Mercedes-Benz refers to the redesigned 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class as the 'S-Class of SUVs,' a nod to the brand's dominance of the full-size luxury sedan segment. This is a high bar to set for a vehicle that not only has to live up to the opulent comfort of its passenger car comparator but also provide a level of utility that allows it to be mentioned in the same breath as rugged - and cheaper - 'utes like the Cadillac Escalade and the Audi Q7. We were given a chance to drive the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class both on and off-road and came away with the impression that this is one big SUV that has a lot to offer well-heeled family buyers.
Make Mine Diesel, Please
To start out with, it's important to note that the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is available with both turbodiesel and gasoline-powered drivetrains. We sampled both the diesel-powered GL350 Bluetec and the gas V-8 GL450 back to back and were impressed by just how much of a difference in driving personality the choice of engine makes in the big SUV.
Piloting the GL350 Bluetec will be an educational experience for anyone still of the mindset that diesel-powered trucks are noisy, slow, and unrefined. The 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 found under the hood of the GL350 Bluetec provides 240 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque, which is exactly the right ratio when seeking smooth acceleration in such a heavy vehicle. The oil-burning GL-Class pulls off of the line with silky authority, and pushing down on the right pedal reveals excellent power at almost any speed.
This is in contrast to the more brusque characteristics of the GL450. To be sure, the twin-turbo, 4.7-liter V-8's 362 horses and 406 lb-ft of torque make for a more rapid climb to 60-mph from a standing start, but the throttle is far more sensitive than that of the Bluetec, requiring an almost ginger approach in order to avoid startling the SUV like a wild bronco. Those seeking performance will not be disappointed by the 4.7-liter's output, but for the vast majority of buyers the turbodiesel will do the job just fine. It also helps that the GL350 Bluetec posts combined fuel mileage of 22-mpg, which is exceptional given its hefty weight. A seven-speed automatic transmission and full-time 4MATIC all-wheel drive were present and accounted for on each GL-Class model that we drove, and a more robust GL550 is also available for those interested in its 429 horses and 516 lb-ft of torque (from a reworked version of the GL450's 4.7-liter engine).
Big And Sturdy, On and Off-Road
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class definitely trumps the S-Class in one very important area: size. The largest and heaviest SUV ever built by the German automaker, the GL-Class provides copious amounts of interior room across three rows of seating, which is very important when going up against the world's sport-utility elite. The size of the GL-Class is also apparent from behind the wheel, and while the adaptive suspension system found in the GL450 can be set to both sport or comfort modes (as well as adjust the SUV's ride height), one never loses track of just how much SUV is behind you - or underneath you.
That being said, it would be a mistake to characterize the GL-Class as clunky. Driven at speeds that most of its owners would considerable reasonable and prudent, the GL350 and GL450 are well-mannered and compliant to all steering, throttle, and braking inputs. In the mud - and on the rocks - the GL-Class maintains its composure, but makes sure that you are aware of the consequences of your actions should you let the large SUV slide out of your control for more than a few moments. Perhaps one percent of GL-Class owners will ever do anything more adventurous with the people mover than back it down a boat launch, so this is to be expected.
A Modern Family Truckster
The evolution of the SUV continues unabated, and the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is the perfect example of what can happen when two entirely different worlds collide. Rather than attempt to out-body-on-frame the Americans, Mercedes-Benz has instead created a full-size SUV that succeeds on its own terms: towing, hauling, and passenger capacity that is up to the standards of its cross-Atlantic rivals, but executed on a unibody platform that guarantees the luxurious ride and supreme composure that Mercedes-Benz vehicles are renowned for. Yes, the GL-Class is big - the biggest Mercedes-Benz yet - but for those who need the spacious interior that its roomy environs have to offer, this is a definite plus, not a minus.