2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Review

2013 Mercedes-Benz GL - Thinly disguised family hauler is a great, albeit expensive, alternative.


Vehicle Tested
2013 Mercedes-Benz GL450 4Matic
Base Price: $63,900
At-Tested Price: $96,610
Built in Vance, Alabama.

Wood and Leather Steering Wheel
Driver and Passenger Multi-Contour Seats
Heated/Ventilated Front Seats
Panoramic Sunroof
Active-Curve System
Easy-Entry System
Rear-Seat Entertainment System
Heated Rear Seats
Kelyess Go
Active Damping System
Bang & Olufsen Sound System
Parking Assist Package
Leather Package
Lighting Package
Appearance Package
3-Zone Climate Control
Driver Assistance Package

Engine: Turbocharged 4.7-liter V8, 362 horsepower
Transmission: Seven-Speed Automatic
Drive Wheels: All-Wheel Drive

Filling the role of the family hauler at Mercedes-Benz, the GL is a 7-passenger crossover that rides a chassis derived from the smaller ML. Like the ML, the GL is built in the USA. Direct competitors include the Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade Land Rover LR4 and Lexus LX.

For 2013 the GL gets a substantial freshening that includes new exterior and interior styling, more powerful gasoline engines and a 200-pound bump in curb weight. Also new for 2013 is the addition of an AMG performance model.

Trim levels include GL450, GL350 BlueTEC, GL550 and the new GL63. All have Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Optional on the GL450 and 550 is an Off-Road Package that includes a 2-speed transfer case with low-range gearing.

The GL450 lists for $63,900 and comes with a 4.7-liter turbo V8 that makes 362 horsepower, 7 more than last year. GL550 gets a 429-horsepower version of the 4.7-liter turbo V8 and lists for $86,900. The $63,900 GL350 BlueTEC utilizes a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 that makes 240-horsepower. Pricing is not yet available for the GL63 AMG, but it will reportedly get a turbo 5.5-liter V8 with 550 horsepower.

All engines mate to a 7-speed automatic transmission that has a separate shift gate for manual operation. Maximum towing capacity is 7,000 pounds.

Standard safety features on all models  includes antilock 4-wheel disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, hill ascent and descent control, tire-pressure monitor, front-seat active head restraints, Pre-Safe precrash safety system, driver-fatigue alert, daytime running lights, rear-view camera, Mbrace assistance system and dual-front, front- and 2nd-row-side, curtain-side and driver-knee airbags. GL550 adds blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning and front- and rear-obstacle-detection system.

Key options include panorama sunroof, adaptive suspension, heated/ventilated and massaging front seats and dual-screen DVD entertainment system. The Mercedes-Benz GL is built in Vance, Alabama, and has a destination charge of $905.

Get Up and Go  Both the GL450 and 550 have sufficient thrust with their turbocharged V8 engines. Obviously, the GL550 is quicker off the line and has better passing punch, but the difference isn't as noticeable as you would think. For example, the GL450 will run from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.8 seconds while the GL550 makes the same trip in about 5.5 seconds - either way, that's quite fast for a 5300-pound, 7-passenger crossover. GL350 BlueTEC is no slouch either, as it runs from 0-60 mph in about 7.5 seconds - still faster than most competitors' gasoline-powered offerings.

Regardless of engine, all GL models feel sleepy off the line as the throttle pedal requires a deep stab to wake up the engine. Thankfully the automatic transmission is among the smoothest in the class with buttery upshifts and prompt downshifts.

Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel-drive system provides all the traction most drivers will ever need. It quickly shuffles power to the wheels with the most grip and does a good job of minimizing wheel spin on snow-covered roads. Those intending to spend considerable time off road should consider popping for the two-speed transfer case in the off-road package.

Fuel economy has never been a GL strong point. The GL450 is EPA rated at 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway and 16 mpg overall. Those are unfortunate numbers that trail mainstream competitors, but are on par with 7-passenger luxury crossovers. Adding to the misery is Mercedes' requirement for premium-grade fuel for all V8s.

