2013 MERCEDES-BENZ GL-CLASS REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Seven-seat luxury SUV
Price: $154,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 320kW/700Nm 8cyl petrol turbol | 7spd auto
Fuel Economy listed: 11.5 l/100km | tested: 15.6 l/100km
We climbed up (literally) into the driver’s seat of the GL 500 BlueEfficiency and spent a week behind its leather-bound wheel. Surprisingly, despite this correspondent’s inherent dislike of SUVs, the GL 500 actually endeared itself greatly.
Big power, effortless cruising, a comfy ride and more space than an aircraft hanger are all hallmarks of the GL 500.
As a luxury wagon for well-to-do families, it makes plenty of sense.
Quality: The inside of the GL 500 is best described as “cavernous”. Not just because of its sheer size, but because everything feels like it has been hewn from rock.
Build quality is exceptional. Nothing rattles, fit and finish is superb and most key contact points are lavishly upholstered in soft leather.
The switchgear has been updated too, and even the insides of the glovebox and centre console box are flocked to stop your odds and ends from sliding about.
Comfort: The front seats are huge, supportive and offer an exceptional range of adjustment.
Having integrated seat-heaters and a massage function also helps their appeal (to the extent that we found it difficult to leave the comfort of the GL 500 after engaging 'park' in the driveway).
The second row seats are just as accommodating, and outboard passengers in the second row also get heated seats.
Separate ventilation controls are provided for second-row occupants too, but for us the real highlight was the third row.
Not only do the two third-row seats rise independently out of the boot floor at the press of a button, but they’re spacious, supportive and comfortable enough for any moderately-sized adult.
That’s right. This is one of the few non-van based seven-seaters that can comfortably take seven full-grown adults and transport them great distances in great comfort.
The cupholder-equipped third row armrests are trimmed in the same leather as the rest of the cabin, and entry to the third row is simple thanks to the second row’s electric fold-away function.
Roof-mounted air outlets will also keep third row passengers comfortable on long drives, and the seats themselves have decent under-thigh and backrest support, not to mention plenty of headroom.
Equipment: Refreshingly for a European luxury car, the GL 500 is so well-equipped as standard that you probably won’t need to flick through the options catalogue.
Besides the usual luxuries of power everything (including tailgate), cruise control (radar-guided in the GL 500), and keyless entry and ignition, the GL 500 comes with plenty of other high-tech gear to ease the driver’s workload.
Bluetooth phone and audio integration will keep you connected and entertained, while sat-nav is also standard fit. Tri-zone climate control keeps passengers comfortable, and the rear cabin temp is also adjustable from the front seats.
A 360-degree camera system is a godsend in tight carparks, and can either display the view from a single camera angle, or combine them all to give a top-down view of the car’s surroundings.
Given the size of this car, Mercedes has thankfully seen fit to put it on the GL 500’s standard spec sheet.
A sunroof, bi-xenon headlamps, voice-command interface and internet connectivity are further deal-sweeteners. Like we said, there’s no need to option up a GL 500 - it’s already got everything you need, and then some.
Storage: Even with all seats raised, the GL provides ample room for cargo.
According to the VDA method, there’s 680 litres at a minimum and a whopping 2300 litres at a maximum, which translates to more than enough room for the weekly shop when the third row is up, and space sufficient for a living room’s worth of flat-pack with all seats folded flat.
There’s one annoyance, however. The retractable cargo blind interferes with the raising and lowering of the third row, and when removed there’s nowhere to stow it (other than having it intermingled with your cargo).
Other than that, the GL 500 makes a very appealing substitute for a van.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: With a kerb mass of 2445kg, the GL 500 is a real heavyweight.
But there's a 4.7 litre twin-turbocharged petrol V8 up front supplying all four wheels with 320kW and a whopping 700Nm of torque. That means it can punch like a heavyweight too.
With maximum torque available from 1800rpm, overtaking is a breeze. Steep hills don’t faze it; the powertrain barely flinches with a full load of passengers aboard and the GL 500 can blast to 100km/h from rest in just 5.4 seconds.
