I'm imagining loads of huge new Benzes appearing at random, a different one wherever I look…
Calm down. Deep breath. You're not hallucinating - there really are new Mercs every which way at the moment. And they just seem to get be getting bigger and bigger.
But why? What? How?
Let's recap. The new ML has been with us for a while now and it's much better than the old one. A comfy five seater that’s part family transport, part off-roader, priced from £35,000. The R-class, which has just gone on sale, priced from £39k, is a big, very luxurious six-seater. It’s four-wheel drive but it's not an off-roader.
And so this is the new G-wagen?
No. The old military/agricultural G-class will be with us until at least 2010. The GL is, like the G, a whopping off-roader, but it’s also a luxury bus with five or seven seats. In part it's aimed at US monsters like the Cadillac Escalade, but it will go on sale in the UK in September in right-hand drive, priced from around £44,000. There's no confirmation yet on exactly what Britain will get, but the full range consists of two diesels (the V6 GL320 and V8 GL420) and two petrol V8s. The GL500 has the 5.5-litre engine that debuted in the latest S-class, but there's also an entirely new engine, the 4.6-litre 32-valver in the GL450.
What's the engine like?
It's good, and it comes with Merc's seven-speed automatic, which you can control using steering wheel buttons, but it's not economical. The official figure is 21mpg, but in our three days with the car in the US (where it's built) we averaged 14mpg. It's very heavy, at around 2400kg.
Eek. Still, the optional seven seats will come in handy, won't they?
A bit. They're not that big, and they're quite tricky to get to. If you have all but the front two seats folded flat, you get an immense 2300 litres of luggage space, thanks to the 300mm increase in length over the ML from which it borrows much of its underpinnings. However, with seven seats in use, you get very little room for bags: 300 litres. As a people carrier, the R-class is better.
So what's it for?
It really will go anywhere, which is very impressive for such a big car. It comes equipped with a low-range gearbox, hill descent control and air suspension. On the road it rides incredibly smoothly and its cornering is far better than any of its rivals from Detroit. And although there’s a bit of minibus about the driving position, it's well equipped and feels very well built.
The price? If the 450 comes in at the anticipated £55k, you'd do well to go for the 320 diesel, which should cost about £10k less and will be cheaper to run. It’s bigger and better off-road than the ML and impressive on road too. It's a very fine addition to the something-for-everyone Mercedes model range.