Mercedes GL 450 CDI

Super-sized US-built Merc has an impressive array of technical innovations

Although the GL wears a German badge, it’s built on the other side of the Atlantic in Alabama – and its huge dimensions leave you in no doubt that it is designed with American customers in mind.

Under the skin, the Mercedes uses the same platform as its five-passenger ML stablemate. But with the bodywork stretched to fit in an extra pair of seats, the styling doesn’t work as well.

It appears more slab-sided and lacks the upmarket feel of the Range Rover. In fact, only its huge size helps it stand out from the crowd. Inside, it comes into its own because it is significantly more spacious than its rival.

With all five rear seats folded flat, it boasts a cavernous 2,300-litre load area. And even with the chairs up, there’s still plenty of room for passengers. The middle row offers decent space, and at the touch of a button the third section of seats rises out of the floor.

Impressive

Thanks to wide rear doors, access to this row is impressive, too, although it’s available only from one side. Up front, the cabin layout is similar to a saloon’s. And apart from the fact you sit high above the tarmac, you don’t feel as though you are in an off-roader in the same way as in its rival.

Unfortunately, the COMAND navigation system and switchgear are a generation behind those found in newer Mercedes models. And while the cabin is well built, the materials are not as luxurious as the Range Rover’s.

Overall, while the GL’s cabin is practical, it lacks the individuality and sense of occasion you would expect in this price range. Instead, you have to rely on its technical abilities to impress you – and it doesn’t disappoint.

On the road, the GL resists body roll well and can be pushed through corners far faster than the Range Rover. The weightier steering delivers a noticeably more positive response as well. However, the price you pay for this agility is a firmer ride.

Our car was fitted with optional 20-inch wheels and we found that, while the air-suspension coped well with undulations, expansion joints and uneven surfaces sent ripples up into the cabin. With 302bhp and 700Nm of torque, the GL 450’s 4.0-litre CDI engine provides noticeably more punch than its British rival, and the Mercedes feels faster in all circumstances. However, the seven-speed gearbox kicks down far too frequently when it could easily make use of the vast reserves of torque instead. But in manual mode, using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, the GL is surprisingly sporty.

In addition to its on-road prowess, the GL performs superbly off-tarmac. Rotary knobs on the centre console allow you to select low-ratio transmission settings and Hill Descent Control, while the air-suspension can be raised for wading plus improved approach and departure angles.

The GL 450 CDI is practical, robust and dynamically accomplished both on and off- road. But does it have the all- round desirability and upmarket appeal to justify its price tag – and topple the Range Rover?

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: Thanks to a practical seven-seat cabin, impressive dynamics and more power than the Range Rover, the big Mercedes is a serious contender here.

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