The redesigned 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class has classic good looks on the outside, comfort and quiet opulence on the inside and a plethora of safety and technology features. It's surprisingly nimble on the road and accelerates with polished finesse. Too many family cars offer a lackluster driving experience, so it's a joy to get behind the wheel of one like the GL350 that's actually fun to drive.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 is a true family car that offers a wealth of practicality and luxury; the only bummer is its price.
The GL-Class comes standard with three rows of seats, and with its redesign, it's now bigger both outside and in than in previous model years. It also has more standard features than before. There are a couple of new turbocharged V-8 engines on the GL450 and GL550 and a re-engineered turbo diesel V-6 — called Bluetec — on the GL350. I tested the GL350.
Driving the GL350 is every bit the experience you'd expect from a luxury brand at this price point. It mixes power and refinement with great aplomb. The diesel engine is powerful but quiet. Acceleration is commanding and allows you to pass with ease, but it's also smooth. Corners are rounded comfortably and nimbly, and the car is just as adept at handling city streets as it is at conquering mountain highways.
The 2013 GL350 has a starting price of $63,305, including a $905 destination charge. My test car came with a heftier price tag of $89,280 because of the addition of several optional features including a navigation system with voice control, ambient lighting, Harman Kardon surround-sound system and a heated steering wheel.
The 2013 GL350 is all-around bigger than the previous generation. A few inches have been added to its length, height and width, making it a large SUV, but it somehow maintains a sophisticated stance and never appears monstrous.
For all of its exterior beauty, the GL can be quite rugged. It has standard 19-inch wheels, but 20- and 21-inch wheels are available.
Cargo space increased for the 2013 model year. There's now 16 cubic feet of cargo space when all three rows are in use; with two rows in use, there's a much more impressive 49.4 cubic feet, and with only the front seats in use, the GL350 has a sizable 93.8 cubic feet of cargo-hauling space. The power folding 50/50-split third row allows some cargo configuration wiggle room as does a shallow but well-organized hidden storage compartment in the rear.
The 2013 GL350 Bluetec comes with a 3.0-liter V-6 diesel engine that produces 240 horsepower. The GL450 and GL550 both come with a twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V-8 that produces 362 hp and 429 hp, respectively. The GL350 gets an EPA-estimated 19/26 mpg city/highway. I averaged a few mpgs above 20 on a regular basis, and the gas tank wasn't empty at the end of the weeklong test drive despite lots of city driving. The estimated fuel economy for the GL450 is 14/19 mpg; for the GL550, it's 13/18 mpg.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
Of course the cabin is beautiful. This is a luxury SUV from one of the world's most luxurious automakers. My test car featured the standard burl walnut wood trim polished to a lustrous glow, but you might opt for the also-standard eucalyptus wood. Everything is soft; everything is comfortable, and everything is easy. Even the Comand multimedia system with its knob controller, which I thought would be intimidating, was intuitive to use. It easily allows you to centrally operate navigation, audio and Bluetooth functions.
Since it was loaded with extras and cost almost $90K, my test car had the available massaging front seats. At that price, a massage should be included, but I'm beginning to think that any car marketed to larger families should come standard with a massage feature. There are six cupholders and two bottleholders as well as plenty of clever little storage cubbies throughout the cabin.
My only complaint is that even with the available power second-row seats access to the third row is nearly impossible when child-safety seats are installed in the second row. I realize that not everyone who will buy this car will have children in safety seats and that children eventually grow out of safety seats, but until then … For those of us who have three kids in safety seats, third-row access is often a challenge in SUVs and crossovers. With my girls in their convertible seats in the second row's outboard positions, my son had to vault over the second row to get to his third-row convertible seat, and the idea of my husband or me getting back there was laughable.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair/Ample
The 2013 Mercedes GL350 has four sets — that's right, four — of Latch anchors. That's not too shabby for a non-minivan. There are two sets in the second row's outboard positions and two more in the third row. Once again, the GL shines for thinking about those of us with more children than average. All of the Latch anchors are easily accessed, and the second row accommodates both rear- and forward-facing convertible seats with ease. The third row has a bit less legroom, but it still accommodates forward-facing convertibles and booster seats nicely.
The GL350 has standard 4Matic all-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control and nine airbags, including a driver's knee airbag, side curtains for all three rows and second-row side-impact airbags for the outboard seats. A collision mitigation system and Attention Assist, which alerts the driver when dozing off in the middle of the drive, also are standard.
The GL even includes a standard Crosswind Stabilization system to make sure it retains its composure in high winds — something I tested many times in my windy neck of the woods — and two bright orange emergency ponchos sit in the trunk just waiting to be donned in the event of a late-night emergency. Mercedes-Benz Pre-Safe system is also standard and prepares seat belts and engages brakes when a collision is imminent.
If that's not enough for you, you can ramp things up, but it's going to cost you. My test car came equipped with the Lighting Package ($1,290) that includes adaptive high-beam assist and active curve and corner-illuminating headlamps. I also tested the Driver Assistance Package ($2,800) and Parking Assistance Package ($1,290), with blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist and parking assistance, among other things. The Parking Assistance Package features a great 360-degree camera that offers the clearest picture of a car's surroundings that I've ever seen. Finally, my test car came with the impressive Night View Assist Plus ($1,780), which displays a real-time infrared view of the dark road ahead and even shines the headlight on pedestrians or other objects on the road ahead.
The 2013 GL350 hasn't been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Get more safety information about the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 here.
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