We really like the Mercedes-Benz M-Class that combines the ruggedness of an SUV and the luxury of a car. In fact, we liked it so much we declared it the winner after a grueling shoot-out at the Little Rann of Kutch, over the BMW X5 and the Audi Q7. However the M-class hasn’t sold as well as the Audi that has captured Indians buyers’ fancy. We see more of the Q7 than Mercs and Beemer on Indian roads today. Now, to take the Q7 head-on, Mercedes-Benz has launched the GL-Class. How does it fare? Let’s find out.
The GL-Class is a full-sized luxury SUV that was primarily designed and engineered exclusively for the US market and this is evident in its huge size. The GL-Class (model name X 164) shares its platform with the M- Class 0N 164) and both were launched in North America in 2006. The GL is margin- ally longer than the Audi Q7 and at 2100mm (6.88 feet) it’s the tallest SUV available in India today. The variant available in India is the updated 2010 GL 350 CD! 4MATIC with BlueEFFICIENCY which claims to cut fuel consumption by up to 12 per cent with low rolling resistance tyres, light weight materials and an aerodynamic body, not to forget the 7G-Tronic auto transmission that shifts to neutral automatically when the car is stationary at a traffic light.
From the front, the GL looks big and brutish. The design is typical Mercedes-Benz and features a prominent twin slat chrome grille that along with the wheel arches fairings complements the aerodynamic BlueEFFICIENCY package. Bi-xenon projector headlamps and LED fog lamps which double up as daytime driving lights come as standard. The chrome front underbody protection looks sporty and protects the underpinnings when the going gets rough. The sides of the SUV are rather plain and featureless and the profile becomes rather boxy as you go aft of the C-pillar. The aluminum-effect running boards are the only attractive feature on the sides. From the rear though the GL looks much better though with echoes of the M-Class. Overall the GL has immense and intimidating presence while the chrome underbody protection, twin exhausts and LED tail lamps give it a touch of sportiness.
The GL-Class is available with a common- rail 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine (the 350 tag is a misnomer) that produces a maximum power of 226PS at 3800rpm and produces a maximum torque of 510Nm between 1000rpm and 2800rpm. It has an undersquare bore-stroke layout (83.0mm x 92.0mm) and a compression ratio of 17:7. This engine is part of Mercedes’ OM642 family of engines which is found on various models like the ML 350, S 320 and the E 350 though it makes the least power in the GL. A 7G-Tronic 7 speed automatic transmission with sport mode distributes the torque in a 50:50 split between the front and rear wheels. One can also manually shift via paddles. Shifting via the paddles is very quick and there is hardly any delay in information relayed from the shifter to the transmission while upshifting as well as downshifting. Just like all Mercedes-Benz cars the gear selection is done through a lever on the steering column freeing up space on the central tunnel for storage bins.
Performance-wise, the GL took 10.8 seconds to reach 100kmph while it runs on to a claimed top speed of 210kmph. In comparison to the M-Class the GL is a second slower to 100krnph and that makes it the slowest accelerating SUV in this segment today when compared to the Q7 and X5.
Where the GL scores is with the 4MATIC full-time four-wheel-drive system which also has a low ratio, the only premium SUV to sport such a feature. This gives it immense off-roading ability and it can be driven across or over virtually anything. The 4MATIC system is assisted by the ESP, electronic traction system and the ABS function to provide additional support while braking as well as offering good traction on any road surface. Its capabilities are further enhanced by the hill start assist that prevents it from rolling back or forward on steep inclines. Via a switch on the dash the airmatic air suspension system allows the body to be raised or lowered depending on the terrain. When raised the ground clearance goes up to 497mm while wading depth increases to 600mm. The maximum break- over angle of the GL is 23 degrees while the approach and departure angles are 33 and 27 degrees respectively.
The GL uses a monocoque chassis (not a ladder-frame) while the suspension set-up features a double wishbone, air spring suspension in the front and a 4-link suspension at the rear.
The airmatic suspension offers two modes for on-road driving namely sport and comfort. The sport mode is for more enthusiastic driving which stiffens the dampers, improves body control and reduces body roll (quite noticeable in comfort mode). However, even in sport mode, the GL is nowhere close to the dynamic ability of either the Xs or the Q7.
The GL-C1ass is spacious SUV thanks to the generous length of S009mm and that allows a third row of seats (which is a big failing of the M-C1ass). With three rows of seats, boot space is 360 liters, but without the optional third row loading, space goes up to 1240 liters. With the second and third row of seats folded, the total capacity goes up to an impressive 2200 liters. Inside, the occupants are ensconced in luxury and comfort. The dashboard is exactly the same as on the M- Class and is fitted with the same four-spoke wood/leather multifunction steering wheel. The only difference is the ambient lighting via LED strips.
The GL we tested came with a cashmere beige interior scheme and leather upholstery which is one of the five different color schemes on offer. Add to it, and you get a host of creature comforts such as three zone independent climate control (driver, passengers and rear) while the third row folds in electrically at the push of a button, similar to the Land Cruiser Prado we tested last month, The multimedia system gives loads of information via the 6.s-inch colour display and also plays DVDs, CD and MP3 files. A 4GB hard drive is also available to store audio files in MP3 or WMA formats. The display also works as a reversing cam- era. The rear passengers are pampered with two 8-inch colour screens that can playback DVD videos as well as be connected to external video sources including gaming con- soles. Audio can be output via the wireless infrared headphones or via the audio sys- tem for the rear seat passengers. The GL- Class also comes with a SD memory slot, iPhone/iPod and aux-in connection cables which can be interchanged and connected inside the glovebox. The GL also offers a conventional electronic sliding sunroof for the front passengers and, curiously, two fixed sunroofs (left and right) for the rear passengers.
The GL 350 CD! is priced at Rs 64.9 lakh ex-showroom Mumbai, which is over ten lakh rupees more than the benchmark set- ting ML 350 CD! (and Rs 11.5 lakh more than the Audi Q7 3.0 TD!). And yes, while it does offer a low-ratio gearbox (which no other SUV does in this segment) does the third row of seats really justify the premium over the M-Class?