Base price: $153,900.
Powertrain and performance: 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6, 190kW/620Nm, 7-speed automatic, four-wheel drive, Combined economy 7.7 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 7.9 seconds.
Vital statistics: 5120mm long, 1850mm high, kerb weight 2455kg, luggage capacity 680-2300 litres, fuel tank 100 litres, 20-inch alloy wheels.
We like: Balance of performance and economy, quality, equipment.
We don’t like: Large by any measure, conservative styling out of step with modern Mercedes product.
How it rates: 8/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
There’s so much talk about downsizing these days, but if you’re a premium car-buyer who still believes that bigger is better, there are options.
How about the recently face lifted Mercedes-Benz GL-class? This monster wagon is over five metres long, provides comfortable seating for seven and embraces old-school styling that only serves to emphasise its exterior dimensions. The GL is not ashamed of its size: it’s large and in charge.
The GL is not to be confused with the G-class – Mercedes-Benz’s hard-core off-road wagon. With the GL, the L could well stand for luxury – although it’s quite capable in the rough, its primary purpose is as a comfortable, refined seven-seat family wagon. One with a lot of prestige and presence, of course.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Believe it or not, our GL 350 BlueTec is the entry-level model in the range: all $154k and 620Nm of it. The performance belies its base-model status and size, bounding along to 100km/h in under eight seconds and feeling indecently sprightly in rolling acceleration.
The most remarkable thing is that the GL achieves that performance while retaining the fuel economy credentials to justify its BlueTec tag. Combined economy is a remarkable 7.7 litres per 100km (this is a 2.5-tonne machine, remember) and that figure is actually achievable if you are prepared to surf along gently on all that torque.
It’s a large car to thread through city streets, yet the GL is far from clumsy on the open road: it steers with authority and handles predictably, despite its comfort-oriented chassis. Airmatic suspension is standard on our local-specification car, which includes adaptive damping to keep body roll in check and automatically lowers the vehicle at high speeds.
The GL 350 is packed with active safety features intended to take the stress out of driving such a large vehicle. Standard equipment includes blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
Obviously, interior space is not an issue with the GL 350. In five-seat configuration (the rearmost row stows electrically) the load bay is absolutely massive. Even with the third row in place you still have modest boot space.
The interior styling is conservative but certainly up to the kind of quality standards you expect of a Mercedes-Benz – especially one at this price. The brown burr walnut trim might not be to all tastes, but the seats are trimmed in soft leather and you get nice touches like an auto-dimming driver’s mirror and ambient lighting package throughout the cabin.
Naturally, the massive tailgate is power-operated and can be opened either from the driver’s seat or with the remote.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
Only if you really need all that space. The GL 350 is a deeply impressive vehicle, managing to combine extreme size with surprising performance and efficiency. But at the end of the day there are plenty of other choices within the Mercedes-Benz family that serve similar purposes: an E-class wagon for loadspace, an ML if you’re really into SUVs.
The GL 350 is a beautifully executed machine, but you’d have to seriously need all that people and/or cargo capacity to take on a wagon that seems oversized for New Zealand roads.
Air conditioning: Three-zone climate
Audio: CD, iPod compatible
Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
Blind spot warning: Yes
Cruise control: Yes
Driver footrest: Yes
Gas discharge headlights: Bi-xenon
Head-up display: No
Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/no
Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
Lane guidance: Yes
Leather upholstery: Yes
Parking radar: Yes with camera and 360-degree view
Power boot or tailgate: Yes
Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes
Rear ventilation outlets: Yes
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: Yes
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Self-parking technology: No
Split/folding rear seats: Centre row 60/40, third row 50/50
Steering reach adjustment: Yes
Trip computer: Yes
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