First Drives

30 July 2012

First drive: the new Mercedes GL

It’s the best-selling luxury SUV in America, and it’s back – Sam Philip reports

Sam Philip
Car image



What's this enormous thing?

It's the all-new Mercedes GL. And you're right, it's a beast: longer and taller than Audi's Q7, seven-seat big brother to the not-really-very-small Merc ML. The GL aimed at the sort of well-heeled parents who, having spawned four children, thought ‘hey, one more and we'd have enough for a five-aside soccer team'.

Soccer? Don't you mean ‘football'?

No sir: this is a car firmly pitched at the US market. The last-gen GL was America's best-selling large-luxury-SUV: quite a feat in a country that loves its large-luxury-SUVs.

But let me guess: we're getting a sensible diesel version in the UK while the US gets to keep the big lairy petrols?

Oh, how wrong you are. Very soon, Brits will see a 557bhp GL63 AMG, which'll flatten 0-100kph in under five seconds: frankly terrifying pace for something weighing two and a half tonnes.

Yowch.

Yowch indeed. But unfortunately that's still a few months off: until then, Brits have the option of the petrol-powered GL500 (a 435bhp twin-turbo V8 capable of 0-100kph in 5.4 seconds) and the GL350 diesel, which makes 258bhp and a thumping 640Nm while returning 16.1kpl. All but a handful of Brits will opt for the V6 diesel, and that's the one we drove.

How is it?

Cruisey. The GL350 will hit 100kph in under eight seconds, but it's hardly the car to put the ‘Sport' in ‘Sport Utility Vehicle'. The GL doesn't chase the (admittedly smaller) Porsche Cayenne or BMW X6 down the trying-to-handle-like-a-saloon route. Even with the its active chassis switched to Sport mode, this remains a big wafty bus, isolating you from the road beneath rather than pressing your face to it. It doesn't topple over at the first sign of a corner, but it hardly attacks them with relish, applying its myriad electronic forcefields at the first sign of trouble, calmly soaking up bumps. This compliance, I can report, means it's mighty good for barreling at unadvisable pace down gravel tracks: something, of course, every well-to-do south London parent in the market for a big SUV will do on a daily basis.

Go on then. I know you've spent the last hour poring through the GL's gigantic brochure. Hit me with some highlights.

Glad you asked. The new GL features, as standard, acoustic front windows, sprayable acoustic materials and optimized aeroacoustics...

Which means?

It's very quiet. That's the GL's trump card: its cabin is a very pleasant place to store humans. It whispers along in near-silence, plush and distant and aloof. The middle row of seats fold down and flip forward at the flick of a button, there's a giant three-part sunroof and the interior boasts all the tasteful opulence of a top-end S-Class.

Sounds expensive.

It's an expensive corner of the market. Prices are yet to be confirmed, but we'd expect them to head rapidly north once you started delving into Merc's extensive kit list, a list apparently devised by a man with a sticky caps lock button on his keyboard: ON&OFFROAD package, NightView Assist Plus, 360-degree parking camera, PARKTRONIC, ACTIVE CURVE ASSIST...

OK, OK, I get it. So should I buy one?

If you need a luxo-SUV to ferry seven, the GL certainly feels fresher and posher than Audi's ageing Q7. But if you can cope without the two small rear seats, there's a big British fly in Merc's ointment: the Range Rover, which nails the up-market, do-everything SUV thing with unparalleled panache. And don't forget there's an all-new Range Rover on the way later this year. If you want Merc reliability, the Merc badge and the enormous Merc tech-options list, the GL makes a sensibly expensive buy, but we might advise holding out for a look at the new Rangey before committing to purchase. The GL63, on the other hand...

MERCEDES-BENZ GL350 BlueTec 4Matic

Tags: gl class, mercedes benz, gl 63 amg, amg

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