If luxury, full-sized SUVs are ideally designed to transport people (on- or off-road), and if those people are generally considered to be important (e.g., family), then engineering a vehicle with an excellence in execution in the latest active safety technology while also providing performance, style, and overall cosseting of up to seven passengers (remember, we are talking a luxury vehicle here, with a starting price of +$62,000) is what needs to be done.
Meet the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, a seven-passenger SUV that provides safety, comfort and capability in spades, whether one opts for the multitudinous options or not.
Consider this: COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST (Mercedes uses all caps, in case you’re wondering). This is a radar system that looks ahead of the vehicle. It measures the closing distance between the GL and whatever (other vehicle, wall) and a processor determines whether there is a potential collision. Having a safety system of this type isn’t new, but what’s different is that while the others tend to operate at low speeds, essentially for urban traffic only, this system works at speeds up to 155 mph (realize that although the primary market for the GL is the U.S., it is available in places like Germany, where speeds like 155 mph can be realized—legally). The first step is that there is a visual warning in the instrument cluster. The second is that there is an audible warning: BEEP, BEEP, BEEP (our caps in this case). Then the brakes come into play, with the system working to amplify what the driver has undoubtedly done by now: depress the brake pedal. M. Bart Herring, general manager, Product Management at Mercedes-Benz USA, points out that what ordinarily happens in impending collision situations is that the driver doesn’t get on the brakes with sufficient vigor. The COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST makes sure the required binding is brought into play.
This is new Mercedes tech. And it is standard on the GL.
Know that this vehicle is sumptuous on the inside (Herring describes it as the “S-Class of SUVs”; there are various woods and aluminums, leather, an optional 1,200-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system). Know that this vehicle has a fully load-bearing AIRMATIC air suspension system with an adaptive shock-absorbing system. Know that there is 4MATIC permanent four-wheel drive, so that surfaces are pretty much surfaces, wet or dry, snowy or otherwise.
Know that one can be lulled into a certain sense of . . . well, this brings us to another safety tech that’s in the GL: the ATTENTION ASSIST system (their caps—and appropriate). It works like this. During the first 20 minutes of driving, a sensor in the steering wheel provides information to a software system that uses 70 parameters to categorize the driver’s steering behavior. This base profile is then used to compare the steering inputs that are made when the vehicle is traveling at speeds between 50 and 112 mph (again, remember that this is being sold in other markets). Should anomalies be determined, then there is an audible warning coupled with a message—“Time for a Rest?”—and an icon of a coffee cup.
And there’s more. Like Active Lane Keeping Assist. Here, there is a camera/computer combo. The system is activated at speeds above 37 mph. The system recognizes lane markings. The system knows whether the vehicle is beginning to go over the lane markings and the driver hasn’t used a turn signal (thereby indicating there is an actual intention to cross the line). If there is a drift over the line, the system activates a small motor that causes a rumble-strip like vibration in the steering wheel that’s meant to make the driver make the appropriate adjustment. If that doesn’t happen, then there is the possibility of the system using the brakes to correct the car’s course (i.e., in effect inhibiting it from rushing in the wrong direction).
And there’s always more. Like Crosswind Assist. Now one might image that something like the gusts that occur when traveling at above 50 mph and passing a semi or driving on something like the Mackinaw Bridge wouldn’t have an effect on a vehicle with a curb weight of 5,401 lb. or more* (depending on the model GL selected). But be that as it may, there is standard Crosswind Assist. Again, it is about specifically applying the brakes as required. The sensors from the stability control system, the air suspension, and the electromechanical steering system provide the Crosswind Assist system with data, indicating whether there is a gust of wind (not steady crosswinds, just gusts when the driver is traveling straight or through slight curves). To accommodate for the gust, the system applies braking to the front and rear wheels on the upwind side of the vehicle, thereby helping the vehicle maintain direction with reduced steering wheel input adjustment.
Yes, things like that are what you do if you’re engineering a full-size luxury SUV.
So what does it look like?
“The new GL’s design is representa-tive of the Mercedes SUV lineup. From the side view it has a balanced, roadworthy appearance, and a sense of dynamic energy through the shoulder line and the raised beltline. There are short front and rear overhangs that are good for ingress and egress in off-road driving. The AMG package has slightly extended wheel flares for a better stance, a more-aggressive feel. The front has the hallmark upright grille, with the Mercedes star in the center. The headlamps are wrap-around and they have an LED line along the upper surface called a ‘flare,’ a touch that gives the car a signature look. The daytime running lights are also LEDs. The bumper has large chrome lower.
“At the rear of car the taillights have a fiber optic wing design that provides a unique signature for day or nighttime driving. Has a wing off the top back that is good for aerodynamics—it has the lowest Cd in its segment, compared to Q7 and other full-size SUVs.** It’s got standard 18-in. wheels on the 350 BlueTec. Can go up to 19-in. or 21-in. with the AMG package. There is a range of wheels, from five- to 10-spokes. It is a new, more modern interpretation of the previous generation, the first generation of GL.”—Alan Barrington, designer, Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Division
Barrington works in the Mercedes studio in Carlsbad, CA. The U.S.-focus of the vehicle notwithstanding, the vehicle wasn’t designed there, but at the studio in Germany.
About that U.S. focus. In 2011 Mercedes sold 25,139 GLs in the U.S. That makes it the second best-selling vehicle in the company’s lineup, second only to the M Class.
What do the GL and the M Class have in common? Both of them are produced in the Mercedes-Benz Tuscaloosa, Alabama plant. Both of them are uniquely produced in the Tuscaloosa plant, as this is the place from whence all of those vehicles come, on a global basis. The plant went into production in 1997, producing the M Class. (Additionally, the R-Class is produced in Tuscaloosa.)
Mercedes invested in excess of $2-billion in the plant to prepare for the production of the 2012 M-Class, the 2013 GL, and the C-Class. At the time of the 2012 M-Class launch in July 2011, Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the Daimler Board of Management and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, said, “We’re continuing to write new chapters of the plant’s success story with significant investments into the future. Tuscaloosa was the first production location of Mercedes-Benz Cars ever outside Germany, and today it is among our best. As our ‘pioneering plant,’ it is also the blueprint for our new operations in emerging markets.”
When the first 2013 GL came off the line at Tuscaloosa, Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, Daimler AG Board of Management member responsible for Manufacturing and Procurement, Mercedes-Benz Cars and Mercedes-Benz Vans, stated, “Quality is our first priority. The team in Tuscaloosa is doing a great job in executing a flawless launch of the GL—just like last year with the M-Class. That puts us into a very good position for the important launches here in Tuscaloosa in the future.”
The C-Class will launch in the plant in 2014. (When this occurs, there will be four global production locations for that vehicle: the home plant in Bremen, Germany, as well as sites in South Africa and China.) And, in 2015, there will be another, yet-to-be-revealed product built at the Tuscaloosa plant. Presumably the people in Sindelfingen have a lot of confidence in the folks in Alabama.