February 26, 2007
One of the quirky traits of us humans is a fondness for irrational stuff. And while religion, alcohol and reality TV top most lists of the illogical, launching a massive SUV into a very uncertain and unstable global environment is surely one of the bigger fliers in the past year.
Big-ticket luxury SUV-envy is still the trend in automakers’ executive suites, and the latest boardroom to go overboard with such a vehicle is Mercedes-Benz. Not content to let their somewhat practical and good-selling M-Class model carry their SUV torch, Mercedes has upped the ante considerably with the release of the 2007 GL450.
The long-awaited replacement for the legendary G-Class – that boxy looking Benz more suited for a safari than a mall run – is finally here. But a funny thing happened on the way to the graveyard for the G. The global hue and cry over its scheduled demise forced Mercedes to continue producing the G-wagon into the foreseeable future. But make no mistake, the all-new GL is where they’re putting their money.
And you’ll need some big bucks too if you buy one, though the 2007 GL450’s $76,500 base price is substantially less than the G’s six-figure sticker price. The diesel V6-equipped GL320 starts at $69,500. The new GL shares nothing with the G, except a distinct split-personality. Call it a little bit country-side, a little bit country club.
The heavy duty construction, massive suspension, advanced and computer-aided four-wheel-drive system (patented as 4Matic) make the GL a formidable forest and mountain rig. Inside, however, the elements and terrain seem a million miles away. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear you were in a Mercedes luxury sedan (which of course is the very idea). Excellent fit and finish, quality materials and well-thought out design combine to create yet another very comfortable, very functional and very attractive Mercedes interior. The manner in which the third row seating is integrated into the cabin design – rather than the all-too typical add-on third row so common in three-row vehicles – speaks volumes into the thought that went into this vehicle.
The GL cabin is fitted with real burl walnut wood trim, power front seats and a glass sunroof with a fixed glass panel over the third-row seats. The two third-row seats can be stowed electrically at the push of a button, either separately or together, to provide a totally flat cargo floor. As a five-seater, the GL can carry 1,240 litres of cargo, and with the second row seats stowed as well, there’s more than 2,300 litres of cargo room.
One last thing about the interior – the lack of exterior noise, including the big V8 in full march, is phenomenal. As to that the engine, the 4.6-litre eight-cylinder powerplant is a perfect fit. Producing a very respectable 335 horsepower, the engine is mated to a seven-speed gearbox, a transmission showing up on more and more Mercs since its debut in the SLK in 2003. Like the V8, the tranny is well-suited to the bulky GL. How bulky? Tipping the scales at 5,357 lbs, the GL is just 300 pounds lighter than the all-wheel-drive Cadillac Escalade, and 500 pounds heavier than a 2006 ML500.
Proving this is no pavement princess, there is much more to the GL’s off-road prowess than the permanent all-wheel drive system. Standard features such as DSR downhill speed regulation, hill-start assist, and a special off-road ABS algorithm combine to give the big rig remarkable agility. And for those toughest logging roads, there’s the optional Off-Road package, which includes a two-speed transfer case and locks for the centre and rear differentials. The package also includes modified air suspension that can increase ground clearance to a maximum of 30.7 cm, which also raises its low-speed fording depth to 60 cm.
The GL450 is 5,088 mm in length, 1,920 mm wide and 1,840 mm tall, and despite its girth, boast an aerodynamic drag coefficient of 0.37. Its steel unit body provides passive safety with a high-strength occupant cell protected by front and rear crumple zones that include new provisions to help reduce potential injuries to pedestrians and cyclists. The GL is offered with two-stage front air bags for the driver and front passenger, side air bags in the front and 2nd-row seats, and curtain air bags that span all three rows of seats.
The GL450’s solid and confident handling is a direct result of the four-wheel independent suspension, speed-sensitive power steering and 18-inch 265 / 60 all-season tires. The vehicle has a 7,500 lb. (3,402 kg) towing capacity and is available with optional height-adjustable AIRMATIC air suspension system with ADS adaptive damping.
So, who exactly is the Alabama-built GL built for? Good question, as the fluctuating cost of fuel must concern even the most well-heeled. (Don’t pay any attention to that "if you can afford the car you can afford the gas" adage. Even the rich wince at $100 fill-ups.)
Much of the new business for this new uber-SUV, I’d offer, will come from current M-Class owners who appreciate the Benz commitment to quality and style, but just want something a little bigger and bolder.
In an age when some of the biggest automakers in the world are trying to cut the number of models in their stables, Mercedes continues to expand, with the GL joining the R-Class and the B-Class as all new entries from the German automaker.
Pricing 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL450
Base price $76,500
Options $ 8,375 (Xenon headlights $1,675; Premium Package $3,900; Off-road package $2,800)
Freight $ 1,795
A/C tax $ 100
Price as tested $86,770
Manufacturer’s web site