Story and photos by Rob Beintema
Metroland Media/Wheelstalk.com –
Bowmanville, ON – The pulse quickens a little when a driving invitation lists Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (formerly Mosport) as the driving venue.
Closer inspection reveals that the track is just a staging point for road and trail tests of the latest SUV models from Mercedes-Benz. But that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be boring.
There’s still plenty of excitement to be had, albeit at lower speeds, when Canadian automotive journalists get a chance to see what’s new for 2013 in Mercedes’ family of four “offroaders”.
Now, I slapped those quotation marks around the “offroader” tag because some of these vehicles are more trail competent than others. Most modern SUVs are more about attitude than aptitude, selling the image rather than the reality.
Because, frankly, most SUV owners rarely venture off the asphalt further than the overflow parking area of an antique market, or to brave the occasional cabin or camping trail.
But the evolution of sport utility carries on with a convergence of all-condition driving security enhanced by new benchmark levels of luxury and comfort, especially here in a revised 2013 Mercedes-Benz lineup.
Let’s begin at the bottom – if there is such a thing in a Mercedes lineup – and work our way up, starting with the GLK (Gelandewagen Leicht Kurz or cross-country vehicle, light, compact).
The GLK 350 4MATIC ($44,900) maintains its distinctive, high-top sneaker profile but it ups the power with a new 3.5-litre direct injection CGI V6, making 302 hp and 273 lb/ft of torque.
The new engine features ECO start/stop technology that shuts the motor down to eliminate idling (like a hybrid).
There are new paint choices for 2013 and interior tweaks include a swap in positions for the turn signal and cruise stalks. A variety of options and packages including AMG treatment are available.
I don’t want to give the game away early, but this was my first and favourite drive of the day. The GLK 350 4MATIC blends all the right ingredients in a nimble, supple and powerful package that is less ponderous that the GL, less ambiguous than the ML and less eccentric than the top-of-the-line G Class.
The GLK seems to resonate with Canadians. Ours is the only market in the world where the GLK outsells the Audi Q5.
For 2013, the rear-wheel-drive model has been dropped but a later addition of a new GLK 250 BlueTEC 4MATIC model will feature the first application of a 2.2-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel in the Canadian lineup, a motor making 190 hp and 361 lb/ft of torque. The GLK 250 BlueTEC 4MATIC ($TBA) will be coming to dealers soon.
The GL (Gelandewagen Leicht) – not compact, and not really all that light – rolls with the confident aplomb of a suitably decorated land yacht.
Mercedes refers to the GL as the S-Class of SUVS. It is bigger and roomier than the GLK and offers ultimate comforts, pulling out all the stops with premium positioning and a wealth of standard and available technologies.
Some of those technologies for 2013, beyond the usual traction control and assisted ABS systems, include AIRMATIC with adaptive damping, Acceleration Skid Control (ASR), PRE-SAFE anticipatory occupant protection system, Blind Spot Assist, Lane-Keeping Assist, Crosswind Assist, Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR), Hill Start Assist, Attention Assist, Collision Prevention Assist, Active Curve Systems, Night View Assist, PARKTRONIC with active parking assist and a Parking System with 360-degree cameras. Whew!
The ECO start/stop feature will also be added later in the vehicle’s lifecycle.
The all-new second-generation 2013 GL lineup comes in model choices that include the GL 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC ($73,700), GL 450 4MATIC ($75,900), and GL 550 ($95,900). A top-of-the-lineup GL 63 AMG model ($TBA) will be added in early 2013.
The M-Class name has evolved, as have the ML (Mehrzweck Leicht or multi-purpose light) models within.
Okay, we’ve stepped a little out of the price progression sequence but the M-Class lineup actually spans a price range of its own with a wide selection of model choices and packages in what is arguably the most car-like SUV in the Mercedes stable.
The M-Class lineup got a major overhaul for 2012 with new powertrains, more technologies and other revisions. The exterior look shifted to a more rugged style while somehow staying in touch with the familial cues of sedans like the E-Class. The interior went in the other direction, with new levels of sedan-like refinement.
For 2013, Mercedes is stressing the addition of the brand’s across-the-board Collision Prevention Assist and also offers most of the available technologies mentioned above in the GL.
The M-Class lineup blends the best of wagon, SUV and minivan qualities in a premium package, and it features the ML 350 4MATIC ($58,900), the ML 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC ($60,400), the ML 550 4MATIC ($76,500) and the ML 63 AMG ($100,900).
The original Gelandewangen is instantly recognizable because of its iconic boxy shape.
I don’t know if “rugged opulence” is an oxymoron but the G-Class somehow pulls off both qualities. In civilian form, this uber-SUV may seem to be somewhat of a fashion affectation, sort of like having your muck boots designed by Armani. But it is an effective affectation, with truck-like body-on-frame construction, three locking differentials and a choice of two powerful V8 engines.
The G-Class, originally designed for military use, supports over 60 armies and was chosen for use by Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.
Although our driving day familiarized us with the entire Mercedes SUV lineup, a good portion was dedicated to the launch and testing of the refreshed G-Class on a grueling offroad course carved through the woods around Mosport’s track.
The G’s narrow track and width allows it access to the kind of trails that usually limit admission to serious bush bashers made by competitors like Jeep and Land Rover.
The terrain verifies some of the number crunches on the spec sheet – 21 cm of ground clearance, a fording depth of 60 cm and driving stability at inclined angles of up to 54 per cent, along with sharp angles of approach and departure.
The two-model lineup includes the G 550 ($120,900) that we tested offroad, and the pimped-up, more street-oriented G 63 ($149,900).
The G 63 replaces the former G 55 and harnesses a 536 hp bi-turbo 5.5-litre V8 that can hustle the G 63’s more than two and a half tons of mass down the road almost as quick as you can yell “Mein Lieber Gott!” (or in 5.4 seconds from 0-100 km/h).
Whether it’s bought for bragging rights or for its potential as a post-Apocalyptic getaway vehicle, the G-Class is in a niche of its own, with the kind of road rarity that is enough incentive for those who can afford it.
And, along with the GL, GLK and ML models, it reflects the culmination of the premium mix of abilities, luxuries and style that distinguishes the entire four-vehicle Mercedes-Benz SUV lineup.