Mercedes-Benz GL 450. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Greg Wilson
Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada
Napa Valley, California – Here’s the first thing you need to know about the new 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class SUV: it has nothing in common with the boxy, old-fashioned G-Class model. It’s a completely different and completely new full-size SUV that competes with luxury models like the Lexus LX470, Cadillac Escalade and Range Rover. In fact, the old G-Class will continue to be sold alongside the GL, at least for the time being.
Arriving in May, the V8-powered 2007 GL 450 is a vehicle that’s got everything and does everything for people who want everything. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating slightly, but the GL 450 is a well-equipped multi-purpose vehicle with amazing versatility. Though large by anybody’s standards, the GL 450 is comfortable and agile in city and highway driving yet genuinely capable in off-road situations. The unibody GL doesn’t feel truck-like or heavy even though it weighs over 5,000 pounds. This versatility and magical lightfootedness is what sets the GL 450 apart from its competition, and in my opinion, makes it the new benchmark in this exclusive class of vehicles.
Pricing is not available yet, but the rumoured starting price of $80,000 will make it considerably cheaper than some of its esteemed rivals.
Built in the same Alabama plant where the M-Class and R-Class models are assembled, the GL-Class shares some components with those vehicles but is bigger than both of them: 5088 mm (200.3 in.) long, 1920 mm (75.6 in.) wide, and 1840 mm (72.4 in.) tall. It seats seven adults in comfort and even has enough luggage space behind the third row for a few suitcases.
The interior is a classy and attractive blend of leather, aluminum trim, burled walnut with excellent fit and finish and there was no attempt, other than the grab bars in the centre console, to make it look truck-like or macho. Even S-Class owners will feel comfortable in this cabin.
Wide, supportive, multi-contour front seats are very comfortable and include adjustable air chambers, and a comfortable driving position is easily attained thanks to the power seats and multi-function steering wheel with power tilt and telescope functions. The GL’s classy round gauges are clearly visible and include a digital information display in between them. The centre instrument panel in my test car included an optional navigation system with a large, colour screen and integrated audio system that features eight speakers, upgradeable to eleven speakers with a subwoofer as an option. I found the nav system fairly simple to use, although I didn’t have a lot of time to fully review it, and the standard stereo offered clear and rich tones, made more pleasant by the fact that the cabin is very quiet at highway speeds.
Mercedes-Benz GL 450. Click image to enlarge
The GL 450 includes a standard three-zone automatic climate control for the driver, passenger and rear compartment, with separate controls for rear passengers. An interesting feature is a “Tunnel mode” which closes all windows and the sunroof if the recirculation button is pressed when entering an underground parkade or tunnel.
Second row passengers also have very comfortable seats with plenty of legroom and headroom. The third row is also roomy enough for adults, and can be accessed fairly easily by folding down the second-row seatback and sliding the seat forwards. Interestingly, if the front passenger seat is too far forwards, it will automatically slide forwards. When the third row passengers are seated, the second row can be pulled back into its former position, as will the front seat. The split third row seats, by the way, can be folded down electrically with the press of a button. As well, the rear hatch also opens with a button or remote transmitter.
A sunroof over the rear seats allows plenty of light into the interior, and all rows have cupholders and storage areas. An optional rear-seat entertainment system comprises two colour monitors in the back of the front head restraints and a CD/DVD player under the centre seat.
The cargo area is very roomy, and with split third row seatbacks and split second row seatbacks, a multitude of passenger and cargo combinations can be arranged. Behind the third row seats, from floor to ceiling, is 300 litres (10.6 cu. ft.) of cargo volume, and from the tailgate to the back of the third row seat is a floor length of 480 mm (19 in.). Fold down the 50/50 third row split seats, and you have 1240 litres (43.8 cu. ft.) and a floor length of 1309 mm (51.5 in.). Fold down the 60/40 split second row seats and you’ve got 2300 litres (81.2 cu. ft.) and a load length of 2128 mm (83.8 in.) or about seven feet!
