SANTA FE, New Mexico – The newest iteration of the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class has to fill a broad position in the marketplace, given that some of its competitors such as Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX56 and Porsche Cayenne cover a wide range of what is considered a luxury SUV.
At present, Mercedes-Benz is introducing three models in Canada: the GL 350 4MATIC with a BlueTEC diesel V6 as well as the GL 450 4MATIC and GL 550 4MATIC, both with gasoline powered V8s. This fall, an AMG version of the GL will join the model lineup, called the GL 63 AMG.
My first test 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class was equipped with the new, optional quilted motif sewn into all three rows of seats. A more conventional and plain pattern is standard.
The front bucket seats are some of the tallest I’ve encountered, and while this may be safe, it does make it difficult to shoulder check around them. Using the mirrors and the lane change assist are musts when on multi-lane roads.
In the second row, the 60/40-split folding seat goes down in two different ways, either for a flat cargo load floor or for gaining access to the 50/50-split third row. There are electronic controls for these actions located at each rear door and at the rear hatch.
Cargo mode, which is all the seats folded down, provides nearly as much space as the average small truck. With all seats upright, cargo space is limited to about three roll-aboard suitcases.
Little things like the two heated and cooled cup holders up front compliment the luxury found in the Mercedes-Benz GL. I was able to keep my coffee hot and, with the flip of a switch, keep my bottle of water cold enough to make it a pleasant beverage.
Electronic driving assists
Roughly 20 assist systems that will make you a better driver, even if you don’t want to be one, are either standard or optional on the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. A sampling of assists turns up my latest favourite, Parking Assist, which is now simple to use and actually does the job right.
There is an optional Turn Assist system that will help you get around corners if you are going a touch too quick. The lane-departure system not only vibrates the steering wheel initially, but tosses you back into your lane quite ruthlessly if you are not paying attention.
Another “assist” that I found really helpful was the 360-degree camera that allows you to see everything you need to, and then some, when backing up. At first, it seemed like a novelty, but when I turned it off, it stayed off for about 10 seconds before I wanted it back on!
Part of luxury driving is having a suspension that provides that soft cushy ride on almost any surface, and an engine with enough power to move your vehicle at whatever speed you choose to. I figured all this out as soon as I got into the driver’s seat of the Mercedes-Benz GL that I was to start out in at the International Launch in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
When I looked over the controls, I targeted the suspension adjustments that switch between Comfort and Sport. On the smooth roads of New Mexico, the Sport setting worked just fine and I was rolling along nice and relaxed, going around corners at what I thought was the posted limit. That was until I realized the GL was going around corners at roughly 50% faster than I thought. When I went into Comfort mode, my speed did drop a bit, but not much.
Later in the day, I turned onto a dirt trail and drove at speeds most owners wouldn’t even consider. The Sport setting made the ride just a bit harsh, but I could feel what type of surface I was on. Comfort allowed for a softer ride and hence a bit more speed, particularly on washboard surfaces.
This brings about the serious issue of trying to describe how much the air suspension dynamics, including the electronically adjustable anti-sway bars, have improved over the previous generation. Suffice to say, handling is noticeably better at all speeds on all surfaces.
Fuel economy is a hot topic these days and one of the main reasons for the improved performance of the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class in both fuel economy and acceleration is a new, smooth-shifting 7-speed automatic transmission as well as a 90-kg weight loss. Fuel economy has been improved by up to 20% over the previous generation, and 0 to 100 km/h times have been reduced by over 1 second (depending on the version) according to Mercedes’ figures.
In Canada, Mercedes-Benz sells more than 1,600 GL-Class models each year, and expects that number to increase when all versions of the 2013 GL become available.
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