26 August 2006
Entering the full-sized 4x4 market this September with the new GL-class, Mercedes adds yet another model range to its already expansive line-up
Slotting in above the well-received M-class it's longer and taller than its relative, though no wider. That extra length and height allows Mercedes to offer the GL with an optional third row of seats, electrically operated, for an anticipated £1200 premium. That pitches it against seven-seat rivals like the Land Rover Discovery, however its pricing is more likely to be in Range Rover territory.
The engine line up is made up of the new 388PS 5.5-litre V8 petrol which debuted in the new S-class, the now familiar 3.0-litre, 224PS, 320 CDI V6 turbodiesel and a 306PS, 4.0-litre V8 turbodiesel badged GL 420 CDI. One more engine has yet to be decided on for the UK market, a new 4.6-litre V8 petrol with 340PS. All will come mated to Mercedes' seven-speed automatic transmission and drive through the same 4Matic four-wheel-drive system that's used in the ML and R-class models.
It's the 450 we had the opportunity to drive on an early test event, the new engine hauling the big GL briskly, and the smooth automatic transmission shifting between its seven ratios effortlessly and quickly. Combined economy of 21mpg might not look particularly impressive until you consider the GL's ample 2430kg kerb weight - its actually quite
impressive compared to its full-sized competition. Similarly, the GL proves remarkably wieldy despite its size, the slight float and over-lightness of the steering on the American specification cars on test promises to be tuned to the needs of European buyers.
Diesel engines will obviously take the majority of sales in the UK, the proven 320 CDI unit sampled in a brief passenger ride demonstrating all the performance and refinement it does in the ML-class, though the combined economy is slightly dented by that additional weight. However, it's perhaps a price worth paying if you need extra space over that ML.
The third row seats with their electric fold function do offer useable adult pews in the rear, even if space isn't as generous as in Mercedes' six-seat R-class. The interior will be familiar to any ML driver, the GL sharing its dashboard, instruments and seating with its 'smaller' relative.
It all works well and is very comfortable, but given the pricing stacks the GL up against rivals like the Range Rover we might have expected a more distinct, unique feel to the interior. As it is it merely feels like a slightly bigger, more expensive ML.
With the UK launch date still a while away trims and specifications are yet to be fixed, though it's
certain that Airmatic suspension, the off-road-pro pack containing locking differentials and a low range box are to be standard
features, with Pre-safe and Neck-Pro crash responsive head rests are also likely to be standard.