The ultimate result of all that technology, profuse leather, and burl walnut veneer is the most delightful large luxury SUV I've ever driven. But I can't help thinking the experience wouldn't have been markedly less in the base car. I mean, given the premium nature of the base sound system, do I really need the $6,800 Bang & Olufsen upgrade? Do I really require a $1,100 back massage while I'm driving? Would the standard eucalyptus veneer have been that much less aesthetic than the burl walnut?
On the other hand, it was kind of fun living like a One Percenter, and dealing with a vehicle that is impeccably assembled, super-quiet, richly appointed, and surprisingly athletic for its size.
The GL350 is powered by a three-liter diesel V-6 that delivers mileage estimates of 18 city and 24 highway. Granted, those fuel-consumption numbers aren't going to earn you a kiss from the recording secretary of your local Sierra Club, but they aren't bad for a vehicle that weighs 5,400 pounds, or just 600 short of three tons.
The GL350's performance isn't bad, either. Yes, its engine is rated at only 240 horsepower, but a diesel's intrinsically low horsepower ratings are deceptive. The real key to real-world engine performance is torque, which is what lets you merge in a hurry on a superhighway. And the GL350 has a relatively massive amount: 455 pound-feet, which is big pickup turf.
The net result is a respectable 0 to 60 time of less than eight seconds.
If you have a greater need for speed, the GL will also be available in September in two turbocharged gas V-8 models: the GL450 ($63,900) and the GL550 ($86,900). If you are really pawing in the chute, wait until early next year for the hot-rodded GL63 AMG, a 557-horse V-8 that will charge from zero to 60 in well under five seconds - and set you back something north of 100 large.
The GL I drove boasted quite an array of standard and optional gear. The standard collision prevention assist alerts a driver who is closing too fast on the vehicle in front. An optional feature actually hits the brakes when it determines you are going to hit the car in front of you.
A standard crosswind stabilization program applies the brakes on the windward side to keep a buffeting wind from pushing you off course. Optional systems provide safety services such as blind-spot, lane-keeping, and parking assists, and a curve control system deters body roll in the turns.
The diamond white tester also featured niceties such as chocolate brown leather upholstery with white saddle stitching and quilted, perforated seat and door-panel inserts. Standard on the seven-seater was a third-row seat back that folded down at the touch of a button to enhance the already generous storage compartment. Optional was a second-row seat that folded forward when you pressed a button to allow easy access to the third row of seats.
2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec
Base price: $62,400.
As tested: $99,840.
Standard equipment: Three-liter diesel engine, seven-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, new self-leveling air suspension; amenities such as collision-prevention alerts.
Handling: Surprisingly nimble for a big guy.
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper.
The Ben Key: Four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.
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