POSITIVELY GL-OWING

Up until the other day I (incorrectly) assumed that I had covered every vehicle that I have spent the last few months researching and day dreaming about, yet now I’ve realised I failed to post about not one but two vehicles; the first being the oft-detested Range Rover Sport and the second being a close relative of Jeep’s Grand Cherokee and Mercedes Benz’s ML and R Class; the GL.

The relatively weak title of this post comes from the basis of the GL’s underpinnings (and appearance) as effectively a pregnant ML. Weak jokes aside I feel this actually does the GL little justice as it is very much a model in it’s own right, even more so with the current second generation car which is not only more alot more differentiated from the smaller ML but also looks a lot more attractive and cohesive. That’s not to say that the original car looks at all awkward though; undeniably a huge car (it’s over 5m long), the GL manages to hide it’s bulk through boxy but neatly styled lines with short overhangs and smart detailing. Although it is larger than the likes of the Land Rover Discovery it manages to look smaller than most of it’s contemporaries, although this is probably due in part because it’s no wider than the ML. Unfortunately for me the very few GL’s that fall into my price range tend to be painted in a rather lacklustre silver/gold paint which when combined with 18″ alloy wheels can make the car look a bit more like an MPV than I’d like. Still apart from a rather bulky rear end the GL is still a vehicle I admire, probably more so because of it’s rarity on UK roads – possibly due to it’s size/price/the market’s predisposition to Range Rovers.

When the GL was being developed it was originally intended as a replacement for the venerable G-Wagen, which has been around in the same basic form for over 30 years now. At some point in the development process it was decreed by the MB high guard that the G Wagen was far too much of an icon to be replaced, especially by a car based on a ‘soft roader’ and instead should continue with a few updates for the foreseeable future. I am a massive fan of the G Wagen so I am mightily pleased that this was decided, and given the emergence of a diesel RHD model I can only hope that in years to come I will be able to nab one at a more agreeable price. The development of the GL did not stop at there though and it was re-envisaged as a contender for the full-size SUV market, which at the time was booming. The result is a car which many say is a step too far for British roads (and parking spaces) but it does occupy it’s own niche in the market as the only SUV which can offer 7 adult sized seats…arguably the Discovery can also lay claim to that but at least in ‘3’ guise it doesn’t really count as a luxury vehicle.

So what about the inside of the GL? Well imagine the ML’s and you pretty much have the right idea. The few differences between the two cars are mainly equipment based, which I will get to in a moment, but most of the GL’s distinctions come into play in that third row; a middle seat with tumbling mechanism gives easy access for those ‘relegated’ to the back seats and the foot room is ample and comparable to the rear room in a lot of superminis. Even with them in place there is room behind them for an average shop, and once they have been folded (electrically!) there is acres of space available without intruding on the front 5 seats. Back up front and we have those equipment differences, which are quite substansial given the fact the GL cost a good £15k more than a comparable ML when new. For starters air suspension is standard, which whilst potentially troublesome also means a cohesive and changeable ride, as well as the ability to rise and lower itself. Navigation also appears to have been standard, along with Bluetooth, memory seats and rear climate controls; given that these are all features that I want in a car this is a big positive, especially considering that the ML can often miss out on several desirable bits of kit. Also standard are 2 sunroofs, a nice feature although it is slightly disappointing that a panoramic one is not present at all.

On the road and as far as I can tell the GL is pretty much the same as the ML (and to a lesser extent the R Class), as apart from a little extra length/height/weight things are the same regarding handling and performance, and with air suspension standard the ride is better than most. As usual I can’t say that I’ve had any experience of driving one of these beasts, but given that I’ve sat in an R Class and driven it for a quick second I will say that although it is undeniably a big car, it is not difficult to drive in everyday settings, and with front and rear parking sensors standard plus relatively few blind spots it shouldn’t be too horrific to park. Under the bonnet lie 3 engine choices in the UK; a V8 petrol which nobody bought, a V8 diesel which the well heeled/performance minded buyers bought and the ubiquitous/talented V6 diesel which is found in most of Mercedes’ product line up. The ‘320’ V6 is most likely what I would get and although not as quick as it is in the ML it has no trouble from motivating the GL in a reasonable 9.5 seconds, which is pretty much ok with me! Running cost wise things are not as rosy though; a 29mpg official combined figure is not too bad and I’ve seen owners comment on 26 town/34 motorway being achievable, but tax is stuck at £465 regardless of engine choice and insurance tops £1k (although is strangely less than an ML320).

The GL has appeal on multiple levels, not least it’s appearance and rarity, but I am worried that for the high price it commands (very few cars are dipping under £16k) I could quite easily get an ML for sufficiently less. My arguments against the smaller car are the frustrating equipment levels in the ‘280’ and high insurance in the ‘320’, but it seems silly to moan about such things when a GL would be just as expensive to insure and more to buy even if it is better equipped. Obviously it remains to be seen what I eventually buy but even though my mind is constantly changing it still seems a bit unlikely it will be the GL that I settle on.

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