By Jesse Adams
I order malva pudding and the waiter asks if I want custard or ice cream to go with it. Stupid question. I want both, dammit. And I want a cherry on top too.
Sure, the dietician that exists only in my head waves an admonishing finger my way, but this is one of those guilty pleasures too irresistible to acknowledge with common sense. Same goes for my SUVs, and when I order mine I want it huge. And not only do I want seats for seven, huge 20” rims, and more electronics than a telephone exchange, I also want the whole package powered by a honking bi-turbo 5.5-litre V8, hand-built by AMG.
Fair enough, only a certain few will appreciate the excessiveness that is the Mercedes-Benz GL63 AMG, and at just a touch under R1.7-million even fewer can afford it. But this is one of those guilty motoring pleasures too irresistible to acknowledge with common sense.
GO JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE (NOT)
Like almost every other AMG product, the GL63 is based on a much more practical version - in this case an SUV with off-road credentials to rival the best Jeeps, Landys and Cruisers. Before the boys at Affalterbach laid their hands on it, this behemoth could raise and lower pneumatically, intelligently send power through a series of diff-locks to the wheels with the most grip, and, because of this, go just about anywhere.
But now, as an AMG, it can’t. It does, however, go really fast. It’s powered by the same twin-turbo V8 as other Merc 63s including E, SL, ML, CL and S-Classes, but in this application it gets a model-specific state of tune with 410kW and 760Nm. This means this gynormous SUV can hoof it from 0-100km/h in only 5.4 seconds and then easily saunter its way up to a limited top speed of 250. All this while returning a real-world fuel consumption of just less than 20 litres per 100km. What did you expect, frugality? Not gonna happen.
Flooring the throttle results in a strange sensation where the whole rig rocks rearward, followed by a ruthless unleashing of forward