Looking at the shiny Mercedes GL 450 4MATIC standing in the parking lot, I was severely tempted to sneak off work early under the guise of doing some serious testing. But, too be honest, I just wanted to drive it.
Some cars are exciting, while others aren’t. SUVs are not something I’d normally classify as the former. Practical, yes. Spacious? Definitely. Powerful? Check! But there’s just something alluring about the GL. From the front it looks aggressive, the side view with its sloping smooth lines gives an impression of speed, and the stance from the back is broad and sporty thanks to the embedded exhaust pipes. Two bumps on the bonnet hint at the powerful engine beneath, underscored nicely by the optional 21-inch AMG five-spoke rims.
Yes, the GL 450 looks like it wants to go, and it definitely does. The V8 4,663cc engine puts out 250kW at 6,000 revs and 460Nm of torque between 2,700 and 5,000 revs. That gets the GL 450 from 0-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds and a top speed of approximately 235 km/h. All this power goes to the wheels via the 7G-TRONIC transmission that is standard in the GL-Class. The seven forward gears allow the engine to operate at optimum efficiency, which also cuts fuel consumption. In the urban environment the GL 450 uses 18.4 to 18.6 litres per 100 kilometres and 13.4 to 13.6 combined.
Driving the GL 450 it quickly becomes apparent that its a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Driven leisurely you don’t hear the engine at all. The 7G-TRONIC shifts are almost imperceptible and you’re permanently in the right rev range. On Emirates road I put on the cruise control and the GL 450 just sailed along. But when you want acceleration, you definitely have it. Smack down the accelerator pedal and the 7G-TRONIC quickly shifts down and you’re rewarded with the muted but healthy sound of the V8 doing its work.
Cruising along Emirates road four young Emiratis pulled level in their Lexus to have a look at the Merc. They waved and accelerated hard, so I put the GL into sports mode and did the same just for the fun of it. The look on their faces was priceless as the GL 450 surged past them. We repeated this manoeuvre two more times with the same result, which elicited broad smiles and thumbs up from the Emiratis. I’m pretty sure I sold them the Merc.
Power and speed are one thing, but it’s worth very little without good driving characteristics. Fortunately, the GL 450 has no problems in this department. The AIRMATIC air suspension is stiff enough that you feel the occasional bump, but soft enough to ensure driving comfort. In corners the GL handles well without any wobbling or leaning. Going through roundabouts I quickly learnt that the 450 was capable of far more than I was giving it credit, as for a large seven-seater vehicle it is amazingly nimble. The steering was also to my liking with very little play and requiring just the right amount of force to turn it. The brakes are excellent, there’s no questioning their ability to stop the 2,425kg vehicle.
Inside, the GL 450 is typical Mercedes quality. The instrument cluster has tube-style surrounds with chrome rings and easy to read white lettering. All the controls are fairly self-explanatory and I didn’t need to dig out the manual. The only reservation I have is that the indicator stalk is hidden behind the steering wheel while the cruise control is clearly visible. For me it would make sense to swop the two, as I know which control I use more often. The GL 450 has a Direct Select lever on the steering wheel, which gives you the automatic transmission options through a simple tap. If you want to drive manually there’s the steering-wheel gearshift paddles to change the gears up or down. The climate control is in the centre console, as is the audio system. The external mirrors are large but both my wife and I had a problem setting them. Try as we might, there was always a disconcerting blind spot on both sides. If I was buying the GL I’d definitely spend the thousand dollars for the optional Blind Spot Assist.
But that’s where my complaints end. There’s no problem with space, and the optional leather seats are broad and comfortable. In fact my test vehicle had so much leather that it took my breath away. It also had the optional rear row of seats, which can be lowered at the touch of a button to increase luggage space.
In my opinion the GL 450 is a great vehicle, SUV or otherwise. It’s comfortable, luxurious and fun to drive. In the GCC many people have large families and they like their vehicles fast and powerful, so I reckon Mercedes has a winner. I can see many husbands buying the GL as a people carrier for their wives, but end up driving it themselves.