We rolled into the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee at about 8:30 p.m. on December 22 in the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL450 in plenty of time to find some dinner, especially with twenty-four-hour Ma Fischer’s or George Webb’s as a backup. But we wanted to eat at our favorite pizza place, which is north of Bay View on the East Side, and it closes at 10:30 p.m. We had to check into our AirB2B rental and drop off the two dogs plus our luggage and a load of Christmas presents. And it was snowing.
Forty-five minutes later, it was up to how the four-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz GL450 with its Pirelli Scorpion Ice & Snows tackled traffic and slick road surfaces as temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit. Quickly falling snow was accumulating on the ground. The tires grabbed the slippery pavement assuredly. The SUV turned when I turned the wheel, and the brakes brought it to a quick, reassuring stop. There’s enough steering feel to conspire with seat-of-the-pants feedback to give fair warning of how close the Merc might be to losing grip. As deputy editor Joe DeMatio has said of the GL450, it drives smaller than it is.
The only real obstacles were other cars and trucks, although at this hour in this weather on a Monday night, traffic was pretty light. Traveling on a combination of I-94 and surface streets, we made it to Lisa’s Pizza on North Oakland Avenue with time to spare. We were the last customers of the night.
And so the holidays came and went. Although we don’t have a traditional family -- no kids save for the collies -- and we don’t own a traditional family car, we found the Mercedes-Benz GL450 to be the optimum conveyance for the 380-mile trek around the south shore of Lake Michigan. With the second and third rows flipped down, my wife and I were able to bring along the two dogs, presents for each other and my family, and our luggage, using both the interior cargo space and a Yakima bag on the roof.
The Yakima bag was strapped to the longitudinal bars on the roof because, unlike our Four Season BMW X1 and Acura MDX, the chrome bars are not flush to the sheetmetal of the Benz’s top. You don’t need OEM crossbars to make this kind of bag work. Presumably, the bars on the BMW and Acura don’t produce as much wind noise and are perhaps more aerodynamic, but the Yakima bag, strapped down as tightly as possible with bungee cords, didn’t noticeably affect fuel efficiency. In fact, indicated average fuel mileage climbed a few tenths on the freeway from the 16.6 mpg displayed on the dash when we started out.
Over our short, four-day holiday/vacation, the Benz-Scorpion combo easily handled both slick and deep snow, including only partially plowed street parking in front of our B2B craftsman bungalow. Tire Rack says the Scorpion compound “is molded into a subtly asymmetric tread design that features a stable shoulder area to enhance dry road handling … while angled independent tread blocks with circumferential and lateral sipes help the tire bite into snow.”
Just before we left for Milwaukee, I slowly pulled the GL450 into a grocery store parking space, during which the head-toss that both senior editor Joe Lorio and New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman have complained about was more noticeable. On the freeways between metro Detroit and Milwaukee, however, the GL’s comfortable but not sloppy ride made for a pleasant trip, and both my wife and I made good use of the power lumbar support in both front seats. The winter tires add a marginal level of road noise over the stock Continental 4x4 Contacts.
The only regrets about the GL are that it isn’t a turbodiesel and that I didn’t find the heated steering wheel button earlier. Despite diesel-thickening temperatures, that engine option would have saved a couple of long, cold, $80 premium unleaded fill-ups along the way.
The heated steering wheel control is perhaps too logically placed. Don’t look for a button on the dash or on the steering wheel. It’s a tiny stalk parallel to the cruise control stalk on the steering column, closer to the dash. I hope Lorio and road test editor Chris Nelson found it in time for the Mercedes-Benz GL’s next winter adventure.