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Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 2007 review

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The big, voluptuous, seven-seat GL500 4WD fulfilled their desires, dazzling them with its one-touch electric seat-fold feature and exhilarating them with some mud bathing in the bush. But there was some strident criticism as well. The most serious of these concerns third-row access to the luxurious American-built behemoth, which has not had its second-row seat-fold arrangements switched around to suit right-hand drive markets.

Consequently, kids and parents alike are forced to use the potentially dangerous "traffic" side of the vehicle to (manually) fold and tumble the smallest portion of the bench seat to let people into the rearmost seat. The safer kerb-side section of the seat is heavy and cumbersome, folding flat but not tumbling forward for third-row access, while entering via the tailgate requires gymnastic feats – and a stronger luggage blind, which invariably gets used like a pommel horse.

The kids discovered other issues, too. As they found with Audi's Q7 SUV, the electric tailgate (which has warning bells on the GL) can deliver a nasty blow to a curious onlooker before the impediment sensor kicks in.

The mechanism that allows third-row passengers to exit the vehicle themselves can cause a hand injury if they fail to let go of the pull-strap. Vehicle sidesteps and grab-handles on the second and third pillars are also needed for better cabin ingress and egress.

From the perspective of two primary school students and a pre-schooler, that is as bad as it gets in the otherwise splendid GL.

There is an abundance of room in the two back seats, even for adults, as well as multiple-position headrests (suitable for tall people) and a couple of air vents and cupholders. Despite the absence of fore/aft movement, the second row is also spacious – and is fully catered for in terms of seat comfort, storage, stereo sound, reading lights, cup placement, power sockets and ventilation outlets and controls. Rear seat heaters are also included.

Each third-row seat can be lowered or raised with a touch of a button from either the door or the tailgate area – again, both are on the undesirable right-hand side – and enable the luggage floor length to extend from 470mm to 1270mm. With the second row folded the cargo area increases to 1770mm, and with all configurations there is a flat floor created, tie-down hooks provided and the means to install a simple vertical cargo net.

There seems to be another left-hand drive hangover for the driver in the cramped footwell (50mm narrower than the front passenger's), which, with the added burden of no footrest, can cause discomfort on long-distance touring. We're not fans of the foot-operated park-brake, either, or in the time it takes to master and use the central (Comand) interface for various onboard functions.

Still, as should be the case in a $150,000 vehicle, there are features that settle the dust. These include an elegant cockpit area, sumptuous leather front seats, full electric seat adjustment (including bolstering), electric steering column adjustment, and DVD satellite navigation which can pinpoint the GL's location and the "road" travelled, even when deep in the bush on overgrown and almost impassable 4WD trails.

Eight airbags, a sunroof and highly effective bi-xenon headlights (with a cornering function) are also standard on the GL500, however the third row is an extra $2900 (and 100kg) and a reversing camera $950. The latter is particularly offensive, especially in light of the GL's sheer size and its far too small exterior mirrors, both of which exacerbate the difficulties that can arise when parking and manoeuvring such a large vehicle.

While city driving can be labour-intensive, the GL500 transforms into an effortless tourer on open roads outside the big smoke. Consciousness of the vehicle's size and 2.5-tonne kerb weight subsides, and attributes such as its exceptional refinement, inherent stability, ride comfort and strong engine performance come to the fore.

Unlike the smaller ML-Class upon which the GL is based, the 500's V8 petrol engine used here is a new-generation 5.5-litre 32-valve V8 that produces 285kW at 6000rpm and 530Nm from 2800-4800rpm. It is a smooth, muscular, responsive and sonorous engine that combines in near-perfect terms with the seven-speed automatic gearbox – but consumes too much fuel. Our real-world test returned a 17.9l/100km average.

As is now becoming the norm across the Mercedes range, the transmission lever is in the form of a steering wand, and manual shifts can be made via buttons on the back of the steering wheel. The latter can be awkward to use when steering lock is applied, although it works well in holding a selected gear without reverting back to drive and downshifting when the driver steps on the accelerator.

Left to its own devices, the automatic's gearshifts come with smoothness and timeliness, although as we noticed in the ML it can, on occasion, produce some shift shock at low speeds.

Also in a similar vein to the ML, the GL is a safe and predictable handler on winding roads, benefiting from a mechanical package which includes the proven 4Matic full-time 4WD, effective air suspension and adaptive damping systems, well-calibrated traction control nannies and, unique to the 500, 19-inch wheels on 275/55 R19 Michelin Diamaris tyres.

Bodyroll is well contained in the heavy, high-riding SUV, the speed-sensitive steering is nicely weighted and accurate (if somewhat wooden), there's plenty of suspension control and comfort on rough roads (although the sports mode can be harsh here), braking performance is reassuring and the ABS bites into loose gravel surfaces with great effectiveness.

We found the GL500 marched up inclines with assuredness, inched itself down steep hills with good control in either low-range or with the downhill speed regulation system (which can require some braking intervention), and crossed some heavily rutted and muddy terrain.

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Range and Specs

GL500 5.5L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $19,500 – 27,170 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 2007 GL500 Pricing and Specs
GL320 CDI 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $15,100 – 21,340 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 2007 GL320 CDI Pricing and Specs
Terry Martin
Contributing Journalist


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