2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: Up Close

Followed by an 11-piece brass band trumpeting Maroon 5’s "Moves Like Jagger" (because it’s nimbler?), Mercedes-Benz rolled out its GL-Class full-size SUV in New York. Calling the U.S. "by far, the most important market for the GL," Mercedes sales chief Joachim Schmidt said the GL outpaces its predecessor's fuel efficiency by an average of 19%. It hits dealerships in September.

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The GL retains its predecessor's hefty profile, but the new LED headlight lines add some character without going SL-roadster whimsical. Cabin materials are good, with comfortable seats and a vinyl-stitched upper dash on the show car. A 4.5-inch color screen sits between the instrument gauges, and Mercedes moved the Comand system from the dashboard controls to the more familiar console knob. The automaker still needs to upgrade the GL's chintzy door-lock stems, however. They’d look cheap in a Scion, and they populate too many Benzes.

Like before, the third row has exceptional room, so you don't have to negotiate with second-row passengers for room – which they couldn’t do anyway, given the seat has fixed tracks. The second row provides good headroom and legroom, but like too many backseats, it sits low to the floor. The power-tumbling second row also has power-retractable head restraints. Like in the last GL, the front seats power forward to clear enough room for the seats to tumble. Nice.

Leave it to Mercedes to charge extra for real leather atop the seats and dash in what’s sure to be a $60,000-plus SUV. The automaker’s MB-Tex leatherette is standard. (Which means if you get takeout in Houston, you’d have to tell passengers not to spill their Tex-Mex on the MB-Tex.)

Cargo volume behind the third row expands to 16 cubic feet – it was 14.3 cubic feet in the last GL-Class – with maximum volume at 93.8 cubic feet. That’s a vast improvement (10.5 cubic feet!) over the last GL, and it puts the Benz in the cargo-hauling realm of the Infiniti QX56, which has 95.1 cubic feet of room. The Cadillac Escalade still has nearly 110 cubic feet of volume, though.

A smorgasbord of safety options – collision mitigation, lane departure prevention, 360-degree cameras, drowsy-driver detection and crosswind compensation – keeps with Mercedes' reputation for safety. Kudos to the automaker for outfitting the outboard seats in all three rows with seat belt pretensioners; most cars use them for just the front seats.

Mercedes expects noise levels on par with the library-quiet S-Class. The automaker's excellent Airmatic suspension should deliver similar ride comfort, and optional active stabilizer bars could match that with agility beyond top-heavy competitors like the Escalade and Land Rover Range Rover.

The GL could use all the fuel economy help it can get. The outgoing car ranged from 12/17 mpg city/highway in the GL550 to 17/21 mpg in the diesel GL350 Bluetec, thanks to turbocharged V-8s in the GL450 and GL550 that replace last year's normally aspirated engines. Full EPA figures are forthcoming.

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