Strengths and weaknesses:
- distracting infotainment system and navigation menu options
GL makes big strides in luxury off-roadability
SANTA FE, New Mexico – Out here, as with most other areas of North America, the SUV has replaced the station wagon as the utility vehicle of choice; and the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class is big on utility.
In fact, this vehicle is big on everything: size, space, safety, versatility and luxury.
The biggest vehicle in the Benz stable has grown slightly longer, higher and wider but remains less ostentatious than its competitors and has a visual appeal. The grille is more pronounced and LED lighting runs across both front and rear ends. In profile, the glass now tapers upward at the rear to avoid a completely boxy look.
It’s available in Canada in three models: GL 350 BlueTEC 4Matic, GL 450 4Matic and GL 550 4Matic. An AMG model is in the works.
Inside, it’s pure luxury wrapped in leather upholstery and wood trim.
New touches include a larger seven-inch infotainment screen operated by console knob that controls the GL’s COMAND system, one of the rugged least intuitive, most distracting systems on the market. It takes too long to access anything and navigating the nav system is an exercise in frustration - too old; too cumbersome.
Front row passengers get heated and cooled seats while second row riders can have their bums warmed. Third row occupants don’t get either, but there is enough space to accommodate full-size people.
There’s lots of storage with all three rows holding passengers, but the power-folding rear seats make the cargo area downright huge.
Standards include Bluetooth, power tailgate, sunroof and all the other usual power-operated amenities.
New innovations include a standard collision prevention assist (which at speeds between 30 and 250 km/h warns the driver if a collision is imminent and boosts brake pressure to help prevent a crash), standard crosswind assist integrated into the ESP sensor system (which uses automatic brake intervention on the wheels on the side of the vehicle facing the wind, reducing lateral drift and increasing stability), and for people who view parallel parking with trepidation, there’s standard PARKTRONIC with active parking assist. Options include blind spot assist, lane-keeping assist, adaptive damping suspension, night view assist, rear seat entertainment system and upgraded audio system.
The GL 350 is powered by a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel with start/stop technology rated at 340 horsepower and 455 lb.-ft. of torque. The GL 450 has a 362 horsepower, 406 lb.-ft. version of the 4.6-litre biturbo V8; the GL 550 version of the 4.6L V8 puts out 429 horsepower and 516 lb.-ft. of torque. All are connected to a smooth-shifting seven speed automatic transmission.
New electric power steering doesn’t provide a whole lot of feedback, but it is nicely weighted and responds quickly.
Off road ability? GL has it.
We never got into the really wild no-road kind of driving, but a descent into the Rio Grande gorge takes us on the next best thing: narrow, rutted, rock and boulder strewn “trails” with no guard rails. And it’s steep.
The GL handles it all easily and smoothly. The suspension is terrific – the ride remains smooth and even with no rocking and rolling on the uneven surface.
Our route includes a climb to the base of the ski area at Taos. At over 10,000 ft., the depleted oxygen content of the air doesn’t hamper the GL’s power output.
A stint with the diesel engine shows me that Bluetec efficiency doesn’t mean noisy. Quite the contrary - the GL 350 is amazingly quiet. As for the 550, its suspension seems a little stiffer and there’s noticeably more power on tap.
I’d take any one of these in a heartbeat.
And one final touch: Mercedes-Benz has finally put the cruise control stalk BELOW the turn-signal lever.
Not once did it accidentally set cruise control when I wanted to signal a turn.
2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class
Models: GL350 Bluetec 4Matic; GL450 4Matic; GL550 4Matic
MSRP range: $73,700 - $95,900
Notable options: Night View Assist; rear seat entertainment system; panoramic sunroof; Harman/kardon LOGIC 7 surround sound; heated rear seats; Distronic Plus; active lane keeping assist; AMG exterior package; adaptive damping system; automatic front and rear climate control.
Configuration: front engine/ all-wheel drive
Available engines: 3.0L turbodiesel V6 (240 hp/455 lb.-ft); 4.6L turbo V8 (362/406); 4.6L turbo V8 (429/516).
Available transmissions: 7-spd auto. with sequential shift
Fuel economy ratings (L/100km): not yet rated
Warranties: Exp. 4 years/ 80,000 km (comprehensive)
Competitors: BMW X5; Cadillac Escalade; Infiniti QX56; Lexus LX 570; Lincoln Navigator.