1 Nov 2006
TAKE the second-generation M-class, stretch it lengthways to accommodate one of the best third-row seats available, fit the otherwise optional dual-range transmission as standard, then wrap it in a chunky new body and, hey presto, the result is the biggest, most capable and most luxurious off-roader ever produced by Mercedes-Benz.
While came at a hefty price premium over the five-seater M-class, the GL-class combined, for the first time, spacious seating for up to seven with serious off-road ability and unfettered luxury.
Just two variants were available from launch, both priced at a premium over their M-class equivalents.
Opening the GL-class range was the GL320 CDI, powered by a 165kW/510Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 that also motivated the contemporary ML320 CDI.
The GL came with a number of significant differences to the M-class upon which it was based, apart from a unique and larger new chassis and body that, unlike the ML, could 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 wa the standard fitment of Mercedes-Benz’s Off-Road Pro package, which was a costly option for M-class buyers.
The package included height-adjustable Airmatic air suspension, which could raise maximum ground clearance to 307mm (14mm more the M-class with Off-road Pro) and fording depth to 600mm, and also added centre and rear differential locks, front/rear under-body protection, a low range-equipped transfer case. There was also Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR), hill-start assist, a compass and off-road ABS assist.
All that added significant weight to the monocoque-chassis GL, which hit the scales from a substantial 2450kg.
Meanwhile, the GL500 adopted a new-generation 5.5-litre V8, which delivered 285kW at 6000rpm and 530Nm of torque at 2800rpm.
Like the ML, the long-wheelbase (3075mm) GL featured Benz’s 4Matic permanent AWD system and Mercedes said at the time that the GL was 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) was standard.
All GLs measured a sizeable 5088mm long, 1920mm wide and 1840mm high (on road).
Other key figures included 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 was 100 litres, luggage capacity ranged 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 was a beefy 3500kg.
The new GL-class was built alongside its sister models, the M-class and R-class, at Daimler’s Tuscaloosa plant in Alabama – which opened in 1997 as the first Mercedes-Benz plant outside Europe.
In April 2010 the GL-class was mildly facelifted, gaining among other items a redesigned rear bumper with partially integrated tailpipes, LED tail-lights and a revised steering system called ‘Direct Steering’ (usurping the old speed-sensitive power steering). Equipment was increased across the range, but not without some accompanying price increases – though Benz at the time said the extra equipment comprised the most popular optional upgrades and that the price increases were far lower than if the equivalent option costs.
In March 2011, following a light front-end refresh including the daytime running lights now mandatory in Europe, the GL450 received a new twin-turbo V8 diesel aimed at customers who use their SUV for towing.
The big new engine was also of appeal to customers who enjoy acceleration thanks to its peak output of 225kW and 700Nm. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions were 11.8 litres per 100km and 313 grams per kilometre respectively.
The GL450 was specified as per the GL350 Luxury but with the addition of massive 21-inch AMG alloy wheels, a sunroof, keyless entry and start, front luxury seats with heating and ventilation, heated second row of seats, Nappa leather trim and a TV tuner.
The V6 diesel was also upgraded to produce 195kW and 620Nm while returning 9.2L/100km and 242g/km.