A giant has joined our fleet and it's almost everything you expect of a big Merc.
Meet the new giant in the Autocar India fleet. It’s over five metres long, and squeezing its bulk into our cramped parking lot is akin to sailing a supertanker up a creek. So the first feature you learn to use is the bird’s-eye view, the reverse camera and the front bumper wide-angle camera. These extra eyes are a must-have because with their invaluable assistance, you can slot the GL into a parking space or squeeze between cabs in Sion with ‘thread-through-the-eye-of-the-needle’ precision.
Once you get used to its sheer size, it’s all good, because this Mercedes-Benz is almost everything you expect of a Mercedes-Benz.
Ours is, unfortunately for you and fortunately for us, in the now-unavailable Launch Edition spec. There are at least 25 butlers, sorry, motors that open and close the tailgate, operate the third-row seats, open the butterfly windows for the third row, move the headrests, adjust or close the mirrors, open the sunroof and help adjust the steering wheel reach and angle. I’m surprised there isn’t a motor that can make me a cup of chai — this really is something else!
I love its brown leather, brushed aluminium and un-lacquered wood cabin. It reminds me of the warm opulence of an estate bungalow, for some reason. I love the sheer build quality of the thing and I love how relaxing a place it is to be in.
The morning it arrived, I was to drive it to Pune to attend a technical showcase by ZF, and with it came the chance to give the GL a run on roads more suited to its size.
The 3.0-litre V6 diesel is a familiar one and it’s even quieter and smoother than in the E-class I’ve experienced in the past. What did catch me off guard is how relaxed this motor feels, especially in the GL – I think the GL’s 2,455kg and the motor’s 63kgm of torque find a sweet spot to make it feel quick and yet unhurried. It simply glides.
Then there’s the suspension’s Sport mode (which results in a lumpy ride on Mumbai’s roads). On the Mumbai-Pune expressway, you need to use this mode because it adds an element of stability and, at higher speeds, the stiffer setting is better at providing a flat, unshakable ride.
The Launch Edition spec comes with 21-inch wheels which make the GL crash uncomfortably over sharp bumps and, at city speeds, the ride isn’t as cosseting as a Land Rover Discovery’s.
Still, the front seats (I haven’t had a chance to be chauffeur-driven in it yet) are simply superb. The cushions are beautifully judged – they are soft on top, firmer underneath. This, and the punchy, clear audio system, only make me like it more.
If I could, there are a couple of things I would improve as well. The camera’s resolution could be better – you do have to squint at it occasionally. The COMAND screen could be brighter too – even at its brightest setting, it is difficult to see in broad daylight.
Oh, I would give the gearbox a Sport setting too. Unlike other Mercs, this one doesn’t come with gearbox modes, and I find the 7G-tronic, in its standard setting, places smooth gearshifts above all else. So if it doesn’t feel like it, no amount of tugging the gearshift paddles will hurry a gearshift through, and this can leave you waiting.
As for fuel efficiency, I really haven’t had a chance to get a proper run, but rough estimates indicate a city and highway mix of around 7-7.5kpl. That and the massive 100-litre tank should give the GL a usable 750km range.
So far then, I really like the GL. I like its square-shouldered, unashamedly SUV stance. Most of all, though, I like that it does what it is supposed to do convincingly. The next few months should be interesting.