In fact, the GL is bigger than every other car on the road. Mercedes-Benz’s own other SUV, the M-class, looks tiny in comparison, while even Audi’s gargantuan Q7 can’t match it for length and height.
Such dimensions look slightly out of place on the UK’s country roads and would be far better suited to the freeways of the United States. This is no coincidence, as both the GL and Q7 are designed primarily for the US market.
Indeed, the GL is built at the Tuscaloosa plant in Alabama alongside the M- and R-class.
But the GL is over-sized and over here, although in limited numbers. Mercedes-Benz won’t commit to sales predictions, but don’t expect the GL to be a common sight in the UK.
Not only will supply be limited, but the GL’s pricetag will ensure exclusivity – prices start at £51,675 for the GL320 CDI, powered by the familiar 3.0-litre V6 diesel which sees service in everything from the C-class to the S-class.
There’s then a massive pricewalk up to the GL420 CDI and GL500, powered, respectively, by 4.0-litre V8 diesel and 5.5-litre V8 petrol engines. These two cost in excess of £63,000 which puts them straight into Range Rover territory.
In badge snobbery terms, the three-pointed star has enough clout to compete with Land Rover’s finest, but Mercedes-Benz reckons that the GL’s real USP is its ability to seat seven adults in comfort – unlike the Audi Q7, which only has occasional rearmost seats, and the Range Rover which can seat five.
The two seats in the rear are accessed at the touch of a button from either the rear door or the boot. Electric motors whirr into action to slide the middle seats forward to allow easy entry – although access is only from the driver’s side.
Once in the back, there’s plenty of room for a six-foot plus adult, as Mercedes-Benz’s leggy PR chief ably demonstrated.
Elsewhere, the interior is pure M-class – unsurprising since it sits on a lengthened chassis from that car. It’s also the same width as an M-class, so from behind the wheel the view isn’t too daunting.
Underneath all the metal are the usual array of acronyms, such as ESP stability control, ADS adaptive damping and AIRMATIC air suspension.
For off-road use there is also permanent four-wheel drive, a two-stage transfer box, locking differentials, a hill-start assist system and 4ETS – an uprated traction control system.
All of this works at the touch of a button on the dashboard, so moving from smooth roads to rutted tracks is a simple affair.
And it works, too, as an off-road demonstration proved. Using road tyres, the GL slithered up incredibly slippy terrain and even when conditions got very tough, pushing a button to lock the diffs soon saw the GL plug its way through.
All of this technology goes some way to justifying the price – the GL320 CDI costs £14,000 more than the ML320 CDI.
Unsurprisingly, the diesels will take 90% of GL sales in the UK, with the 320 taking about 60% of that figure.
The GL has many talents – it’s big, it’s clever but it’s also pricey. You’ll really have to want to take seven people off-road to buy one.
For everyone else, the smaller, cheaper M-class is a fine, and equally able, substitute.
Behind the wheel
TWO engines were available to drive on our test – the GL420 CDI and the GL500. First up was the diesel, the first time this V8 CDI unit has appeared in the UK.
And what a shame it hasn’t appeared sooner as it is a fantastic engine, delivering huge great dollops of torque in an unfussed manner, pushing the two-and-a-half tonne GL along with incredible ease. It’s also fairly quiet, with little engine noise intruding into the cabin.
The 500 petrol, with the new 5.5-litre V8 engine, does much the same, although it can’t match the GL420 for power available in the mid-range. However, it is even quieter in normal conditions and only becomes really vocal when you push towards the red line.
The GL handles in a way a car of this size and weight simply has no right to. Cornering is composed and the car remains virtually flat in most conditions. Allied to a seven-speed automatic gearbox the GL offers unflustered transport for seven adults.
AS a piece of engineering, the GL is an impressive beast. It can handle on and off-road conditions in its stride, offers strong performance and has a clever and spacious interior. If you need to carry seven people off-road, there’s little to touch it. But this ability comes at a price – and the difference in cost between the GL320 CDI and the other models is enormous.
|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||391/2,800|
|Max speed (mph):||130||143||140|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||28.2||23.9||20.0|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||261||307||331|