Mercedes GL450 — High on S-Class style

By Casey Williams

Mercedes-Benz did not build posh wagons in the 1950s, but that didn’t stop some crazy coach builder from creating a 300c long-back in 1957.  Designers commandeered one of the most prestigious and technically-advanced sedans, a favorite of world leaders, and extended it for sporting pursuits.  If Mercedes-Benz built its own S-Class wagon in 2013, imagine it like the GL450.

You would first have to imagine it toting seven spoiled souls in divine comfort.  Open the door of our design edition and the cabin reeks of deep chocolate leather - stitched dash coverings, upholstered doors, and diamond-stitched seats that rival a Bentley’s.  Burl walnut swaths the dash, doors, steering wheel, and center console - just as it should in a high ‘Benz.  Wherever you travel, your hotel room will not be as lavish.
Like a good butler, everything can be summoned via Bluetooth phone connections, navigation, or cloud-based apps.  Rear seat video monitors work in concert with the Bang & Olufsen audio for a literal theater.  I’d go Bang just to stare at the sculptured tweeters, which might almost be worth the $6,400 premium!  A panorama sunroof, power hatch, heated/cooled seats, and backing camera seriously spoil oneself.
It wasn’t until the ‘60s that Mercedes had a decent V8 engine.  No worries as the latest 326hp 4.6-liter biturbo V8, connected to a 7-speed automatic transmission, slipped our GL down the road with a hushed whirr.  Passing pondering Conestogas on backroads barely required thought; cruising in the snooze lane is sublime.  You can pull up to 7,500 lbs. of summer toys, but how you’ll pay given 14/19-MPG city/hwy.
Back when Men were Mad, the Mercedes 600 had an air suspension that could be adjusted to put space between it and rough roads.  At normal height, it smoothed craters with billows of clouds (or so one imagines).  In the GL, Comfort mode of the AIRMATIC suspension provides a ride as fluffy as an old Cadillac in a straight line, but firms to inhibit corner-leaning.  Sport is my favorite mode because it is closer to typical Mercedes heavier-than-sequoia feel without the chattery ugliness Comfort exhibits over rough pavement.  Raise the suspension for serious off-roading.
Look close and you can still see a hint of that old coachbuilt wagon in the upright grille, square roof, and carved rear fenders.  A big star-strewn grill puts the GL in Mercedes’ sport portfolio, but its shape clearly hints at the mountain goat G-Class.  It’s a Mercedes, as sure as the S-Class has a star plopped on its hood.
Keeping this Bismarck between the ditches is a suite of electronics.  Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Curve System, and Crosswind Stabilization center its travel.  Adaptive cruise control and emergency braking systems automatically slow the vehicle if necessary.  The GL can even semi-automatically park and unpark itself.
The GL450 is comfy and capable, even if it drinks like its Oktoberfest and the chassis sometimes forgets it’s attached to a Mercedes.  Luxury wagonaires will dig deep for the $86,900 GL550 or, holy mother of a brickhouse, for the $116,925 GL63 AMG.  I’ll stick with the GL450 for a $63,900 base price, or (gulp) $96,610 as tested.