Size, they say, doesn’t matter.
After spending close to 4000km behind the wheel of our long-term Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec ‘Edition S’, I’m inclined to agree.
When we first took delivery of the biggest Benz this side of a Unimog, I have to admit there was a bit of apprehension as to how the big GL would fit in with my life, literally.
Some 26 centimetres longer than my BMW X5 – a car often challenged by the size of inner-urban parking spaces – the Mercedes’ footprint takes up an extra two cubic metres of atmosphere. That’s like a pair of giant fit-balls tacked on to the back (Kim Kardashian analogy carefully avoided).
The cavernous interior – usually with Miss-six tucked all the way down the back (what is it with children insisting on sitting in the third row…) amplifies the sensation of size - but, in practice, I barely noticed the difference.
The GL350’s steering is so light, parallel parking is almost a single-finger job. Combined with the overhead surround view and alternating front-to-rear view camera (based on your direction), it is a tremendously easy car to manoeuvre and park, despite its size.
Even the much-maligned column-shift transmission lever starts to make perfect sense when having to deal with the quick-or-the-dead parking actions at school drop-off. Switching from Drive to Reverse without removing a hand from the wheel becomes a fluid action, swiftly tucking the GL against the curb, usually between two other GLs, and out of the way of another GL approaching down the hill.
OK, so that might be a slight dramatization, but, rolling about Melbourne’s inner-east during school-zone times, it seems that I’m not the only one drinking the ‘bigger is better’ kool-aid.
So far this year, Mercedes have sold 540 units of the seven-seat SUV – up 13.4 per-cent on 2014 and enough to claim more than 50 per-cent of category sales.
In fact, the GL makes up about 20 per-cent of all Mercedes-Benz’s large SUV sales. The size, capability and sheer length of the equipment list makes it, when compared to the smaller ML-slash-GLE, pretty good value.
Not something you’ll hear often about a $134,510 SUV.
At market rates, the GL350 works out to be about $56 a kilo. That’s about the same as some good Tasmanian Brie. (No need for that fancy French stuff.)
Sure, that's a premium price, but after driving the rough equivalent of Melbourne to Darwin, it’s hard to find anything the Benz doesn’t do in a premium way. Which, I might add, is easier to say with a lightly massaged back and ever-warm coffee.
What else is on the pampering side of prestige?
Let’s start at the power-operated tailgate, which along with the usual soft-touch handle on the door and remote on the fob, can be raised and lowered from the driver’s seat. Call me simple, but I love the lowering bit.
Inside the third row can be raised and lowered at the touch of a button, and even when all seats are up, the sumptuously carpeted boot is a decent size at 680 litres.
Fold the second row, boom, more buttons. All it needs is a “Tsche-chu-chu-chu-tsche” noise from a Transformer (yes, I looked up how to spell it, don’t judge) for a bit more theatrical fun.
Vents, blinds, buttons and quilts abound for passengers here, not to mention a stack of space.
Up front, more quilted leather, stitching on everything, that massaging and those cupholders, combine with seats that can be heated and cooled at the same time, plus all the assistance tech that Mercedes has in the catalogue – you really aren’t left wanting.
Even the ability to remotely ‘pop’ the rear-quarter windows open for the third-row – something that can’t actually be done by sticky-fingered passengers back there – is really handy.
Think Ripley smashing the ‘purge’ button on the Nostromo. Over 80km/h, they work like an extraction fan to rapidly ‘vent’ any McDonalds odour or dutch-oven smells before they affect the rest of the cabin. Science!
On the hop, the air suspension makes the GL a tremendously comfortable cruiser, and the 3.0-litre V6 ticks along effortlessly at about an average of 10 litres/100km.
So, great. All done – full stop then?
Sadly not yet. As we have seen recently, the Germans aren’t as infallible as we thought and there are some elements of the GL that perhaps swing the balance of judgement toward its American intent (and production) more than its teutonic heritage.
To the boot again, folding that third row from the touch of a button is a neat party-trick, unless you have something (or someone) sitting on the seats. Minty, the newest four-legged addition to the Ward clan very nearly went from sausage-dog to hamburger-patty, thanks to Miss six’s over-exuberant button mashing.
Fold the seats down to use the 1400 litres of cargo space behind the second row, and the cargo blind that was mounted behind the third row looks to be able to be moved to the second-row… except that it can’t. There are plugs in the mounting brackets that prohibit the blind from fitting.
Those cool power-folding second row seats? You’ll be glad you conserved all your energy folding them forward, as they need to be manually returned - and boy are they heavy. What’s more, the seat backs and headrests reset to a position that doesn't match the spine of any human I’ve ever met – requiring the ‘optimal’ comfort adjustments to be done every time you fold the seats forward.
It’s almost easier making third-row passengers go in via the boot. And by almost, I mean that within the first week, I'd already made this a rule.
The abundance of cool tech up front is matched only by the abundance of old tech. The COMAND infotainment system is the ‘old’ generation that will be updated when the 2016 GL becomes the GLS. It works, but it's not best-in-class by a long way.
The comfy air suspension makes the GL feel like a bit of a bouncy castle that can wobble a bit at speed. Never unsafe or unnervingly, but just enough to make you feel a bit disconnected from the driving experience.
And the 10L/100km consumption… yeah, that’s not really that good. It creeps up to the 13L range when mainly urban, but when other Mercedes-Benz SUVs will see numbers in the 6-7L/100km range (albeit for smaller cars), the big GL runs a little thirsty.
For every winning play, the GL counters itself with an opposite move, but in the long run still takes the game. It is a great car, a quality, luxurious and fundamentally practical and livable family wagon.
It’s big, but docile; friendly, likeable and capable – like a Labrador. After a few days, size doesn’t matter (take that Cosmo) and you get used to the GL-osaurus’ dimensions and light nature around town.
The GL350 is not without faults, but it does what it is what it's supposed to be: a big, comfy, luxury wagon, and it manages that effortlessly.
Next instalment, we take the GL out of its usual comfort zone and away from the tarmac to see if it works as well off-road as it does on.
Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec 'Edition S'
Date acquired – July 2015
Odometer reading – 5010km
Travel since previous update – 3890km
Consumption since previous update – 10.2L/100km
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