What is it?
The second-generation Mercedes-Benz GL - the largest and most commodious of Mercedes' four dedicated off-roaders. Revealed at the New York motor show earlier this year, the seven-seater goes on sale in the UK next April at a starting price expected to be around ₤60,000.
The new model is based on a revised unitary steel platform from the first-generation GL. It features improved safety measures, a heavily reworked chassis and a complete restyle inside and out.
At 5120mm in length, 1934mm in width and 1830mm in height, the new GL is now 21mm longer, 14mm wider and a nominal 10mm higher. Despite the increased external dimensions, it continues to ride on the same 3075mm wheelbase, although both tracks have been widened to give it a slightly larger footprint.
The bump in size provides the basis for a larger and more versatile interior offering more headroom and vastly improved access to the rear cabin. The 2-3-2 seating layout of the old model remains. Handily, the two rear-most seats can be electrically erected or folded into the floor of the luggage compartment from controls placed within the rear side doors or within the sides of the boot lining. In five-seat form, boot capacity increases by 100 litres to 680 litres.
While retaining the same basic steel platform structure as before, the new GL adopts more sophisticated suspension. Mercedes-Benz claims this provides the GL with a significant boost in on-road comfort while endowing it with added off-road ability.
The new GL will be sold with a choice of three engines, including the widely used turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 diesel in the GL350 BlueTec 4Matic driven here. It is expected to account for the majority of UK sales, and delivers 46bhp and 59lb ft more than the similarlyconfigured engine used in the older GL350 CDI, with 254bhp and 457lb ft. The revised diesel also boasts vastly reduced emissions that allows it to comply with upcoming EU6 regulations.
What is it like?
The restyled GL is, if anything, even more imposing than it was. The appearance at the front leaves you in no doubt about its lineage, but the rear disappointingly possesses common visual links with any number of current off-roaders, particularly the shape of the tail lights.
Inside you are treated to an airy cabin that shares much with that of the latest M-class. It is a classy and high-quality driving environment, but despite its newness it lacks the up-market feel of the soon-to-be-replaced Range Rover. Accommodation is plentiful in the first two rows of seats, but less so in the third row.
Mercedes-Benz’s latest V6 diesel feels custom-made for its new flagship off-roader, providing the GL350 BlueTec 4Matic with a good turn of speed from a standstill, a satisfyingly flexible mid-range and effortless motorway properties. It is strong enough to make the V8 petrol powered GL500 BlueEfficiency superfluous, with a 0-62mph time of 7.9sec and a towing capacity of 3500kg.
The turbocharged 3.0-litre unit mates wonderfully to the firm's seven-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive system to imbue the base GL with excellent levels of mechanical refinement and remarkable fuel efficiency. Official figures put combined cycle consumption at 38.2mpg and average CO2 emissions at 192g/km. This all makes it a great long distance proposition, and with a 100-litre fuel tank it boasts a theoretical range of almost 800 miles.
Mercedes is keenly aware that its biggest off-roader is never going to be capable of delivering hot hatch levels of agility, so has wisely engineered it with an emphasis on comfort. From the start, you’re aware of the inherent lightness of the new electro-mechanical steering, which provides the GL350 BlueTec 4Matic with a direct feel and impressive low speed manovourability. The weighting increases as speed rises but it also becomes a little less direct in its actions, too. The steering does, however, boast keen centering properties and is sensitive enough to provide a good level of feedback on most surfaces.
The GL350 BlueTec 4Matic feels most at home on the motorway, with impressive straight-line stability and a cosseting, refined ride. It is less happy on winding back roads, although refinements to the suspension and, on models equipped with air springs, the inclusion of Active Curve System as an option ensures it corners with greater body control than its predecessor.
We’re yet to put the GL350 BlueTec 4Matic to the test in true off-road conditions. A brief excursion on a gravel mountain road indicated it will meet most expectations away from the bitumen.
Should I buy one?
It might lack the uniqueness and up-market appeal of the Range Rover, but the new Mercedes-Benz GL is nevertheless any impressive package that improves on its predecessor in every vital area.
In GL350 BlueTec 4Matic guise driven here, it offers excellent all-round performance and the sort of economy you just wouldn’t credit from such a large off-roader. The changes brought to the suspension and chassis provide it with improved comfort, too, making it a great long-distance cruiser.
Its greatest strengths, however, are in its roominess, overall versatility and ability to carry up to seven adults. To this, you can add superb levels of fit and finish and refinement. When it lands here next year the GL is destined to be among the most expensive off-roaders on sale. But at the same time it will also among the most accomplished.
Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec 4Matic
Price tba; 0-62mph 7.9sec; Top speed 137mph; Economy 38.2mpg; CO2 192g/km; Kerb weight 2380kg; Engine six-cyls in 90deg vee, 2987cc turbocharged diesel; Power 254bhp at 3800rpm; Torque 457lb ft at 1600rpm; Gearbox seven-speed automatic.