2013 Mercedes GL350 BlueTec review

I found myself turning the semi-auto driving mode on much more than even Mercedes’ engineers envisioned drivers would.
I found myself turning the semi-auto driving mode on much more than even Mercedes’ engineers envisioned drivers would.
I found myself turning the semi-auto driving mode on much more than even Mercedes’ engineers envisioned drivers would.

Highs

  • Diesel-powered engine creates 455 lb-ft of torque for smooth acceleration bursts
  • Fuel economy is impressive, with a conservative driving adding even more mileage
  • The future is now! Semi-autonomous driving courtesy of Mercedes’ Distronic Plus system
  • Awesome interior design quality

Lows

  • Options can escalate the base price very quickly
  • Not as fast as some of its competitors
  • Amount of tech inside may prove overwhelming for some drivers

DT Editors' Rating

The U.S.’ infatuation with SUVs doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and with specimens like the GL350 on offer, it’s no wonder. If big is indeed beautiful, then Mercedes’ diesel-powered 2013 GL350 BlueTec is a supermodel.

An SUV through and through, the GL sits atop the same unibody architecture as the M-Class, but ups the ante with an additional third row of seating.

The three-row, full-sized behemoth is now in its second generation after debuting back in 2007. With the likes of Lexus’s LX570, Infiniti’s QX 56, and Land Rover’s Range Rover all vying for top SUV honors, the Stuttgart-based automaker isn’t resting on its laurels. It can’t afford to.

While it’s easy to get swept away by the sheer size size of this brutish Benz, its imposing physical presence is only the beginning. My week-long love affair revealed there’s plenty more to love.

Bells, whistles, and oh so much more

My crystal ball tells me cars will drive themselves in the future; only this future isn’t that far off and can be experienced – pretty accurately I might add – right now.

Nestled just behind the steering wheel, on an unassuming stalk, lives one of the coolest, most tech-tastic features a modern car has to offer – and it’s called Distronic Plus (DP).

No it’s not the name of some electro-pop band from Iceland; it’s Mercedes’ adaptive cruise control technology, and the Driver Assistance Package ($2,800) it’s bundled with is worth every penny. Basic cruise control systems allow drivers to set a desired speed and travel at that speed without having to physically step on the gas. Adaptive cruise control ups the ante by being able to sense cars in front of the vehicle and appropriately speeding up or slowing down when the situation permits. Distronic Plus takes adaptive cruise control even further by freeing up your limbs.

Out on the road, engaging DP triggers a red outline running up the speedo, while a digital readout on the instrument cluster’s LCD screen indicates the desired speed. Tapping upward increased my speed while tapping downward reduced it. Flipping the little dial on the stalk also gave me the option to set my desired following distance. While it’s a nice idea in theory, it was always hard to tell if I was in fact increasing or decreasing my following distance.

Giving the stalk a good, strong lift increased my speed by 5 mph each time, while a little tap increased or decreased my speed by just one. Once my desired speed was set to 30 mph, the GL practically drove itself. Acceleration and deceleration are handled automatically, with only steering left up to me. In traffic, the GL brought itself to a complete stop and I all I needed to do was tap the gas or press the stalk once more to get it going again.

I found myself turning the semi-auto driving mode on much more than even Mercedes’ engineers envisioned drivers would.

A couple of caveats to consider: While DP does a lot to eliminate the dull, often mundane minutiae of driving, it’s not a fully autonomous system. Drivers still need to pay attention and steer the car, in fact, steer too sharply and the system relinquishes control back onto you. And because the DP system utilizes a system of radars and cameras, watching for red lights, stop signs, and pedestrians is all on the driver as well.

This semi-auto driving mode performs best in the city, and in situations where you’re caged into your lane by other cars, but it works swimmingly on the freeway, too. In fact, I found myself turning it on much more than even Mercedes’ engineers envisioned drivers would.

But there’s more to this Mercedes than just the lazy man’s cruise control. An excellent 360-degree camera system makes this mammoth of an automobile feel less like one in tight spots, parking garages, and that one empty spot I was 90 percent sure I couldn’t fit into to but was 100 percent sure I was gonna try anyway. It pipes a crystal-clear feed into the cabin’s LCD display, with overlaid trajectory lines making it even easier to pilot.

That’s a lot of onboard tech to thrown your way but it doesn’t stop there. Drive along any distinctly marked lane, point the wheels towards the side of the road and witness the GL’s active lane keeping assist kick using targeting, one-sided braking and pull the car safely back into the lane.

The source of this automotive wizardry is Mercedes-Benz’s electronic stability control system, which along with correcting oversteer and understeer, monitors the sort of unwanted lane departure a driver might experience because of fatigue, or those seriously affected by inattentive-driver syndrome. I’m pretty certain that’s the technical term for it.

Hotel or hot wheels?

What can I say about the GL350’s interior that hasn’t been said already?

Stepping inside the cabin was akin to walking into the lobby of a swanky five-star hotel. From its porcelain-colored designer leather to its marbled wood accents on the steering wheel and dash, the GL is the very epitome of luxury.

For me, just sitting there in the driver’s seat, stationary – not even moving, is a powerful enough sensation. Part of it is the commanding view from its raised perch, while another part is knowing that with only a push of a button, I was in command of a $60,000+ behemoth. (Our review mode actually priced in a at a whopping $98,000 with all its optional equipment tacked on).

2013 Mercedes_Benz GL350 interior back

Needless to say it’s nice. Really nice. Like, nicer than my apartment nice. A little embarrassing to admit, but it’s the truth.

