Mercedes says the GL Class is the S-Class of off-roaders. That's funny, because most of us think of the old GL-Class as the Maybach of off-roaders: oversized, overpriced and over here (it is very popular in America, though, where it does not look like the design was run through the photocopier on zoom function).
The new version at least looks a bit better. Apart from the Mercedes grille, it is pretty generic, and certainly won't cause any sleepless nights at Land Rover, but at least it is inoffensive. As you would expect from a new Mercedes, it is an absolute tech-fest. As well as the usual ESP traction control, self-parking and downhill speed control, there are things you never knew you needed.
The most unusual is Crosswind Assist "which supports the driver with deliberate braking when there are strong crosswinds, increasing the feeling of safety." While off-roaders from the 1970s and 1980s could be a handful in strong crosswinds, we thought modern chassis design had solved that problem, so it is a bit of a surprise that Mercedes has come up with a special electronic programme to handle it.
One area which Mercedes is particularly proud of is refinement. The company makes a big thing of something called "aeroacoustics". The high frequency wind noises were rated, as were the low frequencies – especially those concerning the comprehensibility and audibility of spoken language. The result is that the GL Class is as quiet and easy to converse in as the S-Class – at least for those in rows one and two. Those in the third row of this giant vehicle might end up texting those in the front.
There are three engines at launch. The GL 350 CDI produces 255 bhp and achieves 38.1 mpg. This engine is likely to account for at least 80% of sales. The GL 500 produces 430 bhp and has an official fuel consumption of 24.9 mpg. The GL63 AMG offers 550 bhp and no-one who buys it could care less about its fuel consumption.