In our testing, the big GL350 comes as close to perfection as any big SUV can. However, it stumbled badly when we pushed it to its handling limits.
The GL was redesigned for 2013 and in most respects, it shapes up as a top competitor: supremely comfortable, quiet, and responsive, with a cushy ride and ample seating for seven people. We tested the diesel version, the GL350 BlueTec. (See our complete Mercedes GL road test.)
The problem arose, as the video below demonstrates, during our key standard emergency handling test, an avoidance maneuver. This is a rapid double-lane-change, conducted at increasing speeds. As the GL reaches its limits, the stability control system seems to get overwhelmed and the large SUV bogs down, running wide of its cornering line. The GL only reluctantly returns to its intended path.
That clumsiness is disconcerting to say the least and quickly saps a driver's confidence. Even some big, lumbering heavy-duty pickups we've tested recently have done better in that test. The GL doesn't threaten to roll over, spin out or anything like that, but its performance limits in this test are too low.
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Decent emergency-handling performance is essential for any vehicle we test. The fact that the GL350 BlueTec falls down there is quite perplexing for a Mercedes and a serious disappointment given this vehicle's multiple other virtues. We really liked the GL's ride, which is the most composed and comfortable of any SUV we've tested. Even ordinary handling proves surprisingly agile for such a plush coach. The diesel version is particularly interesting, since it delivers a healthy mid-range punch while averaging a very respectable 20 mpg. With its long 700-mile cruising range, you could motor from Indianapolis to New York City on a single tank.
Mercedes-Benz would be well advised to recalibrate the GL's stability control system or do whatever else it may take to rectify this otherwise wonderful SUV's performance. Until then, we won't recommend the GL.
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