The seven-seater Mercedes GL 350 is luxurious and comfortable but its selling point is its huge cabin

When Mercedes first launched the GL in India in 2010, despite the comfortable seven-seating capacity, the big SUV didn’t have too many things going for it. Primary among it being the steep price (it was a full import). It was also towards the end of its life cycle in international markets that it finally got here. So it was already beginning to fade in the looks department.

Now, however, the carmaker is launching the new-generation version here and being locally assembled, it sports an attractive Rs. 77.5 lakh price tag as well.

With the huge three-pointer on the massive grille and gargantuan dimensions, this is one SUV that stands out. Unlike the old GL, this one’s shape is a lot softer and has a lot more detailing to it. The chrome strip that runs along the bottom of the front bumper, for example, is designed to make it look premium. The gently sloping roof does disguise the van-like profile to some extent, but what really helps the looks is the AMG body kit that the initial batch of GLs will come with. The kit includes front and rear skirts, and gorgeous 21-inch wheels shod with massive 295/40 R21 road-biased tyres.

The monocoque chassis rides on air springs and comes with huge disc brakes all around. And, unlike the old GL that used hydraulically assisted power steering, this one gets an electrically assisted set-up. There’s a new steering assistance system which adds small corrective steering inputs. Also standard is the crosswind assist, which uses the brakes to keep the car stable when driving in strong crosswinds.

Merc is offering a special off-road programme for the ESP and hill descent control as standard.

Well-designed cabin

The GL’s cabin is typical Mercedes fare. The entire dashboard (similar to the M-class) has been brought up to speed and now looks fresher and cleaner than before. The column-mounted gear selector leaves space in the centre console for very easily accessed cupholders. And, of course, there’s plenty of underlying solidness and heft to everything in here.

We’ve never been fans of Merc’s COMAND system. The screen has old-school fonts and shuffling through the various menus isn’t as simplified as we would like.

The GL’s selling point, though, is its huge cabin; none of its rivals can seat seven in as much comfort. There’s good space up front and plenty in the middle row, but it’s the third row that is properly spacious, thanks to the fundamentally upright shape of the car. It also helps that the cabin is bright and airy because of the large glass area.

As for boot space, with all rows up, there’s adequate space that expands to a massive 2300 litres with all rows down. A neat feature is the electric folding third row that folds flat into the boot floor. In launch edition spec you get lots of kit too, like electric steering adjust, three-zone climate control, a panoramic roof and a navigation system that’s integrated into the COMAND system.

Responsive engine

In its latest state of tune, the tried and tested 2987cc V6 diesel that resides in the GL 350 CDI is really powerful. It now has 258bhp at 3600rpm and a stump-pulling 63.2kgm of torque from 1600rpm as compared to the old GL’s 224bhp and 52kgm. It’s an engine that makes light work of the sheer weight, as is evident from the 8.9sec 0-100kph time. This GL has as much accelerative thrust as you’ll ever need for open-road driving, and the impression is of a car that has a surplus of grunt for whatever situation you might be in. It’s an effortless cruiser and a deceptively quick one at that. Because of its sheer size, you don’t realise how fast you are going – a feeling that’s enhanced by the smooth shifts of the seven-speed torque-converter automatic.

We loved how this engine had the answer for any situation – it is responsive in slow traffic and, because it’s got so much more torque than before, throttle response is good. It’s also a very quiet motor – at idle there’s just the faintest of noises and absolutely no vibration. And, when you stretch it, what you do hear is the pleasant hum of a cultured V6.

Like most Mercs, the GL has a pillowy ride. However, the ride is not as consistent as we would have liked. Sharp edges catch the GL off guard.

The low-profile tyres are partly responsible for corrupting the ride, but the combination of a 2.5-tonne kerb weight, high centre of gravity and soft dampers is what gives the GL its unsettled composure. It’s best not to corner too hard in the GL because it rolls alarmingly.

The silver lining is the light steering, which may not have the best feel, but is accurate. The brakes are also really powerful.

In the confines of the city, it can be quite a handful. The sheer length and near-two-metre width can make it a bit of a squeeze through tighter spots. Still, the big glass area and square sides make it easy to judge where its extremities lie. Owners will also appreciate the Park Assist feature, similar to the one first seen on the VW Passat. It will steer the car into a parking slot if it decides the space is big enough, leaving throttle and braking control with the driver.

Despite its massive weight, the GL managed to return some decent economy figures. In the city, thanks to the Eco mode and stop-start system, the GL managed 6.5kpl, while on the highway it gave 10.5kpl. The large 100-litre fuel tank gives the Merc a very useful range of 850km.