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Test Drive: Mercedes-Benz GL350

Mercedes-Benz GL350Cadillac RX AWDJaguar XJ SupersportNew York, New York – Reported by Mike Espindle for Elite Traveler, the private jet lifestyle magazine

Mercedes-Benz’s top-selling full-size SUV sports a long, long list of innovations for the new year, but the real story may well be the leaner, meaner and, yes, more eco-conscious power plants this second-generation big boy delivers.

While I expected, and fully enjoyed, the 4.6-liter bi-turbo V8 that powers the upper end of Mercedes-Benz’s latest GL series (the GL450 and GL550), at least part of the story for me is the new 240hp 3.0-liter turbo V6 diesel in the GL350 that delivered relatively gas-stingy performance (nearing four-cylinder engines) while still boldly powering this big seven-passenger beast from the rugged scrub outside Santa Fe to the alpine heights of ski resorts outside Taos, New Mexico on my recent test drive. While the 0 to 60 launch of the V6 was a bit pokey at just over eight seconds, once rolling it was hard to find a lot of performance shortfalls between it and the burlier (a growling 429hp in the GL550) V8 versions. But once rolling, any of these über-vehicles will more than service even the most robust needs of an owner’s country estate, working ranch or remote ski chalet.

A new optional active curve system is a case in point: Electronic sensors scan chassis orientation and weight load and a hydraulic pump and valve system redistributes vehicle load more evenly, keeping the entire vehicle (and its passengers) upright and stable on curves. It’s a nice drive-comfort enhancement for such a large vehicle, allowing long, looping curves at higher speeds on longer drives. Other new systems for the line include collision prevention, easy interior entry, parking assist and lane-keeping safety technologies as well as a very cool surround camera system that places an overhead-view CGI model of the SUV directly on a photo-realistic (down to a spilled cup of soda in a parking lot) depiction of the vehicle’s immediate surroundings.

Outside, the SUV is longer, wider and taller and (especially with the GL550’s flared wheel arches, exposed tailpipes and deeper aprons) less truck-y in appearance than the first generation. An optional on-/off-road package tosses in a bunch of automatic gearing flexibility, vehicle height adjustment as well as a two-speed, electronically controlled transfer case, and all models of the GL come with legendary MB 4MATIC all-wheel drive capability.

Inside, expect plush leather and wood details, heated front-row seats and an uncannily easy fold-down system to stow the third-row seats (together or separately) with virtually zero effort.

But it’s the secure, steady, comfortable and thrilling on-road performance of the GL family that sticks in my mind. It is hard to picture a better blend of size, luxury and comfort for the elite family that demands a large-scale “ute,” and with a sticker price well under $100,000 (about $88,000 for the top-of-the-line GL550, in fact), the new iteration of this workhorse presents a more appealing punch than ever before.

www.cadillac.com

Jaguar XJ Supersport
A touring sedan with a real sense of style (check out the 20-inch wheels, bright red brake calipers, black grille and panoramic glass roof), this special 510hp supercharged V8 version of Jaguar’s flagship is certain to evoke double takes. The style continues inside with cutting-edge carbon fiber touches, easy-to-read digital dials lit by pools of soft blue light, red-stitched black leather, purple felt in the glove box and on the center console, and a 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Base price: About $112,000.

www.jaguarusa.com