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Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: like riding around in your living room

Spacious and luxurious SUV is aimed at ?very-well-to-do? families with three or four children.

For obvious reasons, I?ve never driven around in the living room of a high-end condo. But I?m guessing if I could, it would be pretty close to the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.

This three-row SUV is just as luxurious and spacious. It also feels just as big on the road.

This is the first makeover since the GL was introduced for 2007. There?s a redesigned diesel, new V8 engine and the mid-range GL450, temporarily discontinued in the 2012 edition, is back. The new model is also a bit larger, undergoes some styling changes and has several new technology features.

The three trim lines are differentiated by their engines. The GL350, at $73,700, uses a 3.0 L V6 turbodiesel that puts out 30 more horses and 55 extra lb.-ft. of torque over the 2012 version.

The GL450 ($75,900) and GL550 ($95,900) share a 4.6 L bi-turbo V8 tuned for 362 horsepower in the former and for 429 in the latter.

All use a seven-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic all-wheel-drive. A 557-horsepower AMG version will eventually join the lineup, sometime after the regular GLs go on sale this fall.

Having two V8s may seem odd, but a Mercedes rep explained that a gasoline V6 would have to rev too high to make sufficient power, and customers at this level won?t tolerate anything thrashing away under the hood. The GL450 is the top seller in the U.S., but about 80 per cent of Canadian buyers opt for the diesel.

The slight diesel engine clatter heard outside disappears entirely once you?re in the heavily soundproofed interior and it pulls away smoothly and effortlessly from a stop. The response when you mash the pedal for highway-speed passing becomes more satisfying as you move up the power ladder, of course, but none are slouches, especially when you consider they?re moving up to 2,455 kg of machine.

The standard air suspension provides a deliciously smooth ride on the straightaway, but on tight curves, there?s an awful lot of body roll when it?s set in ?comfort? mode. I ended up leaving it in ?sport? mode, which eliminated most of the wallow.

The GL drives as big as it looks. Going through a construction zone with slightly narrower lanes, my co-driver and I were convinced we were straddling both painted lines. It?s an illusion created by the high seating position and wide fenders, and it takes a bit to get used to it when driving in tighter quarters.

That said, the turning circle is tight, which I appreciated when I drove up a narrow mountain road for a photo and had to do a three-point turn with steep drops on either side to get back out. The 360-degree camera, which uses four exterior cameras to provide a bird?s-eye view, came in very handy.

It?s one of several technology features available, including adaptive cruise control, a monitoring system that warns if you?re getting too close to a car in front, lane assist that will either warn that you?re crossing the line or actively help pull you back, steering control that helps overcome crosswinds or a curve taken too quickly and attention assist, which monitors your driving patterns for signs of fatigue.

And for those who never bothered to learn parallel parking, the GL can even scout out an appropriately sized spot and steer itself in while you work the brake and throttle. When it?s time to leave, it will also manoeuvre itself back out.

If the standard all-wheel-drive isn?t enough, there?s an On & Offroad Package, which adds a two-speed transfer case, differential lock, increased available ground clearance and skid plates. The various settings can turn it into a true off-roader, although I?m guessing most will buy it for the bragging rights, rather than actually risk scrubbing those chiselled flanks against rocks or trees.

The GL is all about comfort and this is where it excels. You can get massaging seats, up to four zones on the automatic climate control, heated and cooled cupholders, twin-screen entertainment system, and a Wi-Fi Internet option, although that will be a later entry on Canadian vehicles.

Entry into the third row is made easier by an optional two-stage power system that first folds the second-row seats in half and then tumbles them forward. The third row is roomy enough for mid-size adults, and will be very popular with the youngsters. (Mercedes says the target market is ?very well-to-do? families with three or four children.)

There?s the usual people-versus-payload inherent to all three-row SUVs and we had to fold the third row ? electric both up and down ? to accommodate two carry-on suitcases and two briefcases. Despite the soccer-mom stigma, you still can?t beat a minivan?s capacity for hauling a crowd.

But it?s hard to top the GL for doing it in style and comfort, and this newest version takes an already opulent model and turns it pretty much into a living room on wheels.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GL

PRICE: $73,700-$95,900

ENGINE:
3.0 L V6 diesel, 4.6 L V8

POWER/TORQUE: 240 hp/455 lb.-ft. (GL350), 362/406 (GL450), 429/516 (GL550)

FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km (estimated): 11.5 (GL350), 14.5 (GL450), 15.5 (GL550)

COMPETITION:
Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX56, Land Rover LR4, Lexus LX570, Lincoln MKT/Navigator

WHAT?S BEST: Great diesel engine, handsome interior, quiet ride.

WHAT?S WORST:
Drives as big as it looks.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: Mercedes sold 1,660 GLs in Canada last year.

  • Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: like riding around in your living room
  • Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: like riding around in your living room
  • Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: like riding around in your living room

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