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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - GL-Class - 5-dr wagon range

Launch Story

Mercedes-Benz logo1 Dec 2006

By CHRIS HARRIS

THE spiritual successor for the legendary Mercedes-Benz Gelaendewagen off-roader has arrived Down Under in time for Christmas.

Spiritual, because the original G-class is now in its 27th year of production and continues on sale in some countries alongside the all-new GL-class.

Locally, the demise of a plan to import a batch of G55 AMG hyper-4WDs by Mercedes-Benz Australia means the G-class is unlikely ever to again be made officially available to Australians due to issues including local certification costs.

The W461 G-class was available here briefly in the 1980s before it evolved into the W463 of 1991, the model that continues on sale overseas today, and with which – according to Mercedes – the M-class derived GL shares much of its off-road “DNA”.

But the Australian Army may yet get behind the helm of the Gelaendewagen, a number of which have been offered by Benz in response to a federal government plan to renew much of its military fleet.

A contract is yet to be awarded for the lucrative tender, which as we reported previously is known as Project Overlander and calls for a multitude of light and medium recovery vehicles and heavy trucks.

Along with the British Army’s Defender and the US Army’s Hum-Vee, armoured G-class vehicles are currently doing duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and continue to be employed by military forces around the globe. Canada’s is the latest army to take delivery of the tough-as-nails G-class.

The GL-class, of course, has more in common with the second-generation M-class luxury SUV, which arrived here in September 2005 in 200kW petrol V6-powered ML350 (launched at $79,900) and ML500 Luxury 225kW petrol V8 ($116,900) guises.

The ML range was expanded in November 2005 by the 165kW turbo-diesel ML320 CDI (launched at $82,900) and again in October this year, when the entry-level 140kW ML280 CDI ($77,900) and top-shelf ML63 AMG ($159,900) arrived.

The latter provides the least expensive entry to AMG’s blistering new 6.2-litre V8, which offers a heady 375kW and 630Nm in the M-class and is claimed to be the world’s most powerful naturally-aspirated production V8.

At the same time, in response to its popularity, Mercedes added the Luxury pack as standard to the ML350 and ML320 CDI, which saw pricing for both variants rise significantly, to $87,900 and $90,900 respectively.

In contrast, at least for now, the new GL-class range will be much simpler. Just two variants will be available from launch, both priced at a premium over their M-class equivalents.

Opening the GL-class range is the GL320 CDI, powered by the same 24-valve 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 that motivates the ML320 CDI and DaimlerChrysler sister brand Jeep’s Grand Cherokee.

Delivering 165kW at 3800rpm and a muscular 510Nm of torque from just 1600rpm, the third-generation common-rail direct-injection diesel from Benz features the latest piezo injectors and weighs about the same as the previous-generation ML270 CDI’s five-cylinder oil-burner.

As announced last month at the Australian International Motor Show in Sydney, where the GL made its Australian public debut, the GL320 CDI will be priced from $103,900 – a hefty $13,000 premium over the ML320 CDI (Luxury).

Of course, the GL comes with a number of significant differences to the M-class upon which it is based, apart from a unique and larger new chassis and body that, unlike the ML, can accommodate up to seven people via an optional third row of seats.

In line with the GL’s positioning as a more serious off-road vehicle, most significant is the standard fitment of Mercedes-Benz’s Off-Road Pro package, which costs $10,150 for M-class buyers.

The package includes height-adjustable Airmatic air suspension, which raises maximum ground clearance to 307mm (14mm more the M-class with Off-road Pro) and fording depth to 600mm, and also adds centre and rear differential locks, front/rear under-body protection, a low range-equipped transfer case. There is also Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR), hill-start assist, a compass and off-road ABS assist.

All that adds significant weight to the monocoque-chassis GL, which hits the scales in 320 CDI form at a substantial 2450kg (GL500: 2445kg). That’s around the same weight as a LandCruiser, and makes the GL320 CDI almost a second slower to 100km/h than the ML320 CDI.

Preliminary figures claim the GL320 CDI accelerates to 100km/h in 9.5 seconds, has a top speed of 210km/h and returns combined average fuel consumption of 9.7L/100km.

