The most American rig in the Mercedes-Benz lineup is the hulking GL SUV. And when I say American, I don’t mean North American. I mean American as in A-merr-i-can.
A tiny handful of Canadians buy this sort of truck, true. But for the most part, the GL and its ilk are for Americans. As in American from, well, Vance, Ala.
I say Vance because sure enough, Vance, near Tuscaloosa, is where the GL is built. One in two of every GLs sold in the world is bought by an A-merr-i-can built by Americans for Americans. What Mercedes types call the S-Class of SUVs is a monstrous brute of a truck, capable of yanking around a trailer weighing 3,402 kg and it is oh, so American.
Big as it is, powerful as it is with its 3.0-litre, direct-injection, turbodiesel engine – 240 hp/455 lb-ft of torque – my GL350 BlueTec tester felt light and manageable. Without a doubt, the GL diesel would be my first pick in a field that includes the Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX56, Audi Q7, Lexus GX 460 and Lincoln Navigator.
The Escalade? Pickup-truck based and aged, this Caddy is now dated. A new Escalade is coming later this year, as I understand it. The Infiniti? Nice, but like the ’Slade, it’s dated, too.
The Q7 is a player, though not the newest design here. The Audi has an excellent turbodiesel of its own and drives nicely. Not as light and nimble as the GL, but good. The age of this design is most obvious in the cabin, which isn’t as clean and well organized and easily managed as the GL’s.
As for the Lexus, quality is a big plus. But somehow the GX 460 seems leaden compared to the GL. And the Navigator, with that big, bold shiny grille resembling the top of a commercial barbeque – top sirloins grilled over on that corner, porterhouse there, New York cuts down there – is a lumpy pickup-based truck lacking in redeeming qualities.
So let’s believe the Mercedes people when they say they expect the GL to stay at the top of this class. Or classes, I might say.
You see, Mercedes doesn’t make just the useful GL diesel ($73,700 base). There is also a gasoline V-8 version. The GL450 ($75,900) is for those who simply cannot embrace the virtues of oil burners.
The engine has an engaging 362-hp/406 lb-ft mill, but why would anyone want it? Not only does the diesel offer substantially more torque, it uses less fuel (rated at 11.9 litres/100 km city and 8.6 highway) and costs $2,200 less. And why do you want the gas-powered GL?
Okay, the GL550 ($95,900) has the twin-turbo (429 hp/516 lb-ft) and it’s showy. Maybe you need that. But if you’re going down that road, why not go all the way to the GL63 AMG – $125,900 and powered by an angry twin-turbo 5.5-litre V-8 rated at an astounding 550 hp/560 lb-ft of torque. Go big, okay? Don’t let your fellow zillionaires think you reigned in your passions to save 30 large. Whatever you get, a seven-speed automatic gearbox is your only choice.
My GL diesel tester was loaded up with thousands in extras and some of them are worth having. The $2,900 Advanced Driving Assistance Package will warn you if you’re drifting from your lane and alert you if something moves into your blind spot. Not only that, the radar-based technology of Distronic Plus monitors what’s ahead, recognizes an impending accident and intervenes with throttle and braking accordingly.
Heated and cooled front seats add $1,200 to the base GL diesel. A $4,500 Premium Package adds a panoramic sunroof, heated rear seats, a powered rear hatch and, among other things, an incredible Harmon/Kardon 14-speaker surround sound system.
What is not extra is electrically assisted rack-and-pinion steering and it’s excellent. The steering responses for such a king-sized SUV are predicable and progressive, not vague and jittery. I like the steering very much.
The brakes, too, are smooth and steady and muscular, fully capable of hauling down this 2,455-kilogram truck from great speeds without any drama whatsoever. All-wheel-drive is standard and completely invisible in its operation.
Not to be overlooked is the seating. I took a road trip in the GL, spending hours behind the wheel. The under-thigh support was terrific and I was able to dial up just the right amount of lumbar support, while also enjoying the cooling effect on the leather seating surfaces and my backside.
The GL is loaded with a roster of safety devices longer than you have patience to read here. Crash test scores are exemplary, too. The GL has been reliable in the past and there’s no reason to expect anything different in the future.
So the GL diesel is a big, but not imposing rig, loaded with fancy features and a price tag to match. No question, first in its class.
2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec
Type: Full-size SUV
Price: $73,700 (destination charge $700)
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, diesel, turbocharged
Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/455 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.9 city/8.6 highway; diesel fuel
Alternatives: Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX56, Audi Q7, Lexus GX 460, Lincoln Navigator
Globe rating for the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-ClassOur ratings guide
The highway ride quality is car-like. The steering is tidy and friendly. The brakes haul you down nicely. A good drive for a long drive.
The GL is big, yet it does not look like a wooly mammoth on four wheels. The proportions are just right.
The cabin is big and comfy and the seats are as good as any you can buy. Visibility is good. It’s a climb into this big, tall truck, however.
My, my, Mercedes loads up its vehicles with an astronomical array of safety features and the crash test scores have always been good.
The GL diesel gets good highway fuel economy.
(out of 10 / Not an average)
The numerical ratings are assigned by The Globe and Mail’s car reviewers on a scale out of ten. Each car is assigned a separate rating in five key categories - plus an overall satisfaction rating that is calculated separately, and is not an average of the five category ratings.
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