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The second-generation seven-seat Mercedes SUV is lighter and more efficient, but is it any more desirable?
Nic Cackett
10 June 2013

What is it?

The second generation of Mercedes’ Big ’n’ Gulp SUV. Stuttgart likes to think of the GL as its seven-seat answer to Range Rover, but in reality it’s a soccer mum Panzer; built predominately in Alabama to satisfy America’s appetite for all things four-wheeled and overfed. 

Its sheer size is often cited as one of the reasons for the GL’s lacklustre sales record in Europe (the GL is well over five metres, nose to tail, and around six-feet tall) but its blunt, truck-like styling must shoulder some of the blame. 

This overhaul doesn’t go deep enough to change that - although the radiator grille and headlights are updated - nor does it do much to lower the titanic, two-and-a-half ton kerb burden. Certainly a new smattering of aluminum alloy saves 90kg, but in the GL’s case that’s like announcing your visit to the hairdresser’s has resulted in significant weight loss. 

No, the biggest improvements here come courtesy of engine updates already enacted elsewhere. The 255bhp diesel 3.0-litre V6 in the GL 350 - tested here, and by far the biggest seller - delivers a 24 per cent improvement in fuel consumption over its predecessor.

The claimed combined economy of 38.0mpg puts it on an equal footing with the new Range Rover Sport, and while it doesn’t quite match its CO2 emissions (209g/km vs 199g/km), the Mercedes motor is already Euro6 compliant thanks to its NOx minimising AdBlue technology. 

In the UK the 350 represents the entry-level of GL ownership (the 550bhp GL 63 AMG is above it) and starts at £59,485. There’s a respectable amount  of kit included for that fee - sat-nav, a powered tailgate, heated front seats, hill descent, active park assist, 21-inch AMG alloy wheels — and of course, all-wheel drive.

If you want Land Rover-style off-road ability, however, Mercedes asks £1985 for low ratio functionality, reinforced underfloor panelling and a proper locking centre diff.

What's it like?

An expensive, well-dressed wedding marquee on wheels. The new GL has actually grown a few millimetres in every direction, and there really is no escaping its size up close. Especially in a standard-edition British car parking space, which it fills with all the cramped awkwardness of Sherman Klump on a bus seat.

You’d be forgiven for thinking its bling aluminium running boards are strictly for show, but in fact the car really does require a front step if you’re to lever yourself into it with any dignity.

Once inside the GL’s advantages are readily apparent. There’s ample space for a large family, and while looking in the rear-view mirror is like looking down the aisle of a church, it’s obvious that there’s going to be leg, head and shoulder room to spare.

If you’ve forked out £410 for the electrically operated Easy-Entry seats - and you should - access and egress to the second row is made conspicuously easy by the button operated forward roll of the seat in front (although, disappointingly, it requires adult muscles to shunt it back into place). 

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Push all the buttons and the seats fold almost flat to reveal 2300 litres of load space, enough to make even a new Range Rover’s innards look stingy. It’s also worth mentioning that the quality of Mercedes’ fit and finish does not diminish the further you get from the driver’s seat - this is a premium product, and even those in the second row will testify to it. Certainly more so than in the last GL, which is reflected in the driving experience, too. The manufacturer has worked hard on the noise, vibration and harshness of its formerly hollow-sounding creation, and although its claim of S-class-style refinement can be taken with a pinch of salt, it’s a quiet and comfortable punt. 

Granted, there is none of the dynamic charm of Land Rover’s latest product line - this a benign machine with ethereal, finger-twirling steering - but the GL benefits from the full support of its air suspension, fidgeting only slightly and inoffensively over Surrey roads.

Opt for the optional Active Curve System (which adds lateral stabilisers to the front and rear axles) and it will even corner with commendably little roll angle. 

Of course, doing this aggressively is out. Though the flexibility and quick-fire 457lb ft of torque hides it well, this is a 2455kg car with a 3075mm wheelbase - agile it ain’t. Inevitably it also has a habit of turning A roads into B roads, and B roads into bridleways.

