When: July 2012
Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico
What: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
Occasion: International first drive
Overall rating: 4/5
Though only available on special order in Ireland, the Mercedes GL shouldn't be ignored. With genuine seven-seat ability, huge presence and incredible levels of refinement the new GL will give the 2013 Range Rover a tough run for its money.
Pricing: special order only
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel
Transmission: four-wheel drive, seven-speed automatic
Body style: five-door SUV
Rivals: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Range Rover
CO2 emissions: 209g/km (Band F, €1,129 per annum)
Combined economy: 38.0mpg (7.4 litres/100km)
Top speed: 219km/h
0-100km/h: 7.9 seconds
Power: 258hp at 3,600rpm
Torque: 620Nm at 1,600- to 2,400rpm
In the metal 4/5
Although the new car is marginally bigger, it looks more sizeable due to Mercedes' assertive new styling for the GL, a bolder nose framed by more prominent wings and sharper feature lines all around. It's a good looking car, massive, but proportionally correct now, losing the rather narrow, upright stance of its predecessor. Optional AMG styling helps, though even in standard guise the GL's presents a more forceful image.
The interior is as you'd expect, the driving environment exhibiting the usual fine polish for comfort and ease of use, while packaging improvements have increased space all round - even in the third row seats, which are effortlessly accessed by a new Easy-Entry system that folds and tumbles the middle row seats out of the way. It's massive inside, with ultimate boot space bettering even the commodious E-Class Estate.
Driving it 3.5/5
The 350 CDI version has a fine mix of easy-going performance and fantastic refinement. The numbers say it'll reach 100km/h in 7.9 seconds, but it never feels that quick on the road, its gait more leisurely than the figures suggest. Acceleration is not slow, but less forceful than anticipated, though some of that may be down to the GL's phenomenal noise suppression. There's virtually no engine sound at all, same from the wind and road - so it's eerily quiet inside. Pleasingly so, adding to the already huge comfort on offer via the fine-riding Airmatic air suspension, adaptive damping system and smooth-shifting 7G-Tronic automatic transmission.
Specify your GL with Active Curve System and you'll experience virtually no roll in the bends either, though this is more about comfort than any increased ability to carry speed in corners. As for all the GL's ability it's no sporting drive, the steering too light and low on feel, the sheer size and weight of it limiting any cornering enthusiasm. Take life at a more dignified pace though and the GL is a hugely comfortable and massively spacious way to get around.
What you get for your money 3/5
It's impossible to say exactly what you'll get in the new GL as it's not on sale until April 2013 and Mercedes-Benz has yet to confirm exact specifications - and it'll be a special order model in Ireland. As a minimum it'll come with climate control, leather seats, Merc's Comand system, air suspension with adaptive damping and a host of safety equipment including Attention Assist, Collision Prevention Assist and a whole list of other assists that you probably didn't realise you'd ever need - Crosswind Assist anyone?
It might be bigger, bolder and better equipped but it's more economical. That's thanks to the standard fitment of stop-start, a weight reduction of as much as 90kg and BlueEfficiency enhancements to the engine and its auxiliaries. The result is that the GL 350 delivers an official combined economy figure of 38mpg and CO2 emissions of 209g/km. Impressive, but you'll never match that on the road.
The GL hasn't ever really made an impact in Ireland despite its strong qualities of seven seats, comfort, refinement and that desirable Mercedes-Benz badge on its vast grille. This new car is better still, making it even more difficult to justify buying a Range Rover. Most people still will, but if they do they're missing out on an extremely accomplished, hugely comfortable and unbelievably refined car that's more than an equal for the default purchase in this class.