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.
For off-roaders there's a package that add a low range, a locking center differential, tuned traction and stability control, and adjustable ride height that lifts the GL from 8.5 inches of ground clearance to a full foot. The trio of GL utes can tow up to 7500 pounds, too.
The GL's cabin is bigger and more comfortable than before. It's about an inch longer and an inch wider, and a half inch taller. In front, passenger can ride on ventilated seats with massage controls. The second-row seats can be heated. But the best trick the GL does is its new flip and fold feature. Not only do the power-folding third-row seats stow for more cargo space, the second-row seats tuck away with optional power assistance. It's not as large as a long-wheelbase Escalade, but the GL's interior is just immense.
On the safety front, the GL picks up a slew of new technologies. The usual airbags and stability control join a new 360-degree camera that adapts its display as you dial into a parking spot. The GL can also park itself, with available active park assist. Lane keeping assist nudges it back into a lane if you cross the median, and collision prevention assistance will bring the GL to a stop if it detects an obstacle in the road ahead at speeds of up to 20 mph.
The GL also gains some cool new tech features for the new model year. Mbrace2 is Mercedes' connectivity suite; it links smartphones to the COMAND system, which means you can search Yelp for a great meal or hit Google for web searches while on the road.
Bluetooth is standard on the 2013 GL, and so are HD radio, a sunroof, a power tailgate, and power third row seats. Step up into more expensive models and the GL adds iPod connectivity, satellite radio, a panoramic sunroof, 20-inch wheels, and a navigation system--most of which can be ordered as options on other models, along with push button start, Harmon/Kardon or Bang & Olufsen audio, a rear-seat entertainment system, and more exotic selections of wood and leather.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL Class goes on sale this September, priced from $63,305 for the GL 350 BlueTEC turbodiesel. The GL 450 starts at $64,805; the GL 550 at $87,805. All prices include $905 in destination charges. The ultra-powerful GL63 arrives in the first quarter of 2013.