It’s probably telling that the only time the GL felt truly at home was during the photography on a deserted, runway-wide perimeter road at Longcross - where they used to test tanks. 

Should I buy one?

Probably not. There are undeniably things to appreciate in the new Mercedes-Benz GL, and it could be convincingly argued that you’re getting rather a lot of space, kit, quality, economy and ability (even without the added off-road bumf, it’s mighty capable on mud and capable of towing 3500kg) for the asking price. But it remains a fat fish out of water. 

As before, a Mercedes’ badge does not stop it being squashed by the hefty handsome appeal and ineffable driver reward of anything under Range Rover branding.

Unless you’ve a mighty family to find room for or have a particular preference for German durability, the GL is unlikely to turn your head from Gaydon’s direction. 

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Mercedes-Benz GL 350 BlueTEC AMG Sport

Price £59,485; 0-62mph 7.9 sec; Top speed 137mph; Economy 38.0mpg (combined); CO2 209g/km; Kerb weight 2455kg; Engine 6 cyls, 2987cc, turbodiesel; Installation front, longitudinal, 4WD; Power 255bhp at 3600rpm; Torque 457lb ft at 1600-2400rpm; Gearbox 7-spd auto

Realpolitik 12 June 2013

Surely the point is that

Surely the point is that Mercedes are going to push this as a Range Rover rival because it's the nearest thing they have to one at the moment which isn't an S Class.

I cannot believe that unless you had a Mercedes fetish and needed 7 seats (and from my experience climbing into a pre-facelift GL, they are no more spacious than a Discovery's, more diffcult to get into and also leave less boot space when up) you could find this in any way as desirable as Discovery 4, let alone a Range Rover. Looks worse in and out - more so since the facelift (how much have Mercedes paid to poach Hyundai's designers from the '90s?), doesn't drive anything like as well, simply doesn't have that level of desirability needed for the money.

Clearly not a bad car, but one better suited for America.

Bobstardeluxe 11 June 2013

Autocar respond

Please would autocar respond .. This isn't exactly the first time readers are complaining about obvious bias towards JLR product and to be honest this article appears to be purposefully slating the GL in every department ..if you were a unknowledgable car person , you would read this and assume that Mercedes had hashed together a off roader by jacking up an old e class wagon with toothpicks and stuck some larger tyres and wheels on with super glue ...

Come on Autocar this is a mercedes.. There is no way you can make us believe this is a rubbish car , it may not be RR standard .. but like most people are stating it's like comparing a Rolls Royce with an Audi A8 .. Two different price points.. I am sure if Merc ever decided to produce a 80 to 100k off roader they will make a S-class quality product that should be compared to RR , otherwise the GL competitors are the large Q7 , Lexus version of the land cruiser and large Infuniti off roaders etc

Autocar used to be my favourite car mag but now it's articles and reviews are boring , inaccurate and plain rubbish frustrating reading ... Why are you not listening to the comments before your century old  reputation of automobile journalism is wiped out!

Paul 11 June 2013

That is a diabolical review

That is a diabolical review where the halfwit of a journalist has obviously set out to slag off a perfectly good car in order to big up JLR products even more. This review didn't even attempt to hide its bias, and I for one am sick of Autocar arselicking the new Range Rover when it is in fact miles behind its competitors.

This GL is a proper seven seater with room for all occupants' luggage. Of course it's big you stupid little plonker. Buyers aren't going to be surprised by that. What are you expecting? A 900kg supermini? 

As for the handling, I seriously hope you're not suggesting that the new Range Rover is good to drive. It wallows about like a boat on wheels. I've seen videos of how unstably it negotiates slow bends. The Range Rover is ungainly and downright dangerous in the handling department.

The GL wipes the floor with the Range Rover, and that's before you remember how much cheaper and more reliable it is.

Autocar, you should be ashamed of yourselves for this biased review. You owe it to your readers to be impartial and accurate. This is the biggest load of nonsense I've ever read. Nic Cackett, I hope you get sacked. Like a previous poster said, there are many aspiring motoring journalists who deserve to have a shot. You, young man, are standing in their way. Shove over.

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