A direct comparison between the ML500 and GL500 cannot be made because while the M-class V8 employs Benz’s previous-generation three-valve 5.0-litre V8 (225kW), the GL500 follows the E, S, SL, CLS and CLK models in adopting a new-generation 5.5-litre V8, which meets tighter Euro IV emissions laws and delivers 285kW at 6000rpm and 530Nm of torque at 2800rpm (just 20Nm more than the diesel).

That is enough to propel the GL500 to 100km/h in a claimed 6.6 seconds and to the same 210km/h top speed as the GL320 CDI. Claimed combined average fuel consumption is a thirsty 13.9L/100km. Both the diesel and V8 petrol GLs feature Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic transmission with Direct Select steering wheel shift buttons and have an aerodynamic drag factor of 0.37Cd.

The GL320 CDI comes with a healthy standard equipment list, including Artico faux leather trim, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, three 12-volt power outlets, a 60/40-split flat-folding second row of seats, an eight-speaker sound system with six-CD changer, woodgrain highlights, cruise control with Speedtronic speed limiter, front and rear foglights, power windows and (heated) mirrors, front armrests, remote central locking, a multi-function steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, a panoramic rear sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels and, wait for it, a “Mini space saver spare wheel”.

The GL320 CDI’s standard safety kit extends to twin front, front side, rear side and full-length side curtain airbags, plus three-point belts for all seven seats.

In addition, the GL500 adds: 19-inch alloys, three-zone climate-control including a rear air-conditioning system, auto-dimming and folding (exterior) mirrors, active bi-Xenon headlights with cornering lights and washers, Benz’s Comand system, DVD navigation, a CD/DVD player, electric rear vent windows, heated front and second-row seats, an electric glass sunroof, Harmon Kardon Logic 7 audio, metallic paint, Nappa leather trim, an off-road styling pack and a self-closing/opening tailgate.

Options include a rear-seat entertainment system ($4900), radar-controlled Distronic cruise control ($3500), Linguatronic voice control ($1250), a wood/leather steering wheel ($900) and a reversing camera ($950).

Of course, the GL’s employment of the big new 5.5-litre V8 leaves room in the range for an entry-level variant powered by Benz’s new 4.3-litre V8, which already sees duty in other models in Europe, including the GL450. However, Mercedes-Benz Australia says a third GL variant will definitely not be released this year and that the 450 is no longer in its current plans.

But, when it appears, performance fans can expect to see the range-topping GL63 AMG at some stage here.

Like the ML, the long-wheelbase (3075mm) GL features Benz’s 4Matic permanent AWD system and Mercedes says the GL is the first seven-seat SUV to offer its Pre-Safe collision preparation system which, along with speed sensitive power steering and the Adaptive Damper System (ADS), is standard on both GL variants.

All GLs measure a sizeable 5088mm long, 1920mm wide and 1840mm high (on road).

Other key figures include a 12.1-metre turning circle, a 33-degree approach angle, a 27-degree departure angle, a 23-degree ramp angle and a payload of 700kg (GL500: 705kg). Fuel capacity is 100 litres, luggage capacity ranges between 300 litres (with seven seats in use) to 1240 litres (with five seats in use) and 2300 litres with only the front seats in use. Braked towing capacity is a beefy 3500kg.

Launched in Europe in July, the new GL-class is built alongside its sister models, the M-class and R-class, at DaimlerChrysler’s Tuscaloosa , Alabama – which opened in 1997 as the first Mercedes-Benz plant outside Europe.

Extensions were completed in May 2005 following expenditure of $US600 million since 2001, bringing maximum annual production capacity to 160,000 vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz expects to sell around 400 examples of its latest niche model in its full calendar year in Australia, split evenly between V8 and diesel variants initially, but the GL320 CDI is eventually expected to become the top-seller.

The third-row option pack, including mandatory 19-inch wheels, costs $3400 in Artico, $3900 in leather and $4400 in Nappa leather. It is expected to be purchased by up to 75 per cent of GL-class buyers.

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