Mercedes-Benz GL350 — SUV grandeur

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Less than a decade ago a big sport utility vehicle capable of hauling seven passengers comfortably was called a truck. Back then large SUVs were built on truck platforms, but today the era of body-on-frame construction for the most part is gone, and if there is any one vehicle that has the ability to permanently eliminate the truck reference from the SUV vernacular it's the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL that not only pampers its occupants in audacious comfort, but drives and handles like a luxury sedan.

The GL is adept at handling off-road chores and bad-weather roads. It can tow weekend toys with ease, endowed with a maximum towing capacity of 7,500 pounds. It will pamper the most demanding passengers with state-of-the-art entertainment and creature comforts. It can be outfitted with the latest in passive and active safety features.

Know this idyllic vehicle is pricy starting at $63,000 and there are an almost limitless number of option packages to temp the buyer with new technologies and desirable features, which can raise the price into six figures. Welcome to the world of SUV extravagance.

For example, we were loaned a couple of all-wheel drive GL350 BlueTec diesels for our test drive starting at $63,305 each (the lowest price of four GL engine options) but our well-equipped test vehicles carried whopping bottom lines of $87,500 and $99,840. They probably had more features than most people would purchase, but it gave us the opportunity to experience a wide array of comfort and safety devices available for the buyer with deep pockets.

The second generation 2013 GL model (built exclusively in the U.S.) has a larger wheelbase (121.1 inches) and shorter 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 at 201.6 inches, wider and taller than its predecessor. New sleek bumpers, chrome window trim and front and rear skid plates enhance styling. LED technology is used for taillights and daytime running lights.

We found the diesel extremely quiet, very robust in all driving situations and possessing the ability to tow large objects. It has 240 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque at the driver's disposal. The BlueTec engine mated to a seven-speed automatic has the ability to pull the 5,467-pound vehicle to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and through a quarter mile in 15.8 seconds at 86 mph. Mileage is EPA-rated at 19 city and 26 highway.

The GL is indeed a star player in the SUV ranks, a vehicle for all circumstances with legitimate space for seven adults and their cargo. 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. When the seats are not in use, the GL offers a generous 93.8 cubic feet of cargo space. Even with all seats in place, there's a useable 16 cubic feet of storage.

The interior is p
ure Mercedes-Benz. Fine materials, attention to detail, a range of wood finishes, operating controls in silver chrome trim, and upholstery in premium leather with decorative stitching in contrasting colors are among its features.

Aero-acoustics measures 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. We particularly liked 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.

Our favorite option was the Driver Assistance Package at $2,800 that includes enhanced adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and lane-departure warning systems. We also liked three other options — the Parking Assistance Package at $1,290 that includes a 360-degree camera and active parking assist; the power "easy-entry" second-row seat ($400); and the dual-screen rear entertainment system ($1,950).

The GL has the safety department more than covered with standard and optional equipment. Standard features include antilock brakes, stability control and traction control, active front head restraints, front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and a driver attention/drowsiness monitor.

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL is described as the S-Class of SUVs and with good reason. We feel the torque-infused diesel is the model to buy with its excellent gas mileage and towing capacity. If power is the name of the game, there are three V-8-equipped models that provide class-leading acceleration. And class leading pricing.

Base price: $63,305; as driven, $99,840
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6 diesel
Horsepower: 240 @ 3,600 rpm
Torque: 455 foot-pounds @ 1,600 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 121.1 inches
Length: 201.6 inches
Curb weight: 5,467 pounds
Turning circle: 40.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 16 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 93.8 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 7,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 26.4 gallons (diesel)
EPA rating: 26 highway, 19 city
0-60: 7.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX, Audi Q7

The good
• Seats seven in comfort
• Excellent mileage with diesel
• Luxurious interior appointments
• Exceptionally quick in V-8 configuration

The Bad
• Large turning radius

The Ugly
• Options can seriously inflate price