Our final report on the big GL350 sees it leave the suburbs and hit the adventure trail
Handing back our long-term Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec Edition S was always going to be a bittersweet experience.
We grew very fond of the big lug, but are quite happy to have regained some sensory skills that the GL managed to dull through its luxuriant approach to life.
I wanted to, in this final update and summary, use other famous ‘large luxury’ German transportation as an entertaining analogy to liken the GL to, but unfortunately nearly all of those ended in disaster (most historical ocean liners are now artificial reefs, and lets not even mention the Hindenburg…) and so it wouldn’t be fair, or funny to bring that up…
Plus, we had a chance to put the GL350’s skills to the test off-road, and when you look for any kind of German, luxury, all-terrain capable vehicle to use as a humorous anecdote, perhaps Kanye wasn’t too far off suggesting that the only option is just the other other Benz.
Adventuring is second-nature for Mercedes. From the enduring G-Wagen to the mighty Unimog, going anywhere you want to with a three-pointed star leading the way up front is something that has made the world a smaller place for the past 50-odd years.
The GL range is available with an optional ($3550) off-road package (available on GLC an GLE too) that adds a low-range gearbox, six drive-modes (including two off-road specific modes), a center locking differential and extra underbody protection.
With the package installed, the GL is able to raise on its air-suspension by a total of 105mm, providing a 600mm water fording depth and an overall ground clearance of 216mm.
Our Tennorite Grey GL350 didn’t have any of that though, so we made do with its standard capabilities, which are still pretty impressive.
You can raise the car by 75mm at the touch of a button, offering 196mm ground clearance. The car’s 4MATIC all-wheel drive system splits torque 50:50 front to rear and the hill descent control provides you with reduced throttle sensitivity and heightened braking control in steeper terrain.
Considering the snazzy AMG body kit, we weren’t overly willing to push the extreme limits of the car, but on our brief expedition to the Sahara Desert… 'track out the back of Anglesea', the big Merc made sure it would turn heads at the tennis club on the weekend and manage to get thoroughly filthy either before or after.
The lifted ride-height made straddling muddy ruts very easy, and the hill-descent worked particularly well over the very uneven terrain.
Even with the on-road biased tyres fitted to 21-inch rims, traction wasn’t an issue and the GL managed to navigate all we threw at it, while still keeping drinks chilled and backs massaged. As a multi-role vehicle, the GL did a commendable job, but arguably it really should for $134,510.
Here’s the real callout though…
We were due to have the GL350 BlueTec for another couple of months, but Mercedes-Benz requested we return it early. Why? They just cannot keep up with sales demand and our car, quite simply, was sold. So with just over 7500km on the clock, what would I share for 1DD-6DZ’s new owner?
It will light up your life. Literally.
The light up steps, sills, door handles, cup holders and dashboard elements make the big Benz shine like a cruise liner. In fact, the red lights under the doors should probably be green on the right hand side to alert other motorists to your navigated direction.
Strangely though, with all the accessory lighting, the rotary dial for the headlamp control isn’t itself backlit so if you regularly change it you may find yourself waiting to glance under the sodium glow of a passing streetlight as to which setting it is in.
We loved the pop-out rear quarter windows and especially the fact that only the driver can operate them.
The leather dashboard and our favourite thermo cup-holders and massage treatments make this a luxury SUV in every way. The plush, air-matic ride makes the GL a very comfortable and enjoyable place to spend time.
Tradeoffs though, are many.
Start it up and the vision of the car on the center of the instrument display actually says ML on its number plate. You had one job car-animation guy…
With great comfort comes great floatiness, and the GL does err more toward the ‘yachtish’ side of handling characteristics. Particularly when you forget that you’ve left the suspension setting at its highest point…
The combination of the wafty ride and the DISTRONIC steering assistant when cruise-control is activated really does enforce a feeling of detachment from what is going on under the wheels. It is very much a Mercedes thing though, and a number of owners I know really like the way the cars have become even lighter and softer to drive. Each to their own then.
Cavernous space is what the Mercedes does best, but again the electric seats will try to swallow you up if you happen to be in the way of their mechanical ballet. I’m sure it would add weight, complexity and cost – but surely if that middle row can power forward, there is a way to make it power back again?
As we said in our previous update, it’s just silly to flip them back down and then have to manually adjust the seats and headrests again. With all the techno whiz-bangs on board, can the car not just remember where they were?
The GL’s mid-life replacement in the guise of the lightly revised GLS was shown late last year at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The improvements to the interior and overall look of the car should further enhance its appeal, and make it too, likely to fly off the sales floor in even greater numbers than before.
We doubt that some of our functionality grievances will be addressed, but if any of them seem like deal breakers to you, then perhaps take a look at the newer, but slightly less voluminous Audi Q7.
That said, we do miss it and hope that the GL350 has gone to a happy home. Enjoy the G-Ride and we wish you an everwarm coffee and a relaxed trapezius on your many miles of luxury land sailing.
Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec ‘Edition S’
Date acquired – July 2015
Odometer reading – 7,649km
Travel since previous update – 2,639km
Consumption since previous update – 10.9L/100km
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser and James Ward.