though, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested the GL Class. They didn't test it in the last generation either, due to its low sales volumes and high price--and its close kinship to the M-Class, which the IIHS rates as a Top Safety Pick.

All GL Class utes comes with the requisite airbags, including front knee airbags and full-length curtain airbags, and stability control. Every version also has standard Collision Prevention Assist, which uses cameras to sense impending collisions and applies brakes to mitigate impacts--or to stop the ute fully, if speeds are below 20 mph. The GL also has crosswind stabilization, which uses stability control to modulate braking and cut down on the steering effect generated by strong crosswinds. A rearview camera and Bluetooth are standard, too, as is Attention Assist--the Mercedes-pioneered system that flashes a coffee cup on the dash when a rearview-mirror-mounted camera detects a drowsy driver.

Safety options on the 2013 GL include some of the innovations seen on recent S Class sedans, including night vision. A new 360-degree camera adapts its display as you dial into a parking spot--and the GL can also park itself, with available active park assist. Lane keeping assist nudges it back into a lane if you cross the median. Blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts are included in option packages as well.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Features

Power second-row seats, mobile-app connectivity, and designer leather interiors push the GL's stiff pricetag to near $100,000.

Mercedes leaves few rocks and boulders unturned in filling the 2013 GL Class with standard equipment.

Even the base GL 350 BlueTEC--by a small margin, the least-expensive model you can buy--comes with a hefty dose of gear. Among it are features like power windows, locks, and mirrors; automatic climate control; heated power front seats; a power sunroof and a power tailgate; power third-row seats; an AM/FM/DVD changer with HD radio; the COMAND interface; Bluetooth; and an MB-Tex leatherette interior.

The base GL also comes with mbrace2, Mercedes' connectivity suite, which links smartphones and mobile apps to the vehicle's infotainment system. Mbrace2 displays via the GL's seven-inch LCD screen, and includes features like custom speed alerts, geofencing, and the ability to search Google, Yelp!, and get Facebook updates while on the go.

While mbrace2 is a welcome step into the connectivity of the car's future, the COMAND system's a reminder that other brands are doing infotainment better. The roller-controller school of thought that includes COMAND, MMI, and iDrive now seems outdated with the arrival of Cadillac's CUE touchscreen, and COMAND's bigger displays and rotating controls are just kludgier to use. It's packed with usability--it can control all the radio bands, the DVD changer, even the settings of the massaging seats from "slow" to "fast and vigorous"--but it can take multiple spins of the wheel to reach the intended command. And sometimes it's roulette, in terms of finding the right menu to accomplish the right task.

Options include a $3,500 package that bundles satellite radio; an iPod interface; satellite radio; navigation; ambient lighting; a power tilt/telescoping steering column; and auto-dimming mirrors. Another package adds Harman/Kardon surround sound, pushbutton start, and soft-close doors. Safety packages add features like adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitors, as well as active park assist. Major stand-alone options include the active-curve suspension at $3,950; ventilated front seats for $570; massaging front seats for $1,100; a trailer hitch for $550; a panoramic sunroof for $1090; a power second-row seat for $400; and heated rear seats for $620.

The GL450 is configured in largely the same way, though some new options are offered. A surround-view camera comes with its active park-assist package, and an off-road package is available for $2,850. On both, a Bang & Olufsen audio system is a pricey option, at $6,800, and more exotic selections of wood and leather can lift the price even more.

The GL550 is, for now, the most luxuriously equipped version. Almost all the features mentioned are standard; the options are limited to the off-road package; the parking-assist package; panoramic sunroof; rear-seat entertainment system; power-folding second-row seat; heated rear seats; adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist; and the Bang & Olufsen audio system, which sounds amazingly rich, but taxes the brain, as it's easy to load up any GL Class to more than $90,000.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is up, but the GL's still one of the least economical wagons you can buy--which is why we prefer the 24-mpg-highway GL 350 BlueTEC.

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL lineup shaves weight wherever possible, with aluminum body panels, suspension pieces, and body bracing. It adopts electric power steering and a more efficient electrical structure, and adds gears to its automatic transmission, all in the interest of saving fuel.

Still, it's not that much more frugal than before, though the diesel model absolves some of the sins of the big V-8s, especially the coming GL63 AMG.

The turbodiesel's one of the GLs we recommend most often, primarily because it's the only one to break the 20-mpg combined barrier. As estimated by Mercedes-Benz--awaiting official confirmation by the EPA--the GL 350 BlueTEC is rated at 18 miles per gallon city, 24 miles per gallon highway. It's improved over the prior generation of BlueTEC GLs, and like most diesel vehicles, we've found it easier to come nearer to those figures than with competitive hybrid vehicles.

The rest of the GL lineup is marginally better at saving gas. The GL 450 hasn't received a combined rating, but it's pegged at 14/19 mpg. The GL550's predicted at 13/18 mpg, with a 15-mpg combined rating. And the upcoming GL63 AMG? It's expected to settle in at a low 12/17 mpg.

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