Anyone who has ridden a tandem bike with no one on the back seat will have some idea of what it’s like to drive the GL Mercedes-Benz 4WD. This is a BIG bit of US-built German SUV and if space and seats are what you need, the GL offers ample of both.
We’re sampling the GL 350 CDI Luxury model, which features the uprated turbodiesel 195kW/620Nm V6 to shift its considerable girth a little quicker than previously, thanks to 30 extra kiloWatts and 90 more Newton-metres.
With a six-figure pricetag the term value is something of a misnomer, but in metal-for-money terms it’s a half-decent deal.
The $131,490 start price gets a long features list – as you would expect – auto-dimming mirrors inside and out, bi-xenon active headlights, ambient lighting, electric front seats with memory, leather trim, front and rear climate control, 20in alloys (up from 19in on the “entry-level” 350CDI), satellite navigation, a 6-disc CD/DVD player, parking sensors front and rear, a reversing camera, an electrically-operated rear bootlid, active bi-xenon headlights, LED running and tail lights.
The test behemoth was carrying the optional Premium and Vision packages; Premium – which adds $4600 to the bottom line – puts heated and ventilated front seats and the Distronic active cruise control on the features list.
The Vision Package – a $4900 step up in the asking price – puts the impressive Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system, keyless entry and start, a sunroof, pop-out rear “vent” windows and useful bi-folding front sun visors.
The GL’s updated V6 engine builds on an already-strong package – the common-rail direct-injection V6 is equipped with piezo injectors and delivers reasonable outputs almost like a petrol engine – albeit it with more torque.
The 620Nm is on offer from 1600 through to 2400rpm – not the widest rev-range but peak power arrives at 3800rpm. The all-wheel drive system can be left to its own devices or the driver has the option of locking the centre and rear differentials, as well as access to low range at the push of a button.
Ride height is adjustable – up to a useful 307mm maximum in the highest off-road mode – although the system feels a little slower than some of its opposition.
There’s not much in the way of creativity when it comes to this segment – long, tall, wide and brawny of stance, the GL seven-seater is elegant in an elephantine manner.
Passenger space is not an issue inside, with all three rows of seats offering enough space for adults, although the electrically-controlled third row would best be left to the rugrats for a long journey.
The third row does take some of the depth from the bootspace, but there’s still a decent load capacity, if not as cavernous as the exterior would suggest.
The three-pointed star brings an expectation of high levels of safety and the GL doesn’t disappoint. There’s stability control (including the trailer stabilising function), anti-lock brakes, the Presafe accident preparation system, eight airbags (dual front, 1st and 2nd row side airbags and full length curtain airbags), active front head restraints and a tyre pressure warning system are among the safety features highlights.
Combining a wide range of tasks into one machine – that’s the fundamental principle behind an SUV and the reason for their growing popularity.
The GL model range is part people-mover, part off-roader, part prestige car and it completes all of these jobs with reasonable ease. Granted, it’s not going to chase down a sportscar but the GL feels like it can cover all manner of terrain without serious concern.
There’s a reason why people like to drive these things – the feeling of complete security almost regardless of the road conditions – with the auto mode on the adjustable suspension being the most useful setting for occupant comfort and the driver’s control.
Sport mode tries manfully to fight bodyroll but becomes too brittle for the passengers, while comfort mode goes a little too far in the other direction, becoming somewhat “roly-poly.” The turbodiesel V6 is impressive, although the long travel throttle pedal needs a big prod to get things underway at anything more than a leisurely pace; once into the meaty part of the engine’s outputs, the big Benz surges forward with gusto.
The driver is well looked after, with active cruise control, wheel-mounted controls for most of the information and entertainmentsystems, which includes the Bluetooth phone and the integrated iPod, tucked out of reach in the glovebox (perhaps the centre console might be a more convenient locale).
One bugbear is the stalk for the automatic transmission – while it frees up more centre console storage space but it’s too easy to flick it by accident, something that would take quite some time with which to become familiar.
The adjustable suspension dawdles a bit when changing ride heights, but once up, with the pushbutton low-range and centre and rear diff locks engaged, the big Benz clambers over mud and slippery stuff without complaint, even on the road-biased rubber.
The side steps are tickled a little – thanks to the long wheelbase perhaps – but getting seven people to a remote locale would be easily achieved.
The leviathan of the Mercedes-Benz range is a capable and comfortable all-rounder, but those faint-of-heart may well be optioning up a few more proximity systems until they get used to the girth.
Kid-carting, towing and prestige factors are well covered by the big Benz – in the same manner as the Range Rover and Lexus opposition, the GL will (if the bank balance can sustain the damage bill) go a long way off the beaten track.
Unlike the new Range Rover Vogue, it’s weight is not as well hidden from the driver, who is always conscious of its girth.
|Exterior Color||Solid White|