October 2012

Mercedes-Benz GL GL350 CDI

Imposing GL hides its size relatively well

October 2012

picture of car from the frontpicture of car from the rearpicture of car interiorpicture of car in detail

Overall rating

4.0 out of 5 stars


  • High quality cabin
  • Low noise levels and impressive engine refinement
  • Huge amounts of space and good practicality
  • Capable both on and off-road


  • Unquestionably a big car and can prove tricky to manoeuvre around town
  • Lowest-output diesel only offers adequate performance
  • Arguably not as stylish as rivals
  • Clever electric seat mechanism only an option

Mercedes-Benz created an offering to sit in the highest bracket of SUVs when it created the GL-Class in 2007. Standing well above the M-Class in terms of space and stature, the full-size offering has been thoroughly revised with efficiency improvements, a refreshed design and better refinement to offer an even better overall package.

Several generations of M-Class has given Mercedes-Benz a very capable offering in the mid-sized SUV sector, and one that has the ability to match up to the competition in terms of comfort and driving dynamics. Yet the German firm went one step further by introducing the GL-Class, a clear step up in terms of size to create a car that can tackle any situation.

The extra length and height opens up the rear of the cabin for a third row of seats, an essential element for some buyers and also one which gives it a high degree of practicality. This new GL model usefully has a new folding mechanism for the third row of seats which can be operated from the boot or from the rear doors, giving very easy to access and lots of flexibility.

The GL's exterior is broadly similar to the outgoing car although there are several changes worthy of note. The family face of Mercedes is present at the front with a sleeker grille, the flanks have been smoothed out and at the rear the taillights and bumpers are better integrated. The result is an SUV that manages to hide its size very well and still have the presence that many buyers are looking for.

Underneath the GL retains its four-wheel drive system across the range although an off-road package is available for those who really want to venture into the wilderness. The engine range benefits from efficiency improvements on both diesel and petrol models and revised suspension settings aim for greater comfort and refinement too.

Our verdict on the Mercedes-Benz GL GL350 CDI

The GL aims at a very specific market with its size and price tag but it hits the mark without doubt. Hugely refined and comfortable, very practical and certainly tough enough to deal with off-roading, the GL also manages its aim to offer an S Class-like experience. Although bran loyalty is everything at this price point the GL deserves strong consideration.


The GL is anything but an inexpensive car to buy, but if you're in the market for an all-weather people carrier and activity vehicle no car of this size will come cheap. You can lessen the financial impact by opting for a diesel variant and exercising discipline over the optional extras list.

Space and practicality

With both the rear rows of seats folded flat, the GL does a very convincing posh van impersonation. And with just the third row folded, there's plenty of room for family belongings and weekend activity clobber. The rear load lip is, despite the car's size, at a sensible height, although reaching an item in the boot's far corners will require a bit if a stretch.

Controls and display

The GL's column-mounted gearshift is easy to operate, the ventilation controls are within easy reach and the steering wheel controls for the audio unit, trip computer and phone are a welcome addition. The main controls on the centre console can appear fiddly at first glance but become easier with practice.


Plush seats, a lack of engine and road noise plus well set up suspension all conspire to give occupants in the GL an experience akin to that of a conventional luxury saloon. As you'd expect from a car of this size, head, leg and elbow room is very good in the first two rows, and not far behind in the third row.

Car security

A desirable car like the GL will always attract attention, but at least you get the full security package in terms of alarm and immobiliser. Remote central locking is, of course, standard. A sturdy cover keeps prying eyes away from the GL's rear load space, many of the cabin storage spaces have lids or covers. For added peace of mind, it might be worth investing in a tracking device in the event of vehicle theft.

Car safety

There's no shortage of systems to keep you safe in the GL. Aside from the front, side and curtain airbags, there's a host of electronic traction and stability gadgets to help prevent or lessen the impact of a collision. There's even the option of electronic assistance when towing, meaning the sometimes unpredictable movements of a caravan or trailer can be kept in check by keeping the car stable if the road conditions prove tricky.

Driver appeal

While larger than the more agile ML, the GL doesn't disgrace itself out on the road. The air suspension copes well with poorly surfaced urban roads, and there's only a small amount of roll when the tall GL is cornered briskly, a significant improvement on the outgoing version. The entry-level diesel version offers adequate performance but it is the petrol version that has real vigour behind it.

Family car appeal

Cars with three rows of seats - be they 4x4s or people carriers - are more common then they used to be. Buyers with families and active lifestyles expect a certain level of versatility, and luckily for them the GL is pretty versatile. You won't find individual, adjustable seats as fitted to some high-end people carriers, but the GL's three regular rows should still be enough to satisfy a demanding family. Access to the second and third rows is good, as is cabin storage space. Boot space is no less impressive, but the car's plush interior might suffer at the hands of pets and very small children.

First car appeal

It's unlikely that the GL will appeal to novice drivers. Even if funds are available, the car is large by current standards and will likely prove too cumbersome around town. An already nervous driver is not going to want to park something like the GL in a hurry.

Quality and image

The GL has an instant high-quality feel to it from inside to out, and feels worthy of its price tag. On the inside in particular it looks ready to take on the challenge of varying loads of people and luggage. Image-wise the three-pointed star still commands respect, and attached to a car of this size it has a lot going for it.


Front seat occupants will have little problem accessing the GL's cabin, as long as they don't mind the modest step up required to sit in the plush seats. Rear seat passengers face the same slight obstacle, but it's nothing that a healthy adult can't manage. Access to the third row is made straightforward thanks to the ability to easily tip the second row seats forward. The third row can be folded into the floor at the press of a button, while the GL's considerable tailgate can also be electrically powered. Although even without assistance, it's no hardship to open and close.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

The audio and sat-nav system on the GL is familiar from other Mercedes products, and while not the absolute cutting edge it works well and after some familiarisation is easy to use. The number of buttons can be intimidating at first but it does not take long to get to grips with the system.

Colours and trim

As with the rest of the Mercedes fleet, the GL looks best when chosen in a dark or sombre colour. Not only does this imply that the car is expensive, which it is, but also flatters due to its considerable size. Inside it's a different matter, as light coloured trim and upholstery help promote an airy, spacious ambience.


Although a big car, accurate low speed manoeuvring is made easy thanks to the car's standard fit auto gearbox, large side mirrors, light steering and parking sensors. Rearward visibility will also be dependent on how many passengers are obscuring your view, but there's plenty of window space to help with positioning the car.

Spare wheel

Space saver spare wheel fitted, tyre repair kit or full size spare optional.

Range information

Petrol engine options - 4.6-litre (435bhp); 5.4-litre (557bhp). Diesel engines - 3.0-litre (258bhp). Seven-speed automatic transmission fitted as standard. No specific trim levels, only engine variants.

Alternative cars

Land Rover Discovery 4 Better off road, excellent on road and a pleasure to drive

Audi Q7 Road-biased, ageing in this company

Range Rover Brand-new version is not quite as practical but supreme in all conditions

Volvo XC90 Big and capable but feeling quite old

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