2007 Mercedes-Benz GL | road test

Posted on Oct 21, 2006 by

A geological hotspot, the island of Iceland became an automotive hotspot when Mercedes Benz decided to conduct an international media drive event for the all new Mercedes GL here. Situated right on the meeting lines of the North American continental plate and the Eurasian plate, what better location than Iceland to form a springboard for launching the GL to Europe and rest of the world?

With the GL, Mercedes continues its pursuit for presence in newer segments, and expand its alphabetically rich product lineup. The GL is an American style luxury SUV, and contrary to rumors floating around, is not intended to replace the legendary G Class. The new GL is the first full size 7-seat 4×4 from the automaker and promises to offer “First Class – both on and off road” experience to customers, we drove it on the cooled lava surface of Iceland to test the automaker’s claim.

Mercedes makes no qualms about the top end positioning of the GL. Aiming to take sales away from the likes of Range Rover, Cayenne, Q7, and the German arch rival BMW’s X5, the GL is yet another new offering in its already complex product family. “First Class – both on and off road” is the mantra that Mercedes officials kept murmuring in their presentations. So what is the GL all about?

Large and luxurious, the GL interior of my test car came with Artico man made leather upholstery combination in black alongside wood trim and matt finished metal rings around dials, air vents and cup holders impart a feel-good atmosphere to its interiors. Present Mercedes owners will not find anything unfamiliar about the interior. Thankfully, the omnipresent clutter of buttons on the central console has been cleaned up and makes the COMAND system friendlier to use.

Compared to the ML, the GL is almost a foot longer which explains the ample leg room in the second and third-row seats. Leg room in the third-row seats has been enhanced by foot wells so that you don’t sit with your knee in your chest back in there. There is about 18” of luggage space behind (300 liters), but if you want to carry stuff instead of people, the seats automatically fold at the press of a button. All seats are well padded for comfort. Front seats are power adjustable to suit your seating position and an optional massager brings relief to the sore back after a long day’s work. Its 11-speaker harmon/kardon Logic 7 sound system, 14 air conditioning vents, sunroof, and ample of cup holders further elevate the levels of creature comforts in the GL.

The GL comes loaded with safety features. The standard fitments include two-stage front air bags for the driver and front passenger, side air bags in the front and second-row seats, and curtain air bags that span all three rows of seats.

Iceland is one of the most active volcanic regions in the world, with eruptions occurring on an average roughly every five years. Driving the GL over volcanic rocks and settled magma which welled up from the core of the Earth was exciting and at the same time a nerve twitching experience.  Confidently trotting through the very core of earth on the   pebbled surface that snaked along side mountain peaks with visible signs of eruptions going by their flattened out peaks, and others with pointed peaks preparing for the grand show of nature in the coming years, a short break to soak my lungs with some fresh air demanded a stop at Seltun. A high temperature geo thermal spot with mud pots and steam vents situated 1000m below sea level, Seltun belongs to one of the four volcanic systems that lie along the eruptive fault of Reykjavik peninsula. A Warning sign said: Danger Steam Eruption and Hot Springs! Another sign said: Warning, slippery paths. Hmmm…..

The extreme weather conditions render the volcanic tracks of the peninsula non motorable for nearly five months in the year. At the beginning of summers, the earth movers pave the way forward and lay tracks, which in all possibilities are unlikely to be the one on which you drove the previous year. Over the hard crest of solidified lava, the loose gravel top coat waltzed along under the wheels of GL which moved on confidently thanks to its standard off road 4matic permanent four-wheel drive system. The dance of gravel track and the large 275/55 R 19 inch alloys wheels of the GL was an experience to savor. The GL steered confidently through the rugged terrain with the comfort and ease of handling of a luxury sedan.

I wonder though what it would be like to steer this hulk of 3250 kg through the soft sand dunes of the desert landscape in Middle East. The GL is on the heavier side as compared to some of its competitors namely Cayenne, LX470 and Range Rover which stand almost 150kg lighter than the GL. But then how many of the GL owners will take it in to the sand? If you want to buy a dune basher, this is probably not the wisest of the choice to zero in on.

With an approach angle of 33 degrees, a departure angle of 27 degrees and ground clearance that can be increased to 307mm by raising the adjustable air suspension, the GL stands at the top end of specs when compared to competition. That still does not change my opinion of the GL not being a thoroughbred dune basher. I guess a trip down in the desert would be required to confirm/reject the assumption.

The 5.4 V8 powerplant in my test GL500 could grunt out  530Nm torque and packed a decent 285 ponies inside. With plenty of power availability throughout the rev band  spectrum, the GL lodged itself in any direction that it was pointed to with utmost ease and confidence. Mercedes is giving an option of a more civilized engine unit in the GL450 – a 4.6 V8 capable of churning out 460 Nm torque and 250 horsepower. Both units are micro processor controlled fuel injection based unit mated to electronically controlled seven speed automatic transmission.

For those who will be using the GL to tow boats, Mercedes has included Trailer Stabilization component in the electronic stability program. This component is capable of diffusing critical driving situations involving a trailer before they become dangerous by applying individual wheel brakes as required.

My co-passenger on this drive through the volcanic wonderland of the Reykjavik peninsula was a friend from DaimlerChrysler, who happened to be a smoker. Now since ‘smoking inside the car is not allowed’ was very clearly told at the time of handing the keys, my friend had to refrain from doing so. A smoke stop atop a flattened mountain peak gave me an opportunity to look at the GL in the Icelandic habitat while my friend puffed his lungs away.

As I opened the door, a stroke of chilled icy wave brought in the realization that the comforting temperatures inside the passenger cabin were not to be compromised on and that probably staying indoors in the domain of Mercedes climate control system was a good idea. Hey what the heck! When in Rome, do what Romans do. Hesitantly, a step out, few seconds of getting prepared for the natural elements, and a few steps away from the GL, I was lost in the breathtaking moment sensing the foreplay between the icy winds and the snow capped volcanic peaks.

The GL looks much like the ML, just that this is a bigger package. A metal skid pad in the front and rear to protect the underlying mechanical components from damage when driving off black top is a standard. Like the ML, the Mercedes power domes are strong elements of the GL face. The nicely raked windshield and bulging wheel arches hide the bulkiness of this tall and long SUV. The GL doesn’t look as bulky as some of the American SUV’s from GM and Ford. Look at its butt and the GL is tall and wide – a formidable obstacle, with a large tail lamp cluster.

The smoke was over and chilly winds had started to take their toll on me, time for steering away from here I thought. We left the Icelandic peaks and icy winds to continue their foreplay unhindered…

Bottom line: What’s GL all about?

Well, It’s about superlative driving comfort, compelling on and off road performance in the Icelandic volcanic peaks, and an ambition of being the most desirable 7-seat luxury 4×4.


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