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).
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.
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
What is it?