By Frank A. Aukofer
Scripps Howard News Service
---- — The first thing you notice about the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 Blue TEC is how big it is as in minivan big or giant SUV big.
The second thing you notice is how luxurious this vehicle is as in Rolls-Royce or Bentley luxurious, though it’s with Mercedes’ optional $4,300 Designo interior.
The third thing you notice is what you don’t notice at all -- that it’s powered by an oil-burning diesel engine. Mercedes engineers have so managed the usual diesel engine clatter that you can’t distinguish it from a silent-running gasoline engine.
It’s also the one thing that makes the GL almost reasonable, despite its 5,467 pounds, a base price of $63,305 and, with a load of options that cover about anything you can imagine in a modern vehicle, a tested price of $93,040.
The GL350 V6 engine delivers 18/24/20 mpg on the EPA’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption cycle. That compares to 14/19/16 for the GL450 and 13/18/15 for the GL550, which are powered by V8 gasoline engines.
Of course, being a diesel with two fewer cylinders, the 240-horsepower GL350 is more than two seconds slower to 60 miles an hour than either of the gas burners. But you won’t notice it because of the diesel’s enormous torque of 455 pounds-feet, which translates into -- among other things -- the capability to tow up to 7,500 pounds.
Despite the manufacturer’s acceleration rating of 8.2 seconds to 60 miles an hour, which is in economy car territory, the GL350 never seems compromised. It is strong off the line and feels as if it could outrace anything. The top speed is rated at 130 miles an hour.
Of course, you don’t buy a machine like this to go out drag racing with 20-somethings. It fundamentally is a family hauler, albeit for families with big bucks or those who can somehow manage the bank or lease payments.
It is more than six feet tall, nearly 17 feet long and seats seven, four of them in sumptuous comfort. The third row should be reserved for children or petite adults. Even with all the seats occupied, there’s 16 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row.
One of the cool features of the tested GL350 is the powered second and third row seats. With the touch of a button, you can reconfigure the interior, divvying the space between warm bodies and whatever stuff you need to haul. If you need to go to the max, there’s 94 cubic feet of space.
One of the mysteries of a vehicle like this is why the designers would deliberately make one of the seats unnecessarily uncomfortable. The center seat in the second row has plenty of knee, hip and headroom but the cushion is hard and unyielding. Why not make it as comfortable as the other seats, especially given the GL350’s stated purpose as a luxury people hauler?
Another annoyance is the GL350’s slavish devotion to a current fad, mainly among luxury vehicles. It’s the cheesecloth-like sunshade for the motorized glass sunroof. Its plethora of holes admits eye-blinking sunshine and heats up the interior. Sunshades should be opaque, as the Founders Daimler and Benz intended.
That aside, you’d be hard put to find a higher quality and more gorgeous interior in which to spend your motoring time. The optional Designo treatments ooze the class and style only obtainable by money and good taste.
For all of its heft and bulk, the GL350 drives like a smaller vehicle. It is supported on an air suspension system, with 19-inch alloy wheels, that absorbs road imperfections to a limousine-like ride. Yet the electric power steering is light -- almost too light even in the “sport” driving mode -- and the handling is quick and responsive.
The transmission is Mercedes familiar seven-speed automatic, complete with a manual-shift setting for those inclined to do their own gear changes. Where it is most valuable is in towing and on mountain roads where you want to hold a gear.
Among the nearly $30,000 worth of options on the test car, in addition to the Designo interior, were burl walnut interior wood trim; a $1,515 “diamond white” paint job; Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, which maintains a distance from the car ahead right down to a full stop; three-zone climate control; Parktronic automatic parking system; blind-spot warning, and the Mercedes COMAND system, including navigation and entertainment functions.
Specifications Model: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 Blue TEC four-door crossover utility vehicle. Engine: 3.0-liter diesel V6, turbocharged, 240 horsepower. Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual shift mode. Overall length: 16 feet 10 inches. EPA passenger/cargo volume: 128/16 cubic feet. Weight: 5,467 pounds. EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/24/20 mpg. Base price, including destination charge: $63,305. Price as tested: $93,040.