Another over-inflated luxury 4×4?
Fair point. There is a whiff of Groundhog Day about the GL-Class but with seven seats, a host of new engines and comfort to match a luxury saloon, it could be worth sticking around for. In a nutshell, the GL-Class aims to be the biggest, most spacious and most luxurious SUV on the market, eating Audi Q7s for breakfast and dismembering Range Rovers for supper. Three engines – 224hp 320 CDI, 306hp 420 CDI and 388hp GL 500 –power the 2.5-tonne, five-metre-long behemoth but, unsurprisingly, all that power and pampering doesn’t come cheap.
£70k to become public enemy number one? Not for me thanks.
Price is an issue. To distance this luxury SUV from the smaller M-Class, Mercedes has added two seats and a hefty premium. Compared to seven seat rivals from Audi, Range Rover and Volvo, the GL-Class is expensive. At £51,675, the entry-level GL320 already out prices the flagship Audi Q7 by £4,000. The range-topping GL500 can easily hit £70,000 with options – a lot of cash for a luxury off-roader lacking the cache of the similarly priced Range Rover.
The brochure boasts ‘striking design’, have I missed something?
Bit of a disappointment after the ML isn’t it? We suppose the chiselled edges around the rear are meant to evoke the slab-sided G-class that’s still in production. Instead it looks like the front of an ML welded to the back of a Zafira. The interior is crisp and modern with well-executed slivers of aluminium backed by a stitched leather dash and walnut fascia surround. Equipment levels are top draw and from the feel of things, the granite construction of the company’s past is alive and well in the GL-Class. Unfortunately it still uses the rubbish Comand system to control audio and sat nav functions: the new S-class has a far more advanced and user-friendly setup.
It’s got seating for seven – sounds like the ultimate family car.
Despite plenty of head and leg room throughout, accessing the two rear chairs isn’t easy, or dignified. The tilting and folding middle bench is fiddly and awkward, requiring a strong resolve and a firm grip. The seating configuration simply lacks the final polish expected of a £70k off-roader. The 2300-litres of storage space offers some redemption, but that’s only with middle and back rows folded flat. And the puzzle of what seven airport bound travellers do with their luggage is still to be solved.
And the thing is massive. If I wanted to drive a bus I’d approach National Express for a job.
You’d be surprised how wieldy a bus can be. On paper the GL-Class is no longer than an Audi Q7 and no wider than an M-Class on which it is based. In the flesh it is huuuge, but with acres of glass and well placed roof pillars, all-round visibility is good. Add Mercedes’ excellent parking assist and low speed manoeuvres aren’t as daunting as you’d think. That said, ‘quart in a pint pot’ does spring to mind when threading the GL-Class down narrow country lanes.
A genuine off roader or a luxury saloon on stilts?
There’s no denying the GL-Class is a luxury cruiser first and a grubby-fingered off-roader second. The new engines are refined yet powerful, with the all new V8 420 CDI packing a surprising punch thanks to 700Nm of torque. Together with a smooth seven-speed automatic gearbox – operated by a column-mounted stick and standard across the range – the GL-Class is a well-mannered motorway hack. It’s better on longer wave bumps than the craggy town stuff though and you’re never going to enjoy having to get anywhere in a hurry. Off road, the GL more than holds its own thanks to its 4MATIC four-wheel drive system and special off-road gadgetry.
If you live by the maxim ‘size matters’ then the GL-Class won’t disappoint. The company’s flagship SUV is seriously imposing, and for that reason alone will find a niche. While not as practical as a Discovery, as handsome as the Q7 or offering the driving experience we can expect from the next BMW X5, the GL is a decent effort at a 2.5-tonne seven-seat off-roader for the high street. But does anyone actually need one?