2013 Mercedes-Benz GL

SANTA FE, N.M. — Mercedes-Benz unveiled its second-generation GL-Class luxury sport utility. If initial impressions mean anything the legendary German car company will not be able to build enough to meet the demand, which is good news for American workers because every one of the vehicles is manufactured at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Also there's the fact that since 2001 the company has invested more than $600 million to expand the facility. Fifty percent of the vehicles are sold in the United States, the other half is exported. 

Looking at the GL even the most myopic would know it’s a Mercedes-Benz. The 2013 model has a larger wheelbase and short overhangs than the first generation, which was first sold in 2006. From the massively-bold new grille with its distinctive “star” emblem, to the sculptured sides and then on to its luxurious and sexy rear end the new GL is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor.

This equates to more interior space and comfort for the driver and the other possible six occupants. New sleek bumpers, chrome window trim and front and rear skid plates enhance styling. LED technology is used for taillights and daytime running lights.

The second generation GL comes in three models: the GL350 BlueTEC 4MATIC with its 240 horsepower/455 pound-feet of torque V6 turbodiesel; the GL450 4MATIC with a new direct-injection twin-turbo V8 that produces 362 horsepower/406 pound-feet of torque; and the GL550 4MATIC with its direct-injection twin-turbo 429 horsepower/516 pound-feet of torque V8, exposed tailpipes and 21-inch 5-twin-spoke wheels. The lineup will be expanded to four in the first quarter of 2013 when the GL63 high-performance model with its hand-built AMG 550 horsepower V8 engine enters the North American market.

Europeans do diesels well and Mercedes-Benz’s 3.0-liter version is no exception. I’ve driven faster and "torquier" to be sure but it’s readily apparently that the GL350 BlueTEC is in it for the long-haul and is especially smooth and quiet. It offers the increased fuel-economy of a four-cylinder and the towing power of a V8 (7,500-pound Class IV trailer hitch).

The V8s are all direct-injection, biturbos with twin turbochargers and multi-spark ignition. They attain better gas mileage while producing more power. There’s a perfectly logical explanation for this…if you happen to hold an advanced engineering degree from MIT. But for the average driver the telltale signs are a fast and smooth acceleration and operation. On several passing opportunities the V8s proved their worth — and earned my trust.

All the engines are mated to an enhanced seven-speed automatic transmission that provides even better fuel economy, more responsive driving, quieter operation and increased durability. Lower hydraulic pressure and enhanced electronic software helps provide even smoother shifting. In hundreds of miles driving — many of them climbing mountainous New Mexican roads — I really had to work at noticing the vehicle shifting.

Like viewing the surroundings from the peak of Mount Everest one of the problems about having a third row of seating is getting there. The GL has a simple solution; stow the second-row seats. This can be done manually or through available power EASY-ENTRY folding second-row seats. Both second- and third-row seats can be stowed to provide a totally flat cargo floor.

The interior is pure Mercedes-Benz. Fine materials, attention to detail and spacious proportions — more elbow and headroom than its predecessor, — a range of wood finishes, operating controls in silver chrome and upholstery in premium leather with decorative stitching in contrasting colors are among its features.

Aero-acoustic measures position the noise level at all seven seating positions at the same low level one finds in the vaunted Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Instrumentation is first rate. I particularly like the speedometer and tachometer housing shapes and the digital information panel between the two large gauges. Interior storage is plentiful-enhanced with its large center console bin.

Mercedes-Benz navigation system is one of the best in the industry. My only complaint about it is what seems like the premature warning about turns. It’s sometimes confusing, resulting in an incorrect change of direction. However, even if you do make a mistake the “Nav babe” is very forgiving of your error and will put you back on track.

Other technologies available on the new GL are Active Park Assist that eliminates the “P” from parallel parking (if you get my drift); electromechanical rack-and-pinion steering; Active Curve System, which is a semi-active suspension that uses electronic sensors, an engine-driven hydraulic pump and electronically-controlled hydraulic valves to reduce body lean; Mercedes-Benz 4MATIC all-wheel-drive is standard on all models; an optional On/Off-Road package that gives the GL-Class true off-road capability; and a host of others.

The most satisfying discovery is the huge amount of safety that’s standard or optional in the GL-Class. For instance, there’s a new Collision Prevention Assist system; the company’s PRE-SAFE system that can actually sense an impending collision before it happens and takes measures to protect occupants during those valuable seconds before impact; ATTENTION ASSIST, ADAPTIVE BRAKE technology, Active Lane Keeping Assist, a 360-degree Surround View camera and more things than I have space to write about them. The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is described at the S-Class of SUVs and with good reason.

The GL350 has an MSRP of $62,400; the GL450’s is $63,900 and the GL550 is $86,900. Those ubiquitous destination and delivery charges are an additional $905. Availability is expected later this summer.  

— Al Vinikour