It’s also reasonably lag-free too. Having 4.7 litres of displacement certainly helps throttle responsiveness when the turbos are off boost.
For such a big, powerful engine, it’s (relatively) efficient as well.
Mercedes claims the GL 500 will return an average figure of 11.5 l/100km, which is rather optimistic. However, our result of 15.6 l/100km is still passingly good, considering we weren’t exactly gentle with the throttle at times.
Part of the credit for that must go to the GL’s seven-speed 7G Tronic automatic. In top gear the engine lopes along at low revs. It also strives to keep revs low when accelerating, although swift kickdown performance means it responds quickly should you need a sudden burst of power.
Refinement: The GL 500 is impressively quiet. Isolation from road and wind noise is great for an SUV, and at a cruise the engine’s note becomes a barely-audible thrum.
So quiet in fact that conversation between the first and third row doesn’t require anyone to raise a voice.
Suspension: All GL 500s come standard with self-levelling air suspension, which offers adjustable ride height for off-roading as well as two damping modes: comfort, and sport.
Comfort is the default, and the serene, softly-sprung ride it delivers is superb for both suburban and highway driving.
Sport is a bit of a gimmick in a car like this. It tightens up the damping and makes the car overly sensitive to small-amplitude bumps, but the payoff is impressively planted handling around corners and improved steering feel.
(Of course, whether you’ll ever need or care to use sport mode is debatable.)
Braking: The brake pedal feels a little spongy initially, but the brakes themselves do an admirable job of reining in the GL 500’s significant inertia.
With big rotors and calipers both front and rear, they should be more than adequate for heavy towing duty.
ANCAP rating: Not tested
Safety features: The GL 500 sports all the usual active safety aids (stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist), but also brings active cruise control, blind spot monitoring and lane keeping assist as standard.
That’s in addition to the GL 500’s suite of nine airbags - dual front airbags for the first row, side airbags for the first and second row, curtain airbags for the first and second row and a driver’s knee airbag.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Service costs: Service intervals are set for every 25,000km or 12 months, whichever occurs first. Servicing costs can vary, so consult your dealer.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Lexus LX 570 ($140,045) - Luxurious, massive, plenty of room for seven and a big ol’ petrol V8. The LX 570 is perhaps the closest competitor to Benz’s GL 500.
The LX’s Landcruiser origins make it feel a little less special than the Mercedes, but it’s got genuine off-road credentials and a fantastically smooth naturally-aspirated V8.
But it’s not as well-equipped as the GL 500, and it’s thirsty. Lexus claims the LX 570 returns an average of 14.8 l/100km on the combined cycle. (see LX reviews)
Land Rover Discovery 4 V8 ($129,545) - The Disco 4 might lack the cachet of others in this list, but its more compact dimensions, shorter wheelbase and shorter overhangs make it a better off-roader.
There’s room for seven passengers too, but the third row isn’t nearly as commodious as the GL 500’s. (see Discovery reviews)
Audi Q7 4.2 TDI Quattro ($128,800) - It’s starting to look a little old compared to the refreshed GL 500, but the Audi Q7 in top-tier 4.2 TDI form is arguably a more sensible choice when it comes to efficiency.
Its 4.2 litre turbo diesel V8 might only produce 250kW, but it cranks out a huge 800Nm of torque and consumes less fuel with a claimed figure of 9.2 l/100km. Diesel is arguably the better choice for a luxury seven-seater. (see Audi Q reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Well you’ll probably need to reinforce your fuel budget, but otherwise the GL 500 won’t disappoint.
Quality, space, power and refinement are abundant, and as a well-equipped and luxurious family hauler the GL 500 is hard to beat.
But if you can’t stomach the fuel consumption, there’s always the V6 turbo diesel of the GL 350. It drinks less (7.7 l/100km) and costs less ($129,900), but is no less well-equipped than its V8-powered big sister.
Take your pick. Either way, the GL-Class is a winner.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- GL 350 BlueTEC - $129,900
- GL 500 BlueEFFICIENCY - $154,900
- GL 63 AMG - $214,900
- Interested in buying ABARTH 500? Visit our ABARTH showroom for more information.