A little earlier this year we took some of SA’s most popular SUVs to Botswana for a vehicle safari through the Khwai Conservancy. We’ll be posting reviews of all the vehicles that accompanied us over the next couple of weeks. You can read our travel article about the trip here, and you can find all the other vehicle articles under the “Driving Impressions” category.
The latest Mercedes-Benz GL seems very much suited to the neon lights, trendy nightlife areas and upmarket school parking lots. But underneath that suave skin not only lives a mega powerful, twin-turbo V8 engine, but also a hardy 4×4 drivetrain that can go well off the beaten track. This Merc has a lot of unexpected grit about it
The first time you floor the big GL500 and give the V8 engine free rein is bit like jumping off a bridge with a bungi cord attached to your body.
When you jump, you get that “Oh, what have I done?” feeling, followed a few moments later by “Okay, so I’m going to die, but at least I’m going out in style.”
And finally, when the cord’s slack is used up and you shoot heavenward, it’s the realisation, “What? Is it over already?”
You see, the V8 engine delivers 320 kW of power and 700 Nm of torque. It is force-fed via two turbochargers, and allows the four-wheel driven Benz to sprint from 0-100km/h in 5,4 seconds, and reach a limited top speed of 250km/h. This Mercedes simply defies its bulk and 2,5-tons of luxury, and hustles along in a most rapid manner.
In the corners, the Benz is also impressive. Armed with the Airmatic air suspension system, it also features a new “Active Curve”. Standard on the GL500, this system uses lateral stabilisers on both axles to reduce the roll angle. And that’s not all. In an off-road environment, the computer can decouple the stabilisers to improve 4×4 ability.
The big Merc still has a transfer case, but has lost some of the 4×4 tricks of its predecessor, such as the locking differential option. Still, with 700Nm of torque, 4ETS traction control and the transfer case, the GL500 is pretty happy off-road.
The cabin is rather spectacular. There is loads of space, and the occupants are enveloped by super luxurious leather and fancy aluminium. All the comforts are there, and then some. It really is sumptuous and limo-like in the GL cabin.
With a price tag of just over R1-million, you’d expect the GL500 to be really good, and so it is. As a bonus, it has a sense of true grit about it, and you can’t put a monetary value on that.