When your Merc M-Class just isn’t accommodating enough; when your seven-seat R-Class hasn’t the ground clearance; when your Gelaendewagen feels as antique as Keith Richards - what’s a Mercedes 4x4 lover to do?
Come September they’ll be able to fill their crunchy driveways with the biggest 4x4 Benz yet; a monster seven-seater that’s 116mm longer than a Range Rover, stands 1900mm tall, tips the scales at an elephantine 2.5 tonnes, and can be had with a petrol-guzzling 5.5-litre 388bhp V8. The brand new Merc GL has all the makings of the next Chelsea tractor, the next must-have Montissori mud-plugger. It is the new two-finger salute to Ken Livingstone and the anti-SUV crowd.
It probably seemed a great idea three years ago when the idea was hatched. After 23 years on the market, that Portakabin-on-wheels, the venerable G-Wagen, was in desperate need of replacement. M-B research in the States showed that 25 per cent of its owners were looking for a sport-ute bigger than an ML, and consequently, many were leaving the brand to shop elsewhere. In 2003, with a gallon of ‘gas’ in the States costing less than bottled water, sales of so-called full-size SUVs – the Cadillac Escalades and Lincoln Navigators – were red hot.
Come 2006 though, things turned out a little different. G-Wagen owners went ballistic when the factory announced the end of production, so Mercedes decided to keep the old dear and make the GL an additional model. With Americans having felt the pain of $3-a-gallon petrol, sales of the biggest of the big 4x4s have essentially flat-lined.
But Mercedes is optimistic that the new GL will find a following, though no one in the company will predict either how many they’ll build, or sell. The good news for Benz is that the GL is being built alongside the latest M-Class and R-Class at the car maker’s flexible assembly US plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, so the production wick can be turned up or down depending on demand.What's it like?
If you have the need for a seven-seat, go-anywhere high-lux SUV, the new GL is one highly competent and capable vehicle. It rides on a stiff new unibody which has been developed from latest ML and features fully-independent suspension, with double wishbones up front, and a four-link set-up at the rear. M-B’s Airmatic air suspension is standard and not only smoothes out the ride, but also allows the GL to be raised 80mm to increase ground clearance.
Despite the rather niche status of the GL, Mercedes is offering a surprisingly wide compliment of engines in the hope of satisfying every need and bank balance. Petrol choices include the brilliant new-generation 4.6-litre four-valve V8 for the GL 450 model. It packs a muscley 340bhp and 344lb-ft of torque. There’s also a punchy 5.5-litre V8 available in the GL 500 and good for 388bhp and 397 lb-ft.For oil burner fans, the GL 320 CDI will feature Merc’s latest 3.0-litre V6 common rail turbo diesel with high-pressure direct injection and four-valves per cylinder. It’s good for 224bhp and 382 lb-ft. There’s also a GL 420 CDI powered by the 4-litre twin turbo V8 that packs 306bhp and a stump-pulling 524 lb-ft of twist.
Each of the engines is coupled with the smooth-shifting, electronically-controlled 7G-TRONIC seven-speed auto – a first in the big sport-ute class.