The diesel version of Mercedes-Benz's full-size GL-Class SUV, the GL350 BlueTEC, is all-new for the latest year. Rather than completely reinventing the oil-burning three-row people-hauler, which was largely a critical and sales success in its first iteration, Mercedes has carefully evolved it with a more potent and efficient powertrain lineup along with a slightly larger interior.
Outside, the new GL keeps the traditional large-SUV proportions of its predecessor but wears fresh details such as crisper character lines, de rigueur LED strips on either side of the lower front fascia and "pontoon" rear fenders like those on the current E-Class that recall Mercedes sedans of the 1950s.
Other changes include a taller hood (likely a concession to European pedestrian safety regulations) and an even more prominent version of Mercedes' two-bar corporate grille.
As the GL's primary mission is to transport large amounts of passengers and cargo, Mercedes incrementally increased its width, height and overall length (all three dimensions are up by less than an inch) in order to realize slightly improved head-, shoulder- and elbow-room for all three rows of seats. Cargo space is also up from 12.4 to 16 cubic inches.
Design-wise, the cabin draws heavily from that of the new M-Class - the elegant dashboard and center stack are nearly indistinguishable between the two models. Silver chrome controls, generous amounts of wood trim and soft leather upholstery with contrasting stitching help create an air of high luxury, and Mercedes says that NVH levels are now on par with the S-Class thanks to the GL's stiff bodyshell and the use of new insulation materials.
Under the hood is a 3.5-liter turbodiesel V6 with 240 horsepower and an impressive 455 lb-ft of torque. Shifting is handled by a seven-speed automatic transmission, which sends power to all four wheels through Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system.
The GL rides on an AIRMATIC air suspension that automatically adjusts to suit road conditions and can be had with an optional Active Curve System, which works to compensate for body roll during cornering. An optional On- and Off-Road package gives AIRMATIC the ability to raise the GL and provide 12 inches of ground clearance a 23.6 inches wading capability. The package also includes a two-stage transfer case with reduction gearing, a skidplate and a longitudinal differential lock; the three buyers looking to take their GLs off-road will surely be thrilled.
Standard and Optional Features
The GL350 is fitted as standard with leatherette upholstery, genuine Eucalyptus wood trim, heated and eight-way power-adjustable front seats, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, a rearview camera and an AM/FM/CD stereo with HD radio and a six-disc CD/DVD changer. Additionally, both the liftgate and folding third row seats are power-operated for extra convenience. On the outside, the wheels are 19-inch alloys.
A long list of options is available, with highlights including a Bang & Olufsen sound system, a trailer hitch for towing up to 7,500lbs, 20-inch wheels, and a surround-view parking system that uses front and rear cameras to create a bird's eye view of the vehicle and its surroundings. There is also a plethora of special order items that include special various leather and color combinations as well as aluminum trim.
The GL350 features the option of a Parking Assist package that uses the PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist for automatic maneuvering in and out of parallel parking spots and includes a surround view camera. It takes images from four cameras around the vehicle and shows the combined view on the display. The two models will also have the optional Lighting package that includes Bi-xenon headlamps that turn in their housings to follow a curve. This also includes Adaptive Highbeam Assist and a headlamp cleaning system.
This being a high-end Mercedes, the usual plethora of safety devices is on hand, two of which are all-new.
Collision Prevention Assist is a radar-based system that works to prevent or mitigate collisions. Between 20 and 155 mph, the system monitors the distance between the GL and the vehicle in front of it, emitting visual and acoustic warnings and priming the brakes if it senses that a collision is imminent. Crosswind Stabilization uses targeted braking in the event of strong crosswinds to keep the vehicle on its intended course.
The airbags are adaptive and deploy in two stages, and there is a driver knee airbag, along with front, rear, curtain, and side airbags across all three seating positions.
All seven seats get three-point safety belts with the outboard seats getting pre-tensioners and single-stage belt force limiters.
There aren't many U.S. automotive segments with multiple models that offer diesel power, but the large luxury SUV class is one of them. Buyers seeking an efficient oil-burning rig can cross-shop the GL350 BlueTEC against diesel-equipped versions of the BMW X5, Volkswagen Touareg, Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne.