Mercedes-Benz GL Class - the Best of the Best / the Best of the Rest?
That is the question. Am I going to try to answer it? No! – even though this was something that came up at the launch of the Mercedes-Benz GL Class.
Taking its cue from the G Class – which was developed from the Unimog that has been an icon ever since its introduction – the Mercedes-Benz GL has developed into a great SUV. But, even with all of its technical wizardry, style and excellence, there will be those who will say it will never be better than the G Class or even the Range Rover or the Land Cruiser. While in conversation with Martin Zimmerman of Mercedes-Benz and Richard Webb, another petrolhead and colleague, we chatted about the new Mercedes-Benz GL Class and agreed that it is indeed a magnificent vehicle both on and off-road. Not only is it the equal of most premium luxury cars in terms of performance, luxury, ride quality and drivability, but it is also as comfortable as you could wish. While discussing the ‘best of the best’ in SUVs, we also agreed
OUT OF OFFICE | CAR REVIEW
by Carl Wepener
* Prices as at date of publishing
that, to be the best, an SUV must be more rugged, more handsome, more aggressive, and more Jeep-like. The consensus was that the GL Class is the S Class of SUVs in the broadest sense – a verdict that was unanimous. And, as Richard says, “it is a true off-roader” that makes use of its three differential locks to make off-roading really enjoyable.
As always, our discussions – and especially our views – need to be clarified in order for others to agree, disagree or to elaborate. The two of us are very good at clarifying, so, while driving from the dealership at Umhlanga to the off-road track near Pietermaritzburg, we both agreed that, as far as comfort is concerned, you are definitely in a thoroughbred Mercedes product, even if it feels a bit soft on the road in Comfort mode. First and foremost, as far as I am concerned, the new GL looks good. Richard disagrees! But, if I consider the direction that Mercedes-Benz has taken with its new designs, especially the dynamic front end of the A Class with its Diamond-look grill, I believe that, if these become a feature of Mercedes-Benz vehicles and of the GL, the GL will look great!
The GL is loaded with standard items, items that I expect as standard at the price. Debating whether some of the standard and optional items are really necessary gave rise to a discussion that, depending on your preferences, when you come to the GL, you will like it, add it or leave it. Let’s take the examples we discussed. Richard loved the massaging function, while I loved the side-bolstering function. We both thought the blind-spot indicator great and that it should be standard in even the cheapest vehicle. However, I found the lane-change warning device a bit overboard. Come to think of it, though, I once thought the same about the blind-spot function. Like me, Richard is a stickler for quality and practicality in the vehicles we test. He found the quality excellent throughout the vehicle range, with materials and colours that should be to the liking of every client. Up to seven passengers are able to enjoy the outstanding and generous seating, even in the third row. The luxurious, elegant interior is dynamic with high-quality materials and great attention to detail. The cabin with its 2-3-2 configuration is big, with perfect ergonomic design and arrangement. The interior of the GL Class conveys a feeling of wellbeing in this superluxurious vehicle, and this is because of the familiar, high-quality trim in various kinds of wood or aluminium, controls in silver-chrome, and upholstery in high-quality leather. As a standard feature, the third row of seats can be folded down and up electrically within five seconds. Another innovation is the EASY-ENTRY system for accessing the third row of seats from both sides – also, if required, with optional electric controls.
Having had the opportunity to take the GL Class on a run of over a thousand kilometres to Limpopo, I found the GL 500 to be very quiet, with the light units and bonnet sealed with rubber to ensure less wind noise. This innovative idea really sets the GL apart from other much noisier SUVs, and noise from wind and the engine were noticeably absent at speeds under 120kph. Even at high speed, the noise levels are far lower than expected. As our driving also included night driving over bad roads, with animals being a constant factor, I can only applaud the Bi-Xenon headlights with Intelligent Light System and new off-road light, the adaptive Main Beam Assist or adaptive Night View Assist Plus, for these provide greater visibility and light up the dark. The night radar system of the GL is also a plus factor. It really is a live-saver and gave us ample warning of animals, which would otherwise have been seen too late to avoid an accident. I have not driven the GL Class 63 AMG version, so I cannot comment on the handling, speed and performance on this specific model.
That said, the performance of both the GL 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC and the GL 500 4MATIC is excellent. BlueEFFICIENCY is very good to excellent, and the low-end torque really gets the 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC jumping. The GL 500 4MATIC BlueEFFICIENCY with its V8 engine is an excellent vehicle with more than enough power, and the powerhouse is excellently suited to the GL Class. Performance on and off-road is further enhanced by the six different settings that ensure a different quality of ride both on and off-road. The quality of the ride settings is not just there for making up the price. I was amazed at the stability and ride quality of the GL while travelling slowly and at speed on gravel roads. I must say that, although Comfort mode is great for gravel roads, I prefer the Sport setting, as the GL is much more stable and responsive. The fuel consumption over 1 000 kilometres in the GL 500 was between 14.5/100km and 13.7l100km at speeds between 100kph and 140kph. The 7G-Tronic Plus gearbox is a bit slow in responding, but is fluid and no jerking is experienced, even when putting your foot down. One automatic program, two special off-road programs and three road programs are at its disposal and it is activated via a rotary switch on the central console for any kind of driving from Sport to towing a trailer. At the same time, AIRMATIC, ADS, drive train and electric steering are adjusted to suit specific requirements.
The six driving programs are:
Automatic – for everyday driving.
Off-road 1 – for easy cross-country driving, and for driving on tracks, field tracks and sand.
Off-road 2 – for more demanding off-road terrain with climbing.
Winter – for driving in winter-road conditions with frozen-over wet roads, snow, and ice or when driving with snow chains.
Sport – for ambitious driving on very winding roads.
Trailer – for optimising starting off, manoeuvring, and braking with a trailer.
The difference between the settings is substantial and you can immediately feel when you have changed settings. Changes in ride softness and hardness, road characteristics and performance are all influenced. Comfort on or off-road is superb and you will not tire easily – even in traffic. I have found that, with most Mercedes-Benz SUV vehicles, poorly surfaced roads and potholes are not very relevant, as these vehicles simply take them in their stride with no ill effects. I have never been so relaxed after a level 3/4 off-road track as I was in the GL. Believe me, you can trust the technology in the GL and use it to its fullest. It is when you do not trust the technology that you find that you cannot get through a tough off-road patch. I made use of the optional 360° camera, which has four cameras at the front and rear as well as in the housing of the exterior mirrors, when driving off-road, and it was a tremendous help, as the pictorial information received from the bird’s-eye view of the vehicle and the surrounding area told me exactly where big rocks or obstacles were a threat. It really helps in situations where you do not have somebody to guide you. The AIRMATIC functions allow a maximum ground clearance of 306mm and a fording depth of 600mm.The GL’s comfortable ride is due to the fully load-bearing air suspension (AIRMATIC) system with its adaptive shock-absorbing system (ADS) as well as load-recognition feature, which greatly improves handling. Easy parking is guaranteed with the Active-Park Assistant. The system is able to detect suitable parking spaces and steers the GL automatically into the best possible position for parking. For a big vehicle like this, it comes in very handy and really minimises those pesky little dents that result from parking errors.
For the first time, there is an extensive AMG exterior Sport package available for those GL customers who find it increasingly important for their vehicles to have a sporting and dynamic appearance. As with all Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, the GL prices include the industry-leading PremiumDrive maintenance package of 6 years/100 000 km, with no customer contribution.
The GL is introduced at: *
GL 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC R966 246
GL 500 4MATIC BlueEFFICIENCY R1 106 859
GL 63 AMG V8 Biturbo R1 669 636
* Including 14% VAT, but excluding CO2 emissions tax
Is the Mercedes-Benz GL the ‘best of the best?’Well, comments from some of our clients and executives who accompanied us to Limpopo for a hunting weekend indicated that they were in awe of the technical advances, the ease with which the GL 500 4MATIC BlueEFFICIENCY tackles any road conditions, and the awesome power. One of the chief executives is considering getting the GL as, and I quote, “it is so versatile with practically no difference in ride comfort from my superpremium saloon. It is the first luxury premium vehicle that I can use for everything I want.” I think the cherry on the cake was when our Editor-inChief actually slept in the GL for three nights due to some fiendish snoring of one of our guests and afterwards referred to the vehicle as ‘Hotel GL’. All I can say, and I include the opinions of Richard Webb, is that the GL is great and that it is very high up on my personal shopping list.