The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL500 is safe and fast - but good luck trying to park it, says Kevin Hackett.
Road Test: Mercedes-Benz GL500
Surely I'm not the only one who finds the current range of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars bewildering. There are a staggering number of models and variations available, so when I was offered a GL 500 for a few days, I had to do a quick search for images on the internet to remind me exactly what one of those is. I couldn't be sure, until seeing one, whether or not I'd driven one before.
As it turns out, I haven't. Entirely different to the G-Class, the GLK-Class, the M, ML and all the others, the GL is, perhaps, a natural rival to Porsche's Cayenne, BMW's X5 or the new Range Rover. It's a gargantuan SUV with panache, prestige and heaps of attitude and road presence that happens to be a dab hand in the rough stuff, too. If you need to seat seven people in luxury and comfort while travelling at a frankly ludicrous rate of knots, with the ability to traverse the desert on the weekend, you need look no further than this Merc.
At more than five metres long, this is a vehicle unsuitable for roads in many parts of the world, but here it seems to make perfect sense. Apart, that is, when it comes to the tricky art of finding a large enough parking space. It's gigantic. And it weighs 2.5 tonnes even when unladen, so it's not for those with much of an environmental conscience. Mercedes-Benz, however, has made this latest generation of GL some 18 per cent more economical than its predecessor as well as visually more appealing. I can't think of a more impressive-looking full-size SUV than this and it should sell in our region on that basis alone.
Inside the GL, occupants are treated to S-Class levels of refinement. It's truly luxurious, intelligently laid out and supremely well crafted, to a point where it could be considered a bargain. At least until you start ticking away at the options list. My car has had the lot thrown at it, including a Bang & Olufsen sound system that looks like it's been lifted from an Aston Martin Vanquish, and night vision display. It all combines to give a feeling of absolute well-being, like being inside an ultra-modern, five-star hotel room that can obliterate almost anything else it shares road space with.
Something that weighs so much should not be able to shift with such rapidity. With 700Nm of twist available from just 1,800rpm, however, this thing shifts with supercar ease. Simply dab the throttle and it surges forward with breathtaking, effortless speed, while the big V8 raises its voice just enough to bring a stupid grin to your face. It's easily enough performance to slake the thirst of all but the most insane speed freaks, but there's an even more potent AMG nut job available if you really do need locking up. For the rest of us, this is certainly enough for most anyone.
The GL must be one of the most impossible-to-crash vehicles on the market today. We're used to Mercedes-Benz loading its cars with tech to make our journeys safer, but the list of driver assist features here is deeply impressive and, despite my previous misgivings about these nanny-state devices, in the GL they're most welcome. Because, when a car is as large as this, you need all the help you can get to keep it scratch-free while on the move. Standard kit includes Collision Prevention Assist, which applies the brakes if the car senses you're about to rear end another vehicle and, to help with keeping in a straight line during severe sandstorms, Crosswind Assist will gently brake the appropriate wheels to make sure you don't get blown across the lanes. Handy when your car is as tall as some houses.
Optional extras include a 360-degree camera, which is a massive help when parking, as it effectively gives you a birdseye view of your surroundings, making squeezing into the tightest spots an absolute doddle.
With seven seats on board, this is first-class travel for all the family, but if you need extra load space that's easily sorted, too, with up to 2,300 litres of Ikea-friendly capacity available should the need arise. But, unlike some other seven-seat cars out there, you can rely on this one to keep all occupants in complete safety, even when seated on the third row. Seriously, transport doesn't get much more crumple-resistant than this, which is heartening when you have small kids in the back.
Try as I might, I cannot find any fault glaring enough with the GL 500 to prevent me recommending it. A friend of mine, while experiencing this very same car, even managed to get a decent night's sleep in it and, had it not been for its lack of a shower cubicle, he might have considered giving up his apartment to live in it. SUVs might not be your thing, but this one merits your attention - it's seriously impressive on every level and undoubtedly all the car you could ever need.
Base price Dh366,565
Engine Turbocharged 4.6L V8
Gearbox Seven-speed automatic
Power 435hp @ 5,250rpm
Torque 700Nm @ 1,800rpm
Fuel economy, combined 11.5L/100km
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