In the GL450 and GL550 most people will never see the north side of 20 mpg in real-world driving; however, driven with a light throttle foot it is possible to average close to 20 mpg in mixed commuting. If you spend all of your time driving in the city you should average about 17 mpg overall.

On the Road  The GL is a large crossover with a long wheelbase and firm suspension. That translates into a great highway ride that's composed and comfortable. Around town, the firm suspension and tall wheels and tires provide an acceptable ride and adequate impact absorption. Occasionally, a large bump will pound through, but, for the most part, the suspension coddles riders - especially when set in comfort mode.

Though no sports sedan, the GL feels more nimble and agile than its size would suggest. The firm steering is accurate and speeds up nicely in parking-lot maneuvers. Suspension and grippy tires conspire to provide plenty of stability and sure-footed traction. Body lead is modest, certainly better than on most competing luxury crossovers. The only fly in the ointment is a mushy brake pedal that makes coming to a smooth stop difficult - though it should be noted the brakes provide ample stopping power.

The GL is one of the quietest large crossovers around. Tire noise is the biggest offender, but only on rough concrete roads. Uncharacteristically, wind noise also chimes in above 70 mph. That's out of place for a European vehicle and may be a result of the large outside mirrors. The engine is muted nicely at all times.

Behind the Wheel  Mercedes' stylists did an excellent job of updating the interior of the GL, making it more functional while retaining the Germanic feel of the design. Materials are top notch and fit and finish is excellent. The optional seating surfaces are among the best looking in the class and the suede headliner imparts a true luxury feel.

Gauges are easy to read and feature a nice digital display for ancillary information like radio station, phone status, navigation directions and trip information. Center console features large dials for the climate control system that are refreshingly easy to operate. The same can't be said for the navigation/phone/audio interface. Those functions are controlled by an awkward jog dial and cryptically marked buttons placed vertically below the display screen. A touch screen would make much more sense.

Window, lock and mirror controls are nicely arranged on the driver armrest. Controlling the DVD based entertainment system is a challenge as some functions can only be handled by the remote and it can only be used in the back seat. The GL also features Mercedes-Benz' corporate steering-wheel-mounted shifter stalk. It's not as intuitive as a simple PRNDL shifter on the center console but does free up a considerable amount of space for cup holders and storage.

The GL treats driver and front-seat passenger like royalty. Head and leg room are generous and the seats are more like comfortable living-room chairs than car seats. They offer great support on twisty roads and are firm enough to be comfortable on long trips. The available massaging feature is a nice touch - if a bit creepy - and certainly helps relieve stress after a long day at the office. Visibility is good forward but blocked to the rear by thick roof pillars and large rear-seat headrests. Thankfully an all-around-view monitor and blind-spot alert are offered.

Second-row seats are as comfortable as the fronts, though the middle passenger sits higher than the outboard riders and might want a bit more headroom. Short-of-stature adults or kids can fit in third-row seats, but full-size adults will be unhappy on anything but short trips. The second-row seats tip-and-slide at the touch of a button to ease access to the rear.

Cargo space behind the third-row seats is limited, but folding those seats is a snap and that creates a long and flat cargo space. The second-row seats also fold flat to create a continuous cargo area with a flat, and mostly uninterrupted, load floor. Interior storage is great with lots of bins and cubbies throughout.

Bottom Line  No one needs a Mercedes-Benz GL. For that matter, no one needs an Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade or Land Rover LR4, either. Still, if you have the money, the GL is a great example of a modern, comfortable and useful family hauler.

Though the GL can't match some competitors in sheer interior volume, it makes the most of its slightly-larger-than-midsize stance and offers great comfort in the first- and second-row seats. In addition, the quick steering and great turning radius make the GL quite maneuverable in tight spots. If money isn't an obstacle, the GL is worth considering for all of its useful features. The best bet would probably be a GL450 with a nice set of options. That will give buyers the most affordable version and also offer the best available fuel economy. The BlueTEC diesel is also worth considering, but only if you plan to spend the majority of the time on the highway.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.