What’s a nice drivetrain like you doing in a place like this?
Mercedes-Benz’s updated, 20-percent-less-thirsty 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel and seven-speed automatic is an effective, efficient and refined combination.
But imprisoned inside the updated GL, their virtues are overwhelmed. Despite a mid-life rework that slims it by a claimed 90kg, the GL350 BlueTec is still heavy.
It’s also huge, clumsy and charmless.
Car makers prefer, where possible, to build where they sell. The GL rolls out of Mercedes-Benz’s US factory in Tuscaloosa, and is clearly scaled for a land whose ‘L’ is everyone else’s ‘XXL’.
The GL is more than 5.1 metres long, 1.9 metres wide (not counting exterior mirrors) and 1.8 metres tall (without the optional, ground-clearance-enhancing off-road package).
It is conceivable that there are people out there who need, really need, a spacious seven-seater with permanent all-wheel drive and a 3.5-tonne towing capacity.
Those who don’t have a genuine use for these abilities could find their consequences hard to live with.
Even though Mercedes has switched to aluminium for the facelifted GL-Class’s bonnet and front guards, its kerb weight (which includes a driver, some luggage and an almost-full 100-litre fuel tank) is a massive 2455kg.
Acceleration from standstill is adequate, but it’s agility that suffers most.
A new, and standard, pneumatic suspension system with adaptive dampers means that the GL rides decently, but the handling is something like self-stimulation while wearing welder’s gloves.
There’s only the vaguest sense of contact with the action.
Whether this is intentional, because Mercedes believes Americans prefer it this way, or a result of interference from multiple electronic safety systems with which the GL is equipped, is hard to judge.
Passengers have less to complain about. The three-place second-row seat is spacious and comfy and the two-place rear seat will actually accommodate adults, although not in great comfort.
The GL’s length also means there’s some room for luggage left, even with all the seats filled.
Mercedes claims the GL is a kind of all-wheel-drive S-Class wagon, and it’s not entirely wrong.
The interior has the right amount of leather and wood, and enough technology on display, to back this assertion.
Changes like the adoption of a new acoustic-barrier windscreen for the GL also contribute an ambience that’s quite refined.
But while S-Class could serve as a working definition of luxury limo, the GL isn’t so crisply delineated.
It’s a seven-seat off-roader, but lacks the boxy design honesty of something like Land Rover’s upright and equally accommodating Discovery.
It has upper-class aspirations, but lacks the haughty presence of a Range Rover.
The GL might work in America, where aristocracy is unacceptable but status is worshipped, and that’s where it belongs. Not here…
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