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It's an ultimate luxury SUV, but the GL doesn't go down the blingy trendy trail carved by those other sport-utes. The GL isn't quite as angular as it was last year, but it's still a little more traditional and subdued than its competition. The front end's more pronounced, and the rear fenders taper upward a bit--but it's still a very familiar, rugged look.
Inside, the GL takes another step up the luxury ladder. It doesn't look so different but some of the features are, like a larger seven-inch screen on the dash for infotainment, and the knob controller on its console that runs them through an operating system called COMAND. Wood trim and leather upholstery give the cabin a warm, rich feel.
For performance, the GL relies on a trio of powertrains, all teamed to a paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic and four-wheel drive. The base GL is a turbodiesel six-cylinder with just 240 hp but 455 pound-feet of torque for 0-60 mph acceleration in about 8.3 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated as high as 24 mpg highway--one of the reasons the smooth, strong diesel is one of our favorite big SUVs of all.
While Cadillac encrusts the Escalade in layers of glitz, and Infiniti starts to veer down that path, the Mercedes-Benz GL is happy to stick with tradition. A curve's been added here or there, but the 2013 GL ute is still the traditional piece it was all through the last few years, and that's the right place for it to be.
The Benz ultimate-luxury SUV has softened up its act a bit. It's still subdued, and quite angular, but especially on the front end, the GL's grown more assertive. The grille is more pronounced, and the glass area now tapers upward at the rear. LED lighting laces across both the front and rear ends. It's just as rugged as before, but maybe a degree or two less boxlike. Spotters will be able to tell the GL 350 and GL 450 from the GL 550 from the flared wheel arches, sill plates, and 21-inch wheels. GL550s also get twin exhaust pipes, but so do some of the lesser V-8 models--so be warned.
Inside, the GL reconfigures the look of the prior version into a neater order, while packaging in some new features. Most like the Infiniti, the GL has a matte-finish glow here too that avoids the blingy excesses. There's a standard seven-inch screen on the dash for infotainment, and the knob controller on its console runs those features through the COMAND operating system. Wood trim and leather upholstery warm up the cabin, and a range of optional upgraded trims change out eucalyptus or burl walnut for more exotic touches like olive ash wood and perforated designo leather.
By this time next year, four different GL SUVs will be rolling behind Mercedes-Benz three-star logos. The last to arrive--early in calendar-year 2013--will be an ultra-powerful, first-ever AMG-tuned GL63. With 550 horsepower, it's predicted to be good for a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds.
For now, the GL will rely on a trio of drivetrains, all of which have some major updates from the prior version. The base version, in terms of pricing, is the GL 350 BlueTEC, the turbodiesel edition that gets the best fuel economy of the entire lineup. The 3.0-liter turbodiesel is rated at just 240 horsepower, but brutish diesel torque of 455 pound-feet twists its way through the GL's standard paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive system for a 0-60 mph time estimated at 8.3 seconds. There's some turbo lag, and the diesel's powerband is pretty narrow, and try as we could on our drive through scenic New Mexico, we couldn't press it harder than 110 mph. But the diesel's fuel economy is estimated as high as 24 mpg highway--one of the reasons the smooth, strong powerplant still makes this version one of our favorite big SUVs of all.
There's a twin-turbo, 4.7-liter V-8 in both of the other GLs on offer. They're closely related, and both have features like direct injection that are supposed to help in the quest for better gas mileage. The GL 450's version of this engine makes 362 hp and 406 lb-ft for truly quick 0-60 mph times of about 6.2 seconds. The GL 550? It's even stronger, with an updated version of the same engine making 429 hp and 516 lb-ft, pushing the SUV to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. Both are a little more gruff than the creamy Benz V-8s of even the recent past, but that's said to be the trade-off for more efficient power. As you can guess, highway gas mileage drops into the high teens on both of these powerful family wagons, though they're marginally better than in the first-generation GL.
Slightly longer, wider, and taller than in the first generation, this second-edition Mercedes GL Class gets a little better on making almost all of its vast space to people and cargo.
By the numbers, the 2013 GL Class is 202.6 inches overall, with a 121.1-inch wheelbase. It sits 72.8 inches tall, and 84.3 inches wide. That makes it about an inch longer and an inch wider than before, and a half-inch taller--measurable differences, but given the GL's size, not dramatic ones.
The GL's front seats are fine, and don't require too much of a step up to access. The basic functionality is eight-way power adjustments; they can be optioned up with 10-way power controls, ventilation, heating, and multi-contour control, which adds massaging and adjustable thigh and thorax support, along with four modes of on-the-go shiatsu, everything from "slow" to "fast and vigorous."