Posted Nov 12th 2012 2:57PM
Full-size, seven-passenger sport utility vehicles don't get much better than this. Fresh off a complete second-generation redesign, the Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC is the oil-burning variant - and the entry-level model - in the automaker's GL-Class lineup. A luxury SUV with an efficient diesel engine screams "Roadtrip!" – so I loaded up my family of four and headed north up famed California State Route 1 to Hearst Castle for the day. The well-isolated GL proved every bit as spectacular as newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst's "ranch" on the hill, seemingly determined to justify its recent accolade.
- The heart of the GL350 BlueTEC is a 3.0-litre four-valve direct-injected turbocharged diesel engine rated at 240 horsepower, but delivering a whopping 455 pound-feet from as low as 1,600 rpm. There is a bit of turbo lag off the line, especially when rushed, but the standard seven-speed automatic does an admirable job hustling the 5,467-pound (2,480 kg) vehicle to 60 mph (96 km/h) in under eight seconds. In real-world driving conditions, the torque makes it feel quicker than that.
- Fuel economy was impressive for its size. The EPA rates the big BlueTEC at 12.4L/100km (19 mpg) city, and 9L/100km (26 mpg) highway. During our 655 km (407-mile) road trip, we averaged 9.3L/100km (25.3 mpg), including city cycles at both ends of the excursion. With a 100 litre (26.4 gallon) fuel tank, highway range is in excess of 1,045 bladder-bursting kilometres.
- The GL350 BlueTEC can't claim outward visibility as its strength. We'd like to see larger exterior mirrors. Thankfully, a handful of useful (and very effective) electronic nannies and a 360-degree camera ease maneuvering. Despite its size, a tight 40.7-foot turning radius allows stress-free U-turns on most city streets. Excellent bi-xenon headlights, with Highbeam Assist and Active Curve Illumination take all fear out of night driving, too.
- Driver and passenger enjoy heated, cooled and massaging sport seats that are more comfortable than your mother's loving arms. Second row passengers are treated nearly as well, provided their own HVAC controls with multiple air vents. The third row has always been a GL-Class strength, and it will easily accommodate full-size occupants without a murmur of protest.
- Distronic Plus is pricey ($2,700), but for this driver, it's a must-have option. The autonomous radar-based adaptive cruise control scans the road up to 600 feet ahead, allowing the GL350 to automatically follow, accelerate and decelerate with other traffic (it will even come to a complete stop). Better yet, it's bundled with Pre-Safe Brake, Active Lane Keep Assist and Active helping to prevent rear-end collisions. The geek in me really liked how it displayed the distance to the vehicle I was trailing in real time.
- My list of gripes was small, but worthy of a mention. First, the iPhone interface plug is too big to fit devices with protective cases. Second, the electronic parking brake isn't intuitive (push down to set, lift to release). Third, the round volume control button in the center console is too small for large fingers. Lastly, the passenger step-in height is a bit too high for those who are... um, vertically challenged.