With cars of this size, you often see designers trying to reduce the vehicle’s apparent vastness by rounding off corners and making it look more discreet than it has any right to. Not so the GL. This is a car which wears its immensity as a badge of honour. It’s very square, very angular – the front is like a cliff-face, as is the rear – and the silver-coloured running boards and skid plates may be a little gauche for some tastes. That said, there is some nice detailing in the light clusters and there’s no denying that the GL has a certain muscular appeal. But whether that’s enough to tempt people away from a Range Rover remains to be seen.
If you’re after a car that can carry seven with space to spare, this is it. All seven will travel in leather-lined, air-conditioned and leg-stretching luxury, too. The car’s sheer size means acres of head, shoulder and leg room and the seats are supremely comfortable for both drivers and passengers. The driving position is commanding and the huge windows gives an excellent all-round view (something which is very useful in a car of this size). All the controls fall easily to hand, too and the COMAND infotainment system is fairly intuitive, once you’ve got used to it, which may take some time. There is an unerring sense of quality in there, as well – everything feels well screwed together and it’s full of soft-touch plastics and beautiful leather.
In terms of space, nothing else in its class can even come close. With all seven seats in place, there’s room for them all to be filled as well as some light luggage. Flick two switches and it becomes a five-seater with a cavernous boot, pull two more and the middle three seats fold forward, leaving a positively van-like load bay. All this space does come at a price, however and that’s the sheer size of the thing. There’s nothing this side of a proper panel van that takes up quite as much space on the road; you’ll feel yourself breathing in through width restrictions and it’ll take up every inch of pretty much any car-parking space. If you can live with its gargantuan size, though, the GL is an extremely practical machine.
Ride and handling
Being a luxury car, the ride is, as you’d expect, exemplary. Even on the massive, 21-inch alloy wheels and paper-thin tyres and AMG-fettled air suspension, it glides over rough road surfaces and never feels unruffled at low or high speeds. That clever suspension also means that it never feels overwhelmed by reasonably quick direction changes, either – staying flat and composed except when subjected to the most extreme manoeuvres which would unsettle most cars, let alone a big, tall, heavy 4×4. The steering, too, is a pleasant surprise. It’s light and reasonably direct, allowing you to place the car accurately on the road – a boon when negotiating those slightly scary width-restrictors.
Again, for such a vast machine, the GL can certainly shift. The 3.0-litre diesel engine that we tried was admirably smooth and quiet, offering plenty of torque throughout the rev-range. The 235bhp, 457lb/ft motor sends its power to all four wheels via a slick-shifting seven-speed automatic gearbox. It’ll get you from 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 137mph – impressive for a machine weighing nigh-on 2.5 tonnes and possessing all the aerodynamic qualities of a house brick. There’s only one other engine available, and that’s the 5.5-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V8 in the GL63 AMG. Producing 557bhp and 560lb/ft of torque, this engine will propel the car from 0-62mph in a faintly ridiculous 4.9 seconds and on to an electronically governed top speed of 155mph.
Whichever model you go for, be it the GL350 CDI or the slightly unhinged GL63 AMG, this car will cost plenty to run. The GL350 CDI that we tried will return 35.3mpg and emits 209g/km of CO2. But we suspect that these numbers will be difficult to replicate in the real world. The ’63 manages just 23mpg on the combined cycle and emits 288g/km of CO2, putting it in the top-rate ‘M’ VED band. You’ll have to factor in insurance as a major cost, too, as the 350 CDI sits in group 49, while the GL63 AMG is classified in the most expensive group 50. Depreciation will be sharp, as well.
This car’s too new for there to be any meaningful reliability results specifically pertaining to this car but, according to reliabilityindex.com, Mercedes is well into the bottom half of the rankings. That said, it’s still rated as ‘good’ and is considerably higher than its main rivals – Land Rover and Audi.
Euro NCAP have yet to test this car, but it has assessed the Mercedes ML, with which the GL shares much of its basic underpinnings and that’s a five-star car. The GL comes with a plethora of standard safety kit, including Collision prevention Assist, stability control, several airbags and an active bonnet to lessen the damage the car might cause to a pedestrian. Optional safety features such as a night-vision camera and a tyre pressure monitor are also available.
Standard equipment on the GL is undeniably generous (as you’d expect on a car costing so much) with automatic everything, heated (and cooled) seats, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, sat-nav, the COMAND infotainment system and cruise control. It is, however, terrifyingly easy to spend an awful lot of money on the vast range of options available. Our test car, for instance, came with £23,000 worth of options, including television screens in the rear headrests as well as a DVD player and sun-blinds for the rear passenger windows. Go really mad with options list and you can add another third to the price.
If you’re after something subtle and understated, then look elsewhere. This is a car which will dominate the road wherever it goes. It’s quiet, comfortable, and luxurious. It has acres of space inside and is hugely refined but the GL has one fairly major problem: the Range Rover. The only area where the GL has the Rangie beaten is that it has space for seven inside. Everywhere else, from the badge to the mud-plugging ability, Land Rover’s finest has the GL licked.