New GL in SA: Demystifying Merc’s new SUVs

Ferdi de Vos
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 ABC? NO, IT'S AB-G: Mercedes-Benz G-Class has become a bit complicated. FERDI DE VOS breaks its down for the average Joe. Image: Mercedes-Benz ~

Do you sometimes feel like you’re crossing your i’s and dotting your t’s when it comes to the new nomenclature structure Mercedes-Benz has adopted for its family of SUVs?

Yes, it is confusing, even more so now that the automaker is releasing a whole G-string of new models. They don’t call 2015 the Year of the SUV in Stuttgart for nothing.

Here’s some background to demystify the latest family lineage and the logic behind it that will hopefully turn you into a G-wiz at the next load-shedding braai...

The origin of the G-Class, sometimes also called the G-Wagon or to be technically correct, the G-Wagen, can be found in the military.

The Geländewagen (literally meaning “cross country” or “overland” vehicle) was developed as a military utility vehicle in the early 1970s and the first prototype was revealed in 1974.

Production at Steyr-Daimler-Puch (now known as Magn-Steyr) in Austria commenced in 1979 and soon after a civilian version was offered.

The Granddaddy of ’em all, characterized by its boxy styling, frame construction and three full diff-locks, is still in production today, despite being on the verge of being culled numerous times over the last 35 years…


The GL-Class, introduced in 2006, was initially intended to be a replacement for the venerable G. Its nomenclature, for Geländewagen Leicht (lightweight overlander), signified that this full-sized three-row, seven-passenger vehicle was to slot in at the top of the SUV range.

Now here’s where it gets messy. You see, the bigger GL was developed to take over the role of flagship SUV from the M-Class, with which it shares its unibody architecture.

The first generation W163 series M-Class, which made its debut in 1997, did not follow the traditional naming protocol, as it was presented as a product that would establish a completely new vehicle class.

To complicate matters further rival automaker BMW had an issue with the M-moniker, as it clashed with its own M Division-badging, and Merc reverted to calling the M-Class the ML…

Mercedes-Benz had the G, the GL and the ML, but it was soon clear that a smaller SUV was needed. In 2008 the GLK, an acronym for Geländewagen Leicht Kurz (short and light overland vehicle) made its debut.

According to some sources GLK stands for Geländewagen Luxus Kompaktklasse, but in terms of other Mercedes-Benz model acronyms (such as CLK and SLK) this does not make sense.

What was clear, though, was that with every new derivative the model designations were getting more muddled and confusing, and that a revamp was necessary.


In terms of Stuttgart’s new nomenclature protocol accepted late last year and announced earlier this year, the SUV designations changed as follows:

The Big G (G-Class) stays as is, but the GL-family now gets subdivided into its equivalent model placement in the Mercedes-Benz hierarchy, i.e. A-Class, B-Class, C-Class, etc.
So, besides the G-Class, you will now find the:

  • GLA - Unveiled at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show and released in SA in 2014 the GLA is the entry-level model, equivalent to the A-Class, in the Mercedes-Benz SUV line-up. Powered by a range of petrol and diesel four-cylinder engines, and with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive 4Matic it was designed to compete with the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.

  • GLC - The new GLC (codename X205) that was recently released in Europe and will be available locally in the last quarter of this year is the successor to the above-mentioned GLK. The GLC is the SUV equivalent to the C-Class and Merc’s competitor for the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. A Coupe version known as the GLC Coupe is soon to be released as a rival to the BMW X4.

  • GLE: The recently revamped ML-Class has been rechristened to the GLE-Class as per the revised nomenclature adopted by the brand. In this sense the “new” GLE, which will be available in South Africa from September, is the SUV equivalent to the E-Class, while the GLE Coupe version will rival the X6 range from BMW.

  • GLS: With the release of the facelifted X166 second generation model later this year the GL-Class will be renamed the GLS as per the brand’s revised nomenclature – the GLS being the SUV flagship, equivalent to the S-Class.

So there you have it. Easy as 123, or ABC, or is that ACE..?