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Merc's premium SUV facelifted

2009-10-14 07:17

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mercedes-Benz
Model GL-Class
Engine 3l V6 CDI, 5.5l V8
Power 165kW @ 3 800r/min, 285kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 510Nm @ 1 600-2 800r/min, 530Nm @ 2 800-4 800r/min
Transmission 7G-Tronic
Zero To Hundred 9.5-, 6.5-sec
Top Speed 210km/h, 240km/h
Fuel Tank 100l
Fuel Consumption 9.3, 13.6l/100km
Weight 2 450-, 2 445kg
Boot Size 620l
Rivals Range Rover, Land Cruiser 200
When you think gargantuan premium 4x4 wagons, the mind happens upon images of Range Rovers and Cruiser 200s. Rarely does anybody introduce Mercedes-Benz’s GL-series as a factor in the equation.

Although the venerable military surplus Gelandewagen enjoys a small - yet fanatical - following locally, few people regard Merc’s passenger vehicle product portfolio as a place to go browsing for anything of Range Rover/Cruiser 200 challenging quality.

Since 2006 though, the company has sold 1 000 GL-series units locally.

Nearly imperceptible styling changes

The ML’s larger sibling is very much an anonymous quantity in the premium 4x4 market, despite boasting advanced pneumatic suspension architecture and both centre and rear-axle lockable differentials.

In an attempt to shore up market share, Mercedes-Benz has now garnished the GL-series with a few aesthetic upgrades.

Unless you’re an absolute GL acolyte, the only changes you’ll notice off the cuff are some of the new wheel options. Unpacking the styling changes you can tally up a new front bumper design and a more pronounced grille treatment, framed by optional LED daytime running lights.

The GL’s characteristic chromed underbody protection strips have been improved at both the fore and aft bumper positions. The rear lower fascia treatment, with its parallelogram shaped exhaust ends, is particularly striking.

Cabin is sombre, yet very comfy, with neatly grouped controls and largely idiot-proof Comand interface menus.

Inside the GL’s cavernous cabin very little has changed.

New engine- and road-speed dials adorn the instrument binnacle (they’re of the illuminated 3D graphic variety), whilst front seats now feature Neck Pro comfort head restraints.

Probably the most noteworthy change to GL’s cabin configuration is the standard fitment of Merc’s Comand APS system. This means you have an integrated six- disc DVD changer, 6.5-inch display illuminating the SatNav (which has a surprisingly useful split screen) and voice control. Very neat, yet the 4 Gigabyte audio data memory capacity seems woefully inadequate…

Shift in at the helm and if you’re an absolute stickler for detail you’ll notice the new steering wheel’s lower spokes join the rim at a wider angle… GL’s satellite controls have been regrouped into a circular arrangement of four quarters under each thumb too, instead of the square block controls of the previous generation car.

For the rest it’s still a massively capacious car, with clean surfacing, intuitive ergonomics and a surprisingly useful third row of seats that fold away with merciful ease.

One disappointing feature, especially considering the GL’s intimidating bulk (there is 5.2m of it bumper-to-bumper), is the R6 900 optional reversing camera.

Third row seats are probably bit much of a muchness. Drop easily out of view with the touch a button.

Blue Efficiency SUV?

Powering the GL range is an unchanged range of engines – a V8 petrol and Merc’s fabled 3l V6 turbodiesel.

You’ll notice a Blue Tec badge on the diesel models, which is in no way indicative of any change to GL’s 3l V6 CDI engine.

Instead, it refers to the aerodynamic changes ushered in by the styling package, which are supported by low resistance tyres and a more economy conscious 7G-Tronic self-shifter. Combined, these three design upgrades allegedly whittle 5% off the GL’s appetite for fuel…

Fact remains, the V6 still produces 165kW of power at 3 800 r/min, and 510Nm peak rotational force between 1 600 and 2 800 r/min.

If you keep the turbo boosting above 2 500 r/min you'll surge forward on a wave of torque; but power away from standstill and the laws of physics and inertia are quite tangible.

The GL remains swift at cruising speeds though, with the transmission’s surfeit of ratios ensuring seamless overtaking.

If you don’t mind more truncated range, which can be an issue when venturing outside South Africa’s borders with your GL, the 5.5l V8 petrol engine offers hot hatch humbling acceleration with 0-100km/h coming up in 6.5 sec.

At a touch over 2.4t, the GL-series' put significant strain on their fully independent air-suspension systems. Merc’s adaptive damping is impeccably calibrated to deal with it though, even when cruising at substantial speeds on sweeping rural roads – as we found on our eastern Free State test route. 

With two fully lockable differentials and reduction ratio gearing, GL is only hampered by road-biased standard tyres off-road.

Off-road the GL‘s Airmatic dampers can elevate ground clearance to an ample 307mm, with traction buoyed by the ability to lock the centre or rear axle differential locks with a simple turn dial control.

When the axle locker is engaged in addition to the centre diff lock-up, it hampers manoeuvrability (as you’d expect), yet heralds very secure traction.

Throttle response is unbelievably laggy on the compression ignition GL off-road when not engaged in low-range. It simply waits until you’ve nearly floored the pedal before receiving authorisation from the ESP system to distribute torque to any of the wheels.

In low-range though, with the axles locked, and rolling proper off-road spec tyres in the wheelarches, GL has infinitely more off-road capability than any of its owners are ever likely to explore.

If you are keen on a trip to Namibia or Botswana we would recommend the optional full-size sparewheel at R20 000. In a supreme sense of irony, due to the full-size sparewheel's location on a swinging girdle across the loadbay door, it vanquishes the reversing camera option.

Less regal than a Range Rover, not quite as aesthetically challenging (both inside and out) as Toyota’s Cruiser 200, the GL could be the thinking man’s low-range enabled maxi-sized premium 4x4 wagon…


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