The GL wears a Benz badge--a big one at that--but it's called Tuscaloosa, Alabama, its home since it was new in the 2007 model year. A sales hit from day one, the GL is a competitor for the likes of the Cadillac Escalade and Infiniti QX56, with a price tag ranging from about $62,000 to almost $88,000, before you pile on the choicest options.
It's an ultimate luxury SUV, but the GL doesn't go down the blingy trendy trail carved by those other sport-utes. The GL isn't quite as angular as it was last year, but it's still a little more traditional and subdued than its competition. The front end's more pronounced, and the rear fenders taper upward a bit--but it's still a very familiar, rugged look.
Inside, the GL takes another step up the luxury ladder. It doesn't look so different but some of the features are, like a larger seven-inch screen on the dash for infotainment, and the knob controller on its console that runs them through an operating system called COMAND. Wood trim and leather upholstery give the cabin a warm, rich feel.
For performance, the GL relies on a trio of powertrains, all teamed to a paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic and four-wheel drive. The base GL is a turbodiesel six-cylinder with just 240 hp but 455 pound-feet of torque for 0-60 mph acceleration in about 8.3 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated as high as 24 mpg highway--one of the reasons the smooth, strong diesel is one of our favorite big SUVs of all.
Mercedes also offers a pair of gas V-8s in the new GL. The GL 450 has twin turbos and direct injection, and makes 362 horsepower for truly quick 0-60 mph times of about 6.2 seconds. The GL 550? It's even stronger, with an updated version of the same engine making 429 horsepower, pushing the SUV to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. As you can guess, highway gas mileage drops into the high teens on both of these powerful family wagons.
There's a first ever AMG edition, the GL 63 waiting in the wings, too. It promises 550 hp and acceleration times of under five seconds. It's coming early in 2013.
Of all the full-size luxury SUVs, the GL utes have some of the best road manners. Electric power steering is new, and though it isn't full of feedback, it's not loose or overly light. The GL's independent suspension has air shocks that give it a pillowy ride, and some versions offer an adaptive suspension that counteracts body lean. We'd normally prefer a more basic solution, but this way, a wider spread between comfort and sport driving modes tailors the GL to more drivers.