And it’s not just the front row that puts me shame, that same level of comfort and attention to detail is evident in the back as well. The second row of seats provides ample shoulder, leg, and head room for virtually any passenger, regardless of size. A third row that can be accessed with a flip of a switch is also available to help pile in even more folks, although it’s designed for smaller passengers, namely children in mind.

Perhaps the best feature inside the GL’s roomy cabin is its massaging seats. Don’t feel like visiting some shady massage parlor? (Or maybe you do, which is none of my business.) Sit in either the driver or passenger seat and let Mercedes work its magic. It massaged parts of me I didn’t even know existed; it just doesn’t get any better.

Strength in sophistication

If the GL were a menu item at Taco Bell, it’d have the words “Big” and “Beefy” tacked onto its name. This isn’t a bite-sized Benz by any stretch. Far from it, just one look at its hulking proportions is enough to tell that there’s a lot going on inside.

If the GL were a menu item at Taco Bell, it’d have the words “Big” and “Beefy” tacked onto its name.

Mercedes isn’t known for its eccentric design themes, preferring to create more subdued – some would argue elegant – design languages. And that’s really what’s going on with the GL. It’s much more “serious” in nature but retains a degree of suaveness as well.

From its rising beltline to its blunted nose, this is a good-looking Mercedes that doesn’t have to rely on overbearing themes.

The mega Merc isn’t without a sprinkle of glitz and dazzle, though. Fancy-pants LED lighting graces the front and rear. It’s also not as boxy as I’d thought it’d be, with a few curves reserved for the rear end and a tapered greenhouse (the glass windows around the front and sides) that pinches toward the back, rounding out the GL’s impressive shell.

Looks like a dream – handles like one, too

When it’s time to take full control of the 2013 GL350 BlueTec, drivers are in for a treat. The GL might look large and unwieldy, but its four wheels tickle the tarmac with an unexpected grace.

At low speeds, the car’s onboard computer loosens up the electromechanically controlled steering, which makes traversing small spaces, like the hellish parking garage across the way from the DT offices, considerably easier.

I can’t stress enough how much this helped driving a big rig like the GL. Most of the time, drivers are forced to sacrifice maneuverability for the added luxury of size and space. But I have to hand it to Mercedes’ engineers, they’ve’ managed to build a car the size of the Titanic with the turning radius of Yugo.

The GL’s turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel V6 engine helps the GL350 BlueTec achieve an EPA-estimated 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined. These numbers blow all other three-row luxury SUVs out of the water, and give the GL a range of more than 600 miles. That’s good, because you won’t want to get out of this car, not even to go to the bathroom. Toilet-seat conversion kits coming soon! Enquire at your local Mercedes-Benz dealer.

So the GL has decent fuel economy and is actually quite capable around the city, but how does it conduct itself in less restrictive environments?

The GL cruises down the freeway with the confidence of a star quarterback and the sophistication of ivy-league professor. And it does so thanks to in large part to Mercedes’ AIRMATIC self-leveling air suspension system that, with its four different dampening levels, greatly enhances the GLs’ ride comfort and handling.

You can think of the AIRMATIC system like a bunch of friendly elves actively tinkering with the suspension when the state of the road demands it. On blighted surfaces, the dampening force tightens up, soaking up imperfections like a wet sponge. On smoother expanses, and at speeds of approximately 74 mph and greater, the GL’s suspension automatically lowers by about 10 mm, reducing drag in the process. A manual option also lets you raise the car’s level by approximately 30 mm, which provded particularly helpful on poor stretches of road.

2013 Mercedes_Benz GL350 engine

But the GL350 BlueTec isn’t the quickest horse out of the gate, a fact that might I turn off potential buyers. I clocked its 0-60 time at a measly 8.4 seconds. That’s slower than some of the competition, like the Range Rover, Infiniti QX, and Lexus LX.

Still, what the GL lacks in speed it makes up for in torque-y richness. I don’t have any qualms sneezing at the BlueTec’s 240 horsepower, but the diesel engine’s 455 lb-ft of torque carrythe slack when power is needed, it just took a little more coaxing than simply stomping down on the gas, which is was fine. There’s more than enough oomph out of the gate. This isn’t a track car after all; it’s a full-size luxury SUV.

Conclusion

Starting at $63,750, the GL 350 BlueTec represents the base model of the entire lineup. But as previously mention, that number can easily skyrocket by $20 or $30 grand with just a few boxes ticked. I can’t imagine that being a huge concern for prospective GL buyers, but it’s worth observing, especially when notable (read: slightly cheaper) alternatives exists, such as the Infiniti QX and Cadillac Escalade.

I’d also like to point out that while the GL 350 BlueTec does a good job of shaking the negative preconceptions most Americans have of diesel engines; it still feels and sounds very much like a diesel, with that truck-like rattling clearly audible while the car is idle and in motion. It shouldn’t be enough to deter you considering how well it snakes around corners, sports one of the most posh cabins I’ve ever sat in, and scoots along with unprecedented fuel economy for a car its size.

For my money and yours, Mercedes diesel-powered GL should be at the top of your shopping list, or at the very least, near it.

Score: 9

Highs

  • Diesel-powered engine creates 455 lb-ft of torque for smooth acceleration bursts
  • Fuel economy is impressive, with a conservative driving adding even more mileage
  • The future is now! Semi-autonomous driving courtesy of Mercedes’ Distronic Plus system
  • Awesome interior design quality

Lows

  • Options can escalate the base price very quickly
  • Not as fast as some of its competitors
  • Amount of tech inside may prove overwhelming for some drivers 
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