In addition to the GL 450’s standard multi-stage front airbags, front side airbags and curtain airbags for all three rows, the GL 450 includes Mercedes Pre-Safe system which can detect an imminent collision and automatically close the windows, sunroof, and tighten the seatbelts to help prepare the occupants for a collision.
In Canada, the only engine available in the GL-Class will be a new 340 horsepower 4.6-litre V8 with four valves per cylinder (yes, four not three) mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission that includes a manual mode activated by buttons on the back of the steering wheel.
The powerful, flexible 4.6-litre V8 propels the GL 450 from 0 to 100 km/h in a surprisingly quick time of 7.6 seconds, and the GL has the ability to tow a 3,402 kg 7,500 lb. trailer (when equipped with trailer brakes). Yet, as Mercedes dutifully pointed out to the media at the vehicle’s introduction in California, the GL 450 achieves superior fuel economy to its rivals, averaging 13.3 L/100 km (without a trailer).
In the Spring of 2007, Canada will also get a GL 320 CDI model with a 224 hp V6 Bluetec turbo-diesel engine. But we will not see (at least as of this writing) the GL 500 with its 388 hp 5.5 litre V8, or the GL 420 CDI with its 306 hp Bluetec 4.2 litre turbo-diesel.
As I mentioned, the GL 450 is very agile for such a big vehicle, a function of its somewhat unique construction. Its strong unit body includes an X-shaped underfloor reinforcement and a “D” ring at the rear connecting the rear roof rail with the sidewalls and the floor structure to provide extra torsional stiffness. As well, the GL 450 has a fully independent suspension (front double wishbone/rear four-link) with stabilizer bars and automatically adjusting ‘Airmatic’ air shocks, a long 3075 mm wheelbase, big 275/55R-19-inch tires, and a bevy of electronically controlled safety aids to keep the GL going and stopping in the direction the driver intended.
Being such a big vehicle, the GL 450 does have a rather wide turning circle (12.1 m/40 ft.), and parking spots need to be extra large. Visibility is good, but the rear window is high when backing up. As small as the GL 450 feels on the road, it is still a big vehicle.
The GL 450’s standard 4Matic all-wheel drive system distributes torque evenly between the front and rear axles, but if any of the wheels slip, the 4ETS traction system sends engine torque to the wheels with traction by braking the spinning wheels. As well, the ESP (electronic stability program) automatically stabilizes the vehicle should it understeer or oversteer, reducing the risk of a spin-out or roll-over. The system also helps keep the vehicle stable when towing a trailer.
The GL’s four disc brakes include anti-lock and Brake Assist to help in panic stops, but a special off-road package includes ABS optimized for off-road driving, Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR) which maintains a constant downhill speed on steep descents without using the brake; and Hill-start Assist which prevents the GL from rolling back on a hill when moving the foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator.
If all that is not enough, there’s the optional Off-Road Pro Engineering Package which includes a Low Range gear, centre and rear differential locks, and an adjustable air suspension which raises the ground clearance to 307 mm (12 in.).
I tried all of these features on a special off-road course Mercedes set up in the Napa Valley. It had rained the day before, and the surface could be described as slippery mud and rocks. Even without the optional Off-Road Pro Engineering Package, the GL 450 tackled the worst tracks imaginable with an indifference that’s almost cheeky. The 4ETS Traction system in particular is of great assistance in sending torque to any wheel or wheels with traction instantaneously, and the Downhill Speed Regulation really does prevent the 5000-pound GL from sliding down a precipitous slope – all the driver has to do is steer.
When the road turns into a stream bed and rocky outcroppings, the optional Off-Road Engineering package saves the day. Raise the air suspension to it maximum height, put it in Low Range, and lock the differentials, and the GL clambers over boulders and outcroppings like a giant crab with wheels. The high ground clearance enables it to ford streams up to 600 mm (24 in.). Long wheel articulation and underbody skid plates also assist in traversing the most demanding roads.
Not being that fond of SUVs personally, I was a bit surprised that I found the Mercedes-Benz GL 450 so likeable. Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t drive like an SUV – more like a big, tall car that happens to be very good off-road as well.