Matt Joy road tests the practical but luxurious Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
Don’t be so hard on the big SUV. There may be a few individuals who buy one because they think it makes them look important, or because it is the favoured transport of some Premiership footballers, but ignore them.
The reality is that a full-size SUV is possibly the most practical car that money can buy.
They’re big, comfortable, versatile and luxurious.
It’s the kind of purchase you make and spend every single day being pleased with yourself for.
The reality is though that there are only a handful that truly qualify as large – seven seats as standard is a must in other words.
This is why the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class has to be on your shortlist.
First introduced to the UK back in 2008, a heavily revised version has been announced with sales in this country planned for early next year.
If you were familiar with the old car then you should spot the new GL across a crowded car park, but the changes are significant, and for the better.
It has a much cleaner look all round, with smoothed-out bumpers, the family face and sharper creases down the sides.
There’s no hiding the fact this is a big car but you don’t wander up to it with a sense of fear: smart design means the new GL has presence but won’t intimidate.
Choose the right model and you can have a contrasting colour for the front spoiler and sill trims; it’s a subtle addition but a remarkably effective one.
You take a half-step up into the driver’s seat to be greeted by a cabin that is clear, comprehensive in its offerings and generous with its luxury.
You sit high of course, not precariously so but with a fantastic view of what’s ahead.
The layout of the dashboard is familiar Mercedes, as is the quality, so it’s pretty straightforward to control all the systems and the feeling of luxury is unquestionable.
Features like the part-wood steering wheel might sound excessive but it is these small touches that give an S-class experience.
More than anything, however, it is the driving that could lead you to believe you are ensconced in a luxury saloon.
For starters, the level of refinement is first rate.
Whether you go for petrol or diesel power at low to middling cruising speeds, the engine is virtually silent, wind noise is well suppressed and despite their size, the wheels only transmit a faint rumble.
Add into that the superb ride quality delivered by the revised air suspension system and you have a seriously comfortable car for you and your passengers – it could easily perform limousine duties for those needing something a little tougher.
The GL’s seven seats don’t present the usual problems: an electric folding system means you can raise or lower the second and third rows with the briefest push of a button.
It may be comfort-biased, but the GL is far from being an automotive pudding.
For starters, the steering is light and accurate, offering more than sufficient feel to deliver comfortable cruising and confident cornering.
The air suspension in standard form is well judged, but the optional set-up adds active anti-roll bars which are genuinely effective and create a scarcely-believable cornering experience almost completely without body roll.
In the UK, the most popular version will inevitably be the GL350 CDi, which offers up 190hp and 620Nm of torque, all delivered through the smooth seven-speed automatic transmission.
There is ample torque available from low revs and the GL350 CDi simply gets on with the job.
Under full acceleration such is the linearity of the delivery that it almost feels languid, but the 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds tells no lies – particularly remarkable when you consider the GL350 can manage 192g/km and beat forthcoming EU6 emission regulations.
The GL is the kind of car that could easily stay in your life for years simply because you know it can handle whatever you throw at it, the bonus being that it is also very desirable in its own right.
But if you have the means, treat yourself to the blockbusting AMG version…