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Fall Drives: Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec and Acura RDX

Total utilitarian and definitely in style...
Mercedes-Benz, Acura

Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec, Acura RDX

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There are few experiences more exhilarating than taking to the open road in a hot whip, smack dab in the middle of the changing seasons—summer to fall. And when you’re rolling in an SUV combining the elements of style, performance and technology, doing so either solo or with passengers in tow is like paradise.

Next question: Compact at under $50 or full size and loaded at $100—K, of course?

2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec
Base: $62,400
Tested: $99,840
Passenger seating: 7 on 3 rows
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg combined (19 city/26 highway)
Miles per tank: 523
Annual Fuel: $2,700

If you’re going full size SUV, hands down, clean diesel or hybrid is the way to go. With that said, the Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec sits graciously at the top of the food chain in terms of everything!

Style
With model year 2013 ushering in GL’s second generation, it all begins with looks. Sleek, sweeping sidelines fall back from a dazzling front fascia led by the nose of its bodacious grill from which two bedazzling sets of lights peel from the sides and below-including the brand’s signature LED daytime running lights. And while you might think the optional 20-inch twin five-spoke rims would look best, the 19’s aint bad either.

Interiors range from standard Mercedes leather to four $1,600 leather color choices or three super premium “designo leathers” in black, porcelain and brown, at $4,800. But make no mistake, at $4,800, the designo options—particularly the “designo Auburn Brown Leather” with burl walnut trim, has the high-end look and feel you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz, less any over the top bling.

Comfort
SUV’s with third row seating are often perceived as cumbersome to operate. Not here. Full size doors with powered released on both sides of the second row’s split seats makes it possible for the grown and sexy to enter and sit comfortably on the third row, then exit with grace and dignity. While the $620 heated rear seats and $1,090 panoramic sunroof definitely make a difference, the $6,800 Bang & Olufsen sound system for satellite radio, iPod integration and Bluetooth audio will get you to and from points a to b, as if you were seated on the front row of a concert.

Performance
While GL’s at every trim level have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds, the 350 BlueTec’s 3.0 liter turbodiesel V6 engine remains the smallest engine of all trim levels (other options: a 4.6 liter V8 and 5.5 liter V8). Yet with just 240 turbo charged horses under the hood, it musters up 455 lb-ft of torque under the command of a seven-speed automatic transmission. Translation: 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, which aint bad at all for a vehicle weighing 5,835 pounds. On handling, the GL’s German engineering makes commandeering virtually effortless, yet superbly engaging whether on the highway or city streets thanks to features such as self leveling air suspension and electromechanical steering.

Technology
The GL is stocked with goodies. Active Curve Illumination with Adaptive Highbeam Assist makes seeing around curves as easy as straight road viewing at night. A system constantly monitoring more than 70 variables begins to observe within the first minutes you begin to drive in order to establish when to warn you to snap out of it and become more alert. What an advantage (especially for long drives) from the pioneering manufacturer on safety innovation! The radar sensors in Distronic Plus having the ability to slow down, brake, bring the vehicle to a complete stop and resume while cruise control is active. In combination with Pre-Safe, radar has the ability to detect the possibility of a collision, brace passengers in seat belts and apply full brakes when it detects the potential of impact. Electronic Stability Program keeps the vehicle on course in cases of extreme maneuvers. Brake Assist will maximize braking pressure to shorten stopping distance if it suspects an emergency. If you lift off the gas suddenly, Predictive Brake Priming pulls the brakes pads closer. Automatic Brake Drying applies gentle pressure to sweep water build up off the pads. Too tired to park? Parktronic with Active Parking Assist will find a spot and place the GL perfectly into a parking space. All you have to do is shift into reverse and hit “OK” on the multifunction steering wheel to allow the vehicle sensors to complete the task. That, along with text message readouts, an onboard internet connection for passengers and a plethora of other safety innovations—is what sets the GL apart from nearly all other full size SUV’s.

2014 Acura RDX AWD Tech
Base: $39,620
Passenger seating: 5 on 2 rows
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg combined (19 city/27 highway)
Miles per tank: 317
Annual Fuel: $2,550

Style
Following its model year 2007 debut, Acura’s fun to drive, spunky, compact luxury crossover utility vehicle seemed to blossom out of puberty and into adulthood with its second generation introduction in 2013. A smoother nose on the front fascia, the brands new signature grill and new housing for both the headlights and fog lamps work together better than ever before to bring forth the feeling of understated luxury that appeals to the average Acura brand aficionado. The rear fascia with its new taillights has more of a full size luxury feel that surpasses the first generation by far. The rims are standard at 18-inches. On the interior, subtle bling somewhat dazzles the eyes with the look of nickel accents across the dash and noticeably new housing for the now higher positioned 8.5-inch monitor above the center stack.

Comfort
Still, what you see is what you get (wsyiwyg) in terms of the controls, which for many is a blessing, unlike other vehicles where one control performs multiple functions that often requires a bit of getting used to. While this has been a criticism of fans who prefer German brands, it remains a highlight to Acura lovers who opt for simplicity. The driver seating is very enveloping from the side bolsters to total overall support. That in combination with the new Amplitude Reactive Dampers makes for a nice, cushy ride.

Performance
Long gone are the days of the first generation’s four-cylinder turbo engine. With an additional 33 horses, the new 3.5 liter V6 housing 273 horses is guided by a new six-speed transmission, which altogether produces 251 lb-ft. of torque. But even in the absence of the turbo engine, RDX maintains its spunk whereby requiring a bit of getting used to the amount of pressure required to get going, all of which adds to the fun of driving. Great stability comes from the pitbull-like wide stance and the intelligent All Wheel Drive despite weighing nearly 100 pounds less than the previous generation. Speaking of which, the verdict is still out on the absence of the previous Super Handling All Wheel Drive’s ability to direct more power to rear wheels when and where needed. Even so, with a smoother ride, RDX is still fun to drive, especially on the highway. And scheduled tune-ups are required around the 100,000 mile point, which is a great value within itself.

Technology
The All Wheel Drive with Technology Package is the top of the line trim level for RDX. It’s priced above the $34,520 base, the $35,920 base with AWD and the $38,220 base model with Technology Package. Aside from base model standards such as push to start ignition, heated front seats, Bluetooth and a moonroof, the Tech Pack adds a host of options in one shot. The ability to see text messages and emails on the 8.5 inch monitor, have them read aloud, then respond while remaining road focused (via preformatted reply options) comes with the package. The Acura Navigation System’s voice recognition is a cinch to operate whether trying to request a destination or find a song on your iPod. Speaking of music, the package includes a 10-speaker surrounds sound system. The automatic climate control system includes filtration. And the tailgate is powered on both the open and close.

For a luxury class compact crossover right at the $40K mark, the RDX is a hot commodity!