When Automotive Rhythms was invited to join Mercedes-Benz on a recent vehicle launch program, I was given the assignment and immediately let my imagination run wild with the possibilities of testing and reviewing a super luxurious vehicle from the German lineup. I envisioned a sleek autobahn killer such as their SL550 Roadster. Then I discovered the invitation was for the international launch of the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class SUV. Was I disappointed? Not in the least. Practically speaking, a luxury SUV with a third row was ideally suited for me. Who else better to evaluate such a vehicle than the father of a family of five with kids involved in soccer, football, karate, gymnastics and trumpet lessons, who all steadfastly refuse to go the mini-van route.
The GL-Class was specifically designed and created with the U.S. market in mind with 66% of its sales taking place on U.S. soil, and with Russia coming in a very distant second. Not only does the U.S. represent the largest market share for the GL, it is also produced entirely in the States, Tuscaloosa, Alabama to be precise. This explains why more cup-holders were added.
The GL-Class comes in four levels including: the GL350 BlueTEC 4Maticwith its 3.0-liter single turbo diesel V6 producing a solid 240 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque; the GL450 with a 4.6-liter biturbo gasoline V8 inheriting 362 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque; a GL550 with its direct-injection 4.6-liter biturbo V8 cranking out an impressive 429 horsepower along with 516 pound-feet of torque; and if that’s not enough to satisfy your appetite for power and performance, have no fear, there’s the GL63 AMG with its beastly direct-injection 5.5-liter biturbo V8 that pumps out 550 beastly horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque, which will undoubtedly take care of getting the kiddies to practice and rehearsals in record setting time.
Given the GL’s relatively smaller wheelbase, when compared to others in its category, you might not expect to find it in the same arena as larger full size SUVs such as the Caddy Escalade and Lincoln Navigator; this is due to the GL’s third row seating. Yes, the famed “third” row seating that other manufacturers tout, but fall short on, particularly in the case of the cumbersome and poorly designed Cadillac Escalade’s third row. Was the GL’s third row actually usable and dare I say, comfortable? To answer this, I subjected myself to the third row in a GL350 while our driver hurriedly shuttled me to the airport. During this time I experienced sudden braking, responsive acceleration, evasive highway maneuvers and speeds that I would categorize as “above” average. Throughout this adventure I experienced a level of comfort in the third row I really hadn’t expected. The ride was so smooth that I didn’t realize the actual speeds at which we were traveling. This was a true testament to the GL350’s performance and the very comfortable and enjoyable GL-Class third row.
The GL-Class does, however, suffer from what I would refer to as “multiple personality disorder.” The chiseled, aggressive front facade says bold, sporty and athletic. However, the flowing lines of the side profile comes across as sophisticated, with modern design execution securing its appeal to those sporty moms and dads who still want to ride in style for that rarity of a date-night out on the town.
Out of the three GL categories experienced, I was most impressed with the GL350. The GL450 and GL550 are absolutely solid performers as you would think. Often with an “entry level” vehicle, you feel as if you’re sacrificing or settling. This is absolutely not the true with the GL350. My vehicle was equipped with the AMG sports package, featuring a diamond-pleated tobacco brown leather interior. When you factor in standard features such as: the ATTENTION ASSIST, created to alert the driver with both a slight audible and vibration warning when drifting out of his lane; mBrace, which provides an array of vehicle diagnostics and concierge services that deliver you from any feeling of perhaps settling for less. Actually when factoring in the estimated 600-700 mile range from the 26-gallon fuel tank, you may start to walk with a certain swagger, thanks to the fuel saving provided by the smooth and uncharacteristically quiet diesel.
Additionally, there are a host of features such as: the panoramic sunroof; massaging driver and passenger seats; power outlets for your road-trip devices; optional electronic folding rear seats; Active Parking Assist; Active Blind Spot Assist; and Brake Assist, which prepares the vehicle for emergency braking when it senses the driver is not responding accordingly for the given approach situation.
The 2013 GL-Class goes on sale this September, with the GL350 hitting showrooms with a beginning MSRP of $62,400, while the GL450 starts at $63,900 and the GL550 comes in with a starting sticker of $86,900. The wicked GL63 AMG version will become available during the first quarter of 2013 with pricing not yet available. If your pockets are deep enough, this may well be the family vehicle for you.