2013 Mercedes GL review
* Merc GL with chassis tweaks from the latest ML * V6 turbodiesel and 4.7-litre V8 petrol power * On sale in early 2013, from around 62k...
The Mercedes GL has been sorely due a face-lift - particularly since its smaller sister car, the M-Class, got a new chassis and much more efficient engines earlier this year.
Mercedes claims the GL's fuel economyis 'up to 20%' better, it has greater refinement, more safety kit and stronger performance. It's just a shame that it doesn't go on sale until early next year.
The seven-seater's line-up in the UK will remain the same as the current model's, with two engines. The GL350 CDI gets the familiar 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel, producing 255bhp and 457lb ft and returning 38mpg and 192g/km of CO2. Those figures bring gains of 8mpg and 50g/km on the outgoing 350 CDI.
There's also a petrol option, the GL500, which now packs a 4.7-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine producing a whopping 429bhp and 516lb ft. While its 25mpg and 262g/km are both better figures than the old spec, this model is likely to be sold in tiny numbers in the UK.
Engine line-up is familiar
Next year there will also be an even more exclusive GL63 AMG, packing 549bhp and 561lb ft for a 0-62mph time of just 4.9sec, and carrying a likely price of around 90,000.
Unlike the ML, however, there will not be a 250 CDI version of the GL, powered by a twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine. Presumably the extra bulk of the larger car (and its target market's reluctance to buy four-cylinder engines) means it's neither practical nor marketable enough.
What's the 2013 Mercedes GL like inside?
Anyone who's sampled a latest-generation Mercedes ML will feel right at home behind the wheel of its bigger brother, which gets a very similar fascia, including a clear central display for the standard Comand infotainment system, and a smaller screen between the instrument dials.
Interior looks similar to that of the M-Class
Other Mercedes traits, including a single stalk for the wipers and indicators, are present as usual. The front cabin has a nice blend of quality materials, including double-stitched leather for the top of the fascia.
The middle row of seats has reasonable space for three full-grown adults, and the rear seats could even be used by grown-ups - although they'd probably not thank you for a long journey in them.
The central row folds up and away as a 60/40 split, easing access to the rear seats. For a little extra, this movement can be completed using a simple switch and electric motors as an option.
The rearmost seats, meanwhile, get electric motors as standard that fold them into what looks like a decently flat load bay; with the second and third rows folded, the boot capacity can be extended from the standard 680 litres to an impressive 2300 litres.
Impressive list of safety kit
There's plenty of safety equipment on board; 20 on-road systems - ranging from a 360-degree parking camera to collision avoidance, crosswind assist and driver-fatigue monitoring - are joined by 10 airbags, including standard window airbags for all three rows of passengers.
What's the 2013 Mercedes GL like to drive?
There's no doubt that the latest Mercedes GL feels big; at 5120mm long, 2141mm wide and 1850mm high this is a huge car, and even though it's been lightened by up to 90kg, it still weighs almost two and a half tonnes. So while neither engine struggles outright, it's fair to say that you won't call either the GL350 or GL500 a rocket ship. Once up to speed they're fine; it's just that you sense the engine having to overcome quite significant weight before you get there.
Mercedes GL is big and heavy but a fine cruiser
As a relaxed cruiser, though, the GL is every bit as accomplished as the ML - which is to say that it is more comfortable than the BMW X5, with supple ride quality clearly the focus over on-the-limit handling prowess. It's not flawless; the steering is overly assisted, particularly around the straight ahead, and wholly uninvolving throughout, and with the plethora of computer aids you can feel a little detached from the driving experience.
Still, you're just as well insulated from the surroundings, because the rolling refinement is excellent; there's precious little noise from the engine bay, regardless of whether you're running diesel or petrol, and (even more importantly because of the quiet engine) both wind roar and road rumble are very well suppressed. With a fuel tank range of around 800 miles, the GL350 CDI offers accomplished cross-continent travel.
Should you be determined to increase your cornering speeds in twisty stuff, Mercedes also offers the car with optional active anti-roll bars; they do a good job of keeping the body roll in check through long bends, and are not easily fooled by rapid changes of direction.
Should I buy one?
The Mercedes GL doesn't really have that many obvious rivals. It obviously offers greater space and practicality over the ML and BMW X5, not to mention two more seats, but it's not as commanding as a (five-seat) Range Rover and lacks the go-anywhere ruggedness of, say, a Toyota Land Cruiser or a Land Rover Discovery. With prices starting from around 62k - a modest rise over the outgoing car that's likely to be accounted for by a more generous standard specification - it's hardly in the same market as the latest seven-seat Hyundai Santa Fe.
That niche positioning has always been one of the GL's strengths, but with its latest incarnation, it gets other advantages that make it much easier to recommend overall. If you have need of the extra seating and are after refined, comfortable (albeit expensive) luxury family transport, it could suit you very nicely indeed.
Land Rover Discovery
What Car? says