My year with our long-term, 2013 SUV Of The Year-winning Mercedes GL350 Bluetec is up. I’ve actually had it a couple of months past the year, but sometimes it’s hard to let go. We consider our Of The Year testing to be exhaustive in detail, but actually living with a vehicle for a year reveals strengths and weaknesses we couldn’t otherwise find. It’s hard to simulate every situation during testing because it turns out randomness is hard to plan.

One soft spot that doesn’t pop up during SUOTY testing is maintenance costs. In normal maintenance I rang up a grand total of $1467 in 35,000 miles. In the same time, $837 went for normal consumables consisting of front and rear brake pads. Those of you who have been following along know the tires were replaced, but that was an experiment and the stock tires still had plenty of life left in them. With that said, our long-term 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid covered a mere 26,909 miles and its ownership cost the magazine $1096.21 in maintenance and $2532.05 in consumables, and it actually required a set of tires. A much cheaper alternative was our 2011 Infiniti QX56, which covered 30,045 miles and cost $686 in maintenance with no consumables.

The only other downside of the giant family-hauler was that the DVD system isn’t particularly easy to use. The interface is less than intuitive and it wasn’t even used once a month, so every time it was fired up was like the first time. One of the biggest problems with the system -- and every in-car system I can remember -- is that while the vehicle is in motion, you can only see the movie on the rear screens. That’s a great idea, as you shouldn’t be watching “Toy Story” while driving. The problem is, my 2-year-old can’t navigate the DVD menus to get the movie started, and the driver can’t do it from the front, so the passenger has to twist around to try and see the screens, or if there’s no passenger I have to stop and pull over to do it from the front.

On the upside, the GL was one of the best road-trippers we’ve ever had in the fleet. The active suspension, good steering, great seats, and spacious cabin made the miles melt away effortlessly. It’s also worth noting the diesel returned an average of 21.1 mpg over test period, but seeing 26 on road trips was the norm. On the rare occasion that the son and wife were asleep, the road empty and stars aligned, the GL could run for 600 miles on a single tank. It’s the little things that make you happy sometimes.

Our Real MPG testing compared pretty well with actual observed mileage. The EPA rates the GL at 19 mpg city, which is what our RMPG shows, but while the EPA gives a highway rating of 26 mpg, our instrumented number is 27 mpg. Highway speed definitely plays a big role in economy, so I tried to keep the adaptive cruise control set at a reasonable level.

Our GL as configured cost $88,615, which is still a steal given the amount of equipment and the overall quality of the SUV. Looking at 3-year residuals, the GL would retain 54 percent of its original price with a projected value of $47,852. That compares pretty favorably to the Infiniti QX56, which retained 52 percent of its purchase price. Let’s not talk about the Cayenne -- it retained only 40 percent.

The GL functions fantastically as a single-person commuter. Visibility is great in normal driving. The 360-degree camera system makes it easy to maneuver and park even if it is outside the normal size of typical Southern California parking spaces. There is however a slight, aching feeling driving a huge seven passenger SUV by yourself. Heck, I felt a little guilty piloting this thing with just my wife, 30-pound child, and myself. There were a couple of occasions we filled it up pretty well, but it was never stuffed from floor to ceiling. During the entire year I had the GL, I think we may have justified the size of the GL twice, and that was only because there were seven adults in it. If we had another couple of kids, then it might make sense, but when I see other families of three or four driving something of this size, I don’t get it. The GL is still our current benchmark for big SUVs in this price range. It will be missed, and right now there is nothing on the market I can see replacing it.


Our Car
SERVICE LIFE 16 mo / 34,811 mi
BASE PRICE $63,305
PRICE AS TESTED $88,615
OPTIONS P02 Package ($5850: COMAND w/ nav, driver and front passenger memory seats, soft-close doors), Driver Assistance Package ($2800: Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring), Lighting Package ($1290: bi-xenon headlights, high-beam assist), Parking Assist Package ($1290: Parktronic parking assist, surround-view cameras), Active Curve System ($2900), 2nd-row entertainment system ($1950), Almond Beige leather ($1620), Diamond White metallic paint ($1515), tri-zone climate control ($1450), driver and front passenger massaging seats ($1100), adaptive shocks ($1050), 20-in wheels ($750), heated/cooled front seats ($570), trailer hitch ($550), 2nd-row power release ($400), heated steering wheel ($225)
AVG ECON/CO2 21.1 mpg / 1.05 lb/mi
PROBLEM AREAS Sticking liftgate-close button
MAINTENANCE COST $1466.97 (3-oil change, AdBlue top-off; 2-change brake fluid; 1-cabin-air filter)
NORMAL-WEAR COST $837.11 (replace front/rear brake pads)
3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE* $47,852
RECALLS 2nd-row seatbelt anchor bolts
*Automotive Lease Guide data