July 16, 2007
Already crowned the Best New SUV (over $60,000) in Canada by AJAC (Automobile Journalists Association of Canada), the Mercedes-Benz GL can now be purchased with fuel-efficient and clean-running diesel engine. Called the GL320 CDI this version also has a significantly lower price than the already released GL 450.
Choosing the GL320 CDI, with its smaller 3.0-litre diesel engine, shaves about $7,000 off the asking price; it’s far more economical to operate and its lower CO2 output is kinder to the planet. Although it can’t match the gas engine’s horsepower numbers, the torque figures are very close, so it’s about the same in terms of pulling power.
In case you were wondering, the GL shares nothing with the military-bred G-Class or Gelandewagen (now entering its 27th year of production). Built on an entirely new unit-body platform, the GL is produced in the same Alabama plant that churns out its M-Class and R-Class siblings.
Many of the GL’s styling cues resemble the newest generation M-Class (ML), but it’s a bolder, stronger design adaptation. The GL’s two-box SUV blueprint is more cube-like than an ML or an R-Class and that’s not to say it’s unattractive, but it’s in a more muscular “manly” manner. Extra-wide rear doors make entry and exits easier. They also need more swing-out space, which can be a problem in a tight parking stall.
Inside, there’s a distinctive ambiance about a Mercedes interior that’s both pleasing to the eye and sublimely comfortable. The GL’s cabin has a spacious feel, the leather and wood trimmings are top quality and its extra wide seats offer excellent support.
Front seat adjustment switches are hidden from view on the side of the seat cushion. While not unusual for most vehicles, Mercedes generally puts this switch cluster on the door panel, in full view of the driver and front passenger.
My test GL had an impressive array of driver controls and accessories. A Premium Package that added $5,200 to the price included a navigational system, an electrically adjustable steering column, passenger and driver’s side memory, power folding side mirrors, a power rear lift-gate and an audio system for the second row.
Making your way into the third-row seat is by way of an easy to fold-forward right side second-row seat. The third row is a liveable space with its own small sunroof and surprisingly good head room – leg room is another matter.
Switches in the cargo area and just inside the right side rear door opening allow you to remotely raise or lower the third-row seats – a mighty convenient feature in a vehicle of this size. Another power feature, which made the task of flipping the second-row seat easier, automatically moved the front passenger seat forward, to provide space for it.
With all seats in an upright position there’s still some storage space (300-litres/10.6 cu ft) in the rear. Fold all the seats and there’s a whopping 2,300-litres/81.2 cu ft. A small additional storage pocket in the rear cargo area opens to reveal a first aid kit – nice touch.
Side airbags for both the first and second-row (outboard) seats as well as side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats are standard. Active head restraints are fitted on the front seats and all seats have pull-up type head restraints.
There’s also a full compliment of active safety features including an electronic stability control system, anti-lock brakes and traction control. My test GL came with active Bi-Xenon headlights ($1,675) that move with the steering, to see better while turning.
This is the first seven-passenger vehicle I’ve tested that will actually accept five or six (if you have Mercedes-Benz “baby-smart” seat) child seats without any modification. There are no lower anchors on the second-row centre seat, but you can use the seatbelt. And I was particularly impressed by the super easy-use lower anchors on all the other seats – well done M-B.
On the road, the new V6 configured 3.0-litre turbo engine is amazingly quiet for a diesel. Even if you stomp on the accelerator, there’s next to none of that associated diesel clatter from under the hood. Acceleration is nowhere near the GL450, but power delivery was also quicker than I expected.
The days of waiting for glow-plugs to warm up or injectors to prime are gone too. The start procedure in normal weather conditions is just like a gasoline engine, put the key in the ignition and turn it.
Filling the fuel tank isn’t much different either, other than you don’t have to do it as often. Which brings us to fuel economy: even around the city, a CDI diesel uses less fuel than the V8 gasoline engine in its most frugal mode, on the highway.
Just like the V8 gas engine the 3.0-litre diesel is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift switches on the steering wheel and a full-time 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Power is distributed to all four wheels equally on dry paved roads and it automatically recalibrates the anti-lock brake system to provide better stops on unpaved off-road surfaces.
Similar in function to Land Rover’s ‘Hill Decent’ system but called DSR by Mercedes, the GL has a downhill crawl speed feature. And it also comes with Hill-Start Assist, which keeps it from rolling backward, after being stopped on uphill slope.
I would still recommend the optional off-road package if you want to take a GL any distance off the beaten path. It includes an undercarriage protective package that could save you from punching a hole through the oil pan on a rock. Special wheels and tires, a two-speed transfer case, locking centre and rear differentials and additional ground clearance (height-adjustment) are also included.
The height-adjustable Airmatic suspension is a very cool feature of the GL. Compressed air bladders, which replace conventional springs, can vary the ride height. The driver can select from comfort to more aggressive settings and the system automatically lowers at highway speeds.
For some strange reason the GL’s side mirrors are small (for an SUV), although the mirror surround is quite large. It may be something to do with a handy auto-fold feature when you lock the doors.
Big and aggressive, and with seating for seven, the Mercedes-Benz GL is the missing link between mild-mannered ML and the military-chic G-Class. And the new V6 diesel is a smart engine choice.
Pricing: 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI
Base price: $69,500
Options: $ 6,875 (Premium Package $5200; Bi-Xenon headlights $1675)
Freight $ 1,795
A/C tax $ 100
Price as tested $78,270
Manufacturer’s web site