2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTECPosted on September 16th, 2012
Seven-passenger clean diesel SUV goes the distance
By Nina Russin
The Mercedes-Benz GL combines the cargo and passenger space active families need, with the automaker’s legendary performance and cutting edge safety technology. Second-generation models introduced earlier this month include both clean diesel and gasoline variants, as well as a high-performance AMG version.
Pricing for the BlueTEC clean diesel model begins at $62,400, excluding the $905 delivery charge. In addition to being one of the least expensive GLs, clean diesel offers big savings at the fuel pump. Although EPA fuel economy figures have yet to be released, diesel delivers 25-30 percent better fuel economy than gasoline. The automaker claims a 600-mile cruising range between fill-ups.
The test car is fully loaded with options, which include special white diamond paint, massaging driver and front-passenger seats, navigation, Harman/Kardon surround-sound audio system, satellite radio, power folding mirrors, adaptive headlamps with headlamp cleaners, three-zone climate control, blind spot monitoring, perimeter camera displays, adaptive damping, panoramic sunroof, power second and third-row seat controls, illuminated running boards, and rear-seat entertainment. Final MSRP is $93,040.
BlueTEC redefines diesel performance
Readers who remember the Mercedes-Benz diesel cars of the 1970s and 80s might have reservations about BlueTEC. While old biases can be hard to forget, these readers should give clean diesel a fresh look. Thanks to on-board computers and reduced-sulfur diesel, Mercedes-Benz clean diesel vehicles have fewer greenhouse emissions than gasoline cars, and excellent performance.
BlueTEC operates under much higher pressures than the old mechanical diesel systems, which translates to better throttle response. Not only is there no diesel lag, but diesel tick is virtually eliminated. In fact, I would challenge any driver to distinguish between a car equipped with the BlueTEC and its gas-powered equivalent without looking at the badging or under the hood.
Although car enthusiasts like to dwell on horsepower, what most people look for in a car is torque. It’s what moves the car off the line, and gives it the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour acceleration commuters need merging onto the highway.
Although the GL BlueTEC’s 240 horsepower is significantly less than the gasoline GL models, the V-6 engine’s 455 foot-pounds of torque is higher than for the base gasoline V-8. A turbocharger increases airflow efficiency through the engine. Peak torque is available at 1600 rpm: a slight tip of the throttle. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 8.3 seconds, according to the manufacturer.
Test drive in Phoenix
I spent the past week behind the wheel of the newest GL, driving the car on surface streets and highways in Phoenix’s east valley, as well as some two-lane roads east of town. Despite its size and mass, the GL’s ride-and-handling is remarkably similar to Mercedes-Benz passenger sedans.
The perimeter camera system is an expensive option, costing about $1300. But for a vehicle of this size, it makes a significant difference in visibility, especially when parking.
With its 201.6-inch length and 65.5-inch rear track, the GL stretches the limits of some vertical parking slots. There were several instances in which I cleared adjacent vehicles by less than a foot on either side. Had it not been for the camera displays in the center stack, it would have been very difficult to park the car without a second person outside the vehicle looking for obstacles.
An electric power steering system provides plenty of assist at low speeds with good on-center response on the highway. The 40.7-foot turning circle is not surprising for such a long vehicle. Don’t expect to be able to perform U-turns on anything but very wide suburban roads.
Acceleration off the line is smooth and powerful. I had no problems getting to the front of the pack when merging onto the highway from two-lane ramps. The blind-spot monitoring system illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors.
Passenger cars can be hard to see from a high-profile SUV, especially when the driver is trying to monitor several lanes of traffic. Blind spot monitoring makes it easier to weave through dense rush-hour traffic.
The seven-speed automatic transmission which is standard on all SL models provides the large overdrive gears to stretch fuel economy on the highway. An electronic shift lever on the steering column is smaller than a traditional mechanical unit. Once the driver gets used to it, the lever is intuitive to use.
The other advantage of seven gears is lack of shift shock. I was amazed how smoothly the GL accelerated up pitchy hills in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains.
Four-wheel air suspension consists of a double wishbone setup in front and multi-links in the back. An option on the test car automatically adjusts shock damping and spring rates according to driving conditions.
A new active curve option uses electronic sensors and actuators to minimize vehicle roll. It enables each side of the stabilizer bar to function independently. I was amazed at how flat the chassis stayed taking a decreasing radius turn at speed on a cloverleaf entrance ramp.
The SL comes standard with 19-inch alloy rims, which provide an ample footprint for driving at speed. Large ventilated disc brakes on all four wheels stop the GL in a firm, linear fashion.
My only criticism regarding drivability has to do with the location of the cruise control wand, which is below the turn signal wand. It’s very easy to get the two confused. Since the driver has to turn the cruise control system on before using the wand to set and cancel speeds, it’s not a safety issue as much as an inconvenience.
Third-row seats adults can feel comfortable in
Third-row seats are rarely a place adults want to reside. Aside from the lack of legroom, getting in and out can be quite a challenge.
The power second-row seat release option on the GL releases the seat on the driver’s side and folds it forward, creating a large space for access and egress. As a five-foot-six adult with disproportionately long legs, I was amazed by the amount of legroom in the third row. In fact, the only seating position without enough legroom for an adult passenger is the middle, second-row position due to the location of the center console.
The panoramic sunroof includes glass panes over all three rows of seating, with cloth sunshades to prevent the interior from getting hot. Three-zone climate controls enable rear passengers to adjust the temperature to their liking.
A power liftgate and power-folding third-row seats make it easy to load up the back with large items. Standard roof rails allow owners to add roof-mounted carriers. The GL meets our ALV bicycle-friendly standards with third-row seats folded flat, and tows up to 7500 pounds.
New standard safety features on the second-generation GL include attention assist, which monitors driver behavior and illuminates a coffee cup icon in the gauge cluster if it senses drowsiness. Other standard safety features include crosswind stabilization and collision prevention assist, which pre-charges the brakes and alerts the driver with audible and visual alarms if radar senses that a collision is imminent.
All GL models come with front, side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control, an undersized spare tire, tool kit and rear door child safety locks. The four-year/50,000 mile factory warranty includes 24-hour roadside assistance.
The all-new GL is rolling into Mercedes-Benz dealerships nationwide.
Like: The GL combines seating for up to seven passengers with a spacious cargo bay, towing capability for a large trailer or boat, a high level of standard safety and the performance of a luxury sedan. Clean diesel extends fuel economy by 25-30 percent compared to similar gasoline models.
Dislike: The location of the cruise control wand makes it easy to confuse with the turn signal wand.
Model: GL350 BlueTEC
Base price: $62,400
As tested: $93,040
Horsepower: 240 Hp @ 3600 rpm
Torque: 455 lbs.-ft. @ 1600 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 8.3 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: N/A
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