2013 MERCEDES-BENZ GL REVIEW
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL is bigger than ever, but is it a match for the Range Rover?
It's tempting to label the new Mercedes-Benz GL as a car built in America, for Americans. The huge 4x4 is made at Mercedes-Benz's plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and although it might be a minnow by US standards, over here it's something of a whale, being bigger in every direction but width than a Range Rover.
Changes for this second-generation model go deeper than you might think. At first glance it looks like little more than a facelift, but the body is all-new, there are more efficient engines and the overall weight thas been reduced by up to 90kg. Underneath, the GL shares much with the latest M-Class.
Mercedes-Benz accepts that this is a niche model in the UK – 112 were sold here in 2012, down from a peak of 1177 in 2007. As a result, the range has been slimmed down to just two models – the sensible choice is the diesel-powered GL 350 Bluetec AMG Sport, while the sporty option is the GL 63 AMG, which has a twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 petrol engine.
The GL 350 uses the latest version of Mercedes' 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel, which in this guise develops 255bhp and 457lb ft of torque. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions have been reduced by 24 per cent and 13 per cent respectively over the previous model's, at 37.7mpg and 209g/km.
A seven-speed automatic gearbox is standard; most of the time it's unobtrusive, but changes can be abrupt when you gain or shed speed quickly. Performance is effortless, as a 0-62mph time of less than eight seconds suggests.
Refinement is excellent; Mercedes' four-cylinder diesel engines are rather coarse, but its six-cylinder units are among the smoothest and quietest around. Wind and road noise are also kept to a minimum, so the GL is a quiet cruiser.
Weight loss or not, the GL 350 still weighs 2,455kg – 296kg more than the equivalent Range Rover, the latest generation of which has gone on an even stricter diet. Once you're behind the wheel, however, the GL does a surprisingly good job of disguising its bulk, and the light steering makes parking easy.
Air suspension – double-wishbone at the front and multi-link at the rear – is standard, as are 21in alloy wheels. The car we drove was fitted with Mercedes' Active Curve System, which incorporates active suspension stabilisers to limit body lean through corners. This system is standard on the GL 63 AMG.
Ride quality isn't what you'd expect, with a firm edge that's not entirely becoming for what will be, for some owners at least, a family car. Anyone expecting the kind of soothing, bump-free progress you get with Mercedes' big saloons will be disappointed.
Inside, from the B-pillar forward the GL is all but identical to the M-Class, which is a mixed blessing. Build quality is good and there's some nice leather-effect trim on the top of the dash, but it doesn't really feel any more special than the interior of a Mercedes that costs half the price. If you really want to impress passengers, the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover have much more glamorous cabins.
Few rivals can beat the GL for practicality, however – this is a huge car, with a correspondingly vast cabin that makes the most of its extravagant dimensions. Whether you're in the front two seats, the middle three, or even the rear pair, you sit in a comfortable, supportive seat with plenty of legroom.
Access is brilliant, and the electrically folding rear seats take all the strain out of moving them in or out of the floor. When they're not in place the boot is immense, and even in seven-seat mode there's space for a decent amount of luggage.
Standard equipment is comprehensive, although the car we drove was fitted with options worth a staggering £23,415, including the On- and Off-Road Package (£1,985), Keyless-Go (£930), Night View Assist (£1,305) and a Bang & Olufsen stereo (£2,035).
Running costs will be high, and the GL emits more CO2 and uses a fraction more fuel (according to the official EU Combined figures) than the equivalent Range Rover.
That won't bother most buyers, but the fact that the British car provides a greater sense of luxury and occasion probably will. The GL might cut it as a luxury SUV in the States, but it doesn't quite do the business here.
Mercedes-Benz GL 350 Bluetec AMG Sport
Tested: 2,987cc six-cyl turbodiesel. Seven-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
Price/on sale: £59,485 (£82,900 as tested)/now
Power/torque: 255bhp @ 3,600rpm/ 457lb ft @ 1,600rpm.
Top speed: 137 mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 7.9sec
Fuel economy: 35.3mpg EU Combined
CO2 emissions: 209g/km
VED band: K
Verdict: A refined, hugely practical family car, but the ride is firm and there are other large 4x4s that are classier and more affordable to own.
Telegraph rating: Three out of five stars