This week, we bring you the new GL-class – a seven-seat, American-built car with four-wheel drive.
This might imply that Mercedes-Benz is running out of ideas, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The new GL is an even bigger, more butch SUV than the firm’s existing M-class.
The differences being that the GL can seat seven people, is priced much higher to compete with cars such as the Range Rover and will debut the company’s V8 diesel engine in the UK.
When it arrives in the UK in September, the GL420 CDI will offer a colossal 516lb-ft of torque under its bonnet in the next part of a far-reaching programme from Mercedes-Benz to seek out extra business in niche sales areas.
The 4.0-litre GL420 CDI promises an ‘outstandingly smooth’ demeanour along with claimed average fuel economy of 24.4mpg.
Developing more than 306bhp, the third-generation common-rail CDI engine will lead the field in the reduction of untreated emissions, fuel consumption and noise levels, claim company officials.
The 420 CDI will be offered alongside the GL320 CDI, which features the familiar 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 224bhp and 376lb-ft of torque. Average economy is 28.8mpg. A Mercedes-Benz UK spokesman at the launch of the GL in California said: ‘These engines provide us with a pace-setting position.
‘Up to 80% of M-class customers take the diesel option, so we think this fuel will represent the main thrust of business with this new car.
‘We’re planning competitive pricing and anticipate the range will attract superior residual values. Mix those numbers with better average fuel consumption and you can see why we feel our car should make a compelling case for itself with corporate buyers.’
Even though it has been decided that the top GL will use a 5.5-litre petrol V8 engine as debuted in the new S-class, officials at the firm’s UK division are considering widening the petrol offer to include a newly-developed 4.6-litre V8 unit. All versions will come with 7G-Tronic, the new seven-speed automatic transmission and tiptronic operation via steering wheel buttons.
Despite styling lines that cleverly mask its bulk, the GL is large. Longer but lower than the Range Rover, the US-built model sits on a stretched M-class wheelbase and has minimum overhangs at the front and rear to promote a neat, balanced appearance.
And the GL scores top marks for advanced gadgetry and a high-class finish, but its dimensions allow the car to excel in interior packaging to provide roomy, luxurious accommodation for either five or, as an optional extra, seven adults and allows easy loading of luggage from a power-operated rear door.
All UK versions will come in a single trim level, with a generous specification that includes the 4Matic all-wheel drive system bolstered by locking differentials and a low-range gearbox to provide off-road capability on a par with the M-class.
As with other Mercedes-Benz models, the car will be available with a long list of additional features, but the option likely to create most interest will be third-row seating, which is expected to cost around £1,200.
Fitted to the US-spec cars provided at the launch, the twin back seats represent the ultimate in convenience and versatility because they are power-operated and take only seconds to either fold down to form a flat load floor or glide back up into place again at the touch of a button.
Behind the wheel
Thanks to its wedge shape, the GL appears to be an object lesson in SUV styling – sporty rather than chunky, this is a handsome car in spite of its bulk.
Feeling more like a well-sorted saloon than a multi-purpose model, the GL treats its occupants to a smooth, compliant ride and impressed us over a wide range of road surfaces.
The US-specification examples we tried had softer suspension settings than versions due to be built for Europe, but they still felt stable at speed and displayed neat handling with high levels of adhesion for excellent cornering prowess.
And despite having higher levels of power assistance for the steering, there was still a reasonable amount of road feel at the wheel.
Due to US homologation regulations, only one prototype GL320 CDI was available for testing, but our brief session with the model soon confirmed that the smaller diesel engine is no poor relation to its petrol siblings.
Coupled with the smooth 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox that seamlessly downshifts two ratios when maximum acceleration is needed, it surges away in fine style and soon settles to refined, unobtrusive cruising. With that kind of performance on offer, the GL looks set to be a popular corporate choice.
Mercedes-Benz may be late to the seven-seat SUV party, but the GL shows that big can be beautiful – and clever packaging allows it to tick all the boxes as top-drawer transport that’s also surprisingly practical.
|Model:||GL320 CDI||GL420 CDI||GL500|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||224/3,800||306/3,600||388/6,000|
|Max torque (lb.ft/rpm):||376/1,600||516/2,200||390/2,800|
|Max speed (mph):||130||142||149|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||28.8||24.4||20.3|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||n/a||n/a||n/a|