The high mark for sales of big sport utility vehicles came years ago, but don’t tell that to Mercedes-Benz customers.
Through the first four months of 2013, they boosted sales of the Mercedes full-size GL-Class SUV 27.5 percent above last year’s level, to nearly 11,000. Low supplies are the only hindrance to the roomy, seven-passenger GL setting a new U.S. sales record this year.
The GL record is 26,396 in 2007.
Buyers today get the new-for-2013 second-generation GL, which is a bit larger than its predecessor, mildly restyled on the outside, with additional safety and convenience features.
There are more powerful engines, too, including a 550-horsepower, 5.5-liter, bi-turbo, gasoline V-8 with a whopping 560 foot-pounds of torque starting at 2,000 rpm. This powerplant is in the AMG version of GL, which is estimated to go from standstill to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. AMG is Mercedes’ performance unit.
Still, a strong GL contender in the lineup is the base GL350 with a much more fuel thrifty, 240-horsepower, diesel V-6 and an impressive at 455 foot-pounds starting at 1,600 rpm.
Standard equipment is substantial and includes four-wheel drive, seven-speed automatic transmission with shift-it-yourself, paddle shifters at the steering wheel, air suspension, 19-inch wheels, nine air bags, rearview camera, light-emitting diode daytime running lamps and taillights, power-folding third-row seats and wood interior trim.
Every GL includes an Attention Assist system that can monitor a driver’s steering and attentiveness and provide an alert if it senses, at speeds above 50 mph, that the driver is drowsy.
Leather-trimmed seats are an extra $1,620. The standard seat cover is Mercedes’ Tex material that mimics the look of leather.
The tester was the diesel model, but passengers didn’t notice because the 3-liter, turbocharged, direct-injection, Bluetec diesel in the GL350 is amazingly quiet, with little diesel racket that old-time diesels are known for.
There was no diesel smell, either.
And forget about diesel glow plugs and sensitive, special care. The GL350 is durably built with modern diesel technology and doesn’t need to be babied.
Bluetec, by the way, includes special emissions filtering to contain diesel particulates.
In the tester, there was just a hint of turbo lag now and then, but it was not worrisome or distracting.
Zero to 60 mph is estimated at an acceptable 8.3 seconds – not bad for a 2-ton vehicle propelled by a V-6 – and the transmission shifted smoothly.
The mileage is rated at 19 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway. This puts the potential travel range on a 26.4-gallon tank at a noteworthy 523 miles. Given today’s average cost for diesel, filling that large a fuel tank can add up to more than $105.
The test car averaged just 18 mpg, though, for a driving range of 475 miles.
The tester had optional running boards, which were slippery on a damp day. Windshield pillars are thick and can obscure pedestrians crossing the street as the vehicle makes turns.
The standard rearview camera helps tremendously to aid drivers when they back up the nearly 17-foot-long SUV.
With an eminently adaptable air suspension system, the SUV rode comfortably. It was neither bouncy nor harsh.
Brakes worked strongly to stop this hefty vehicle, and despite having large, 19-inch wheels and tires, it did not convey any heaviness or unsprung weight at the four wheels.
Third-row seats that fold down flat, and easily, were a much appreciated feature, along with commendable 38.5 inches of legroom in the second row and 35 inches in the third row.
With the optional panorama roof overhead, headroom seemed even more spacious than the 41 inches that were in the specs sheet.