2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Driving Impressions

Dynamically, the GL models chew up interstates, tackle washboard roads at brisk speeds with minimal shake, and feel far more like a land yacht that a Mack tractor. Kudos to the AIRMATIC system.

The 2013 GL-Class comes with 4MATIC all-wheel drive as standard equipment, giving drivers traction in wintry conditions and on slippery surfaces.

The Environmental Protection Agency hasn't released official mileage figures for the GL-Class.

The GL550 generates more power than does the GL450, but it felt like it had only minimally more thrust.

The diesel advantage of the GL350 BlueTEC is fuel efficiency.

The 7-speed automatic transmission shifts very quickly in Manual mode, the driver changing gears using paddles on the steering wheel.

In a vehicle with a high center of gravity, like most sizable SUVs, the Airmatic is a bit of a miracle in this application; it that employs air bladders instead of coil springs to adjust ride height. Adaptive damping allows the driver to select the Comfort or Sport setting for a softer ride or sportier handling.

Most of the nanny systems incorporated in these models work seamlessly, although it took a bit of getting used to the lane departure check, which operates at speeds above 37 mph, using a small camera in the windshield that recognizes lane markings. Using the electronic stability program to intervene, the system will vibrate the steering wheel or bump the steering back on course if one strays over the lines. Blind-spot is a no-brainer: very useful.

The brakes are big and commendable, which is important on a 5,400-pound vehicle: On GL450 and GL550, 14.8-inch ventilated and perforated rotors provide stopping power up front, and there are 13.6-inch disc brakes ventilated and perforated in back. The GL63 AMG employs larger front discs (15.4 inches). The less powerful GL350 uses smaller front discs (13.8 inches) and they are not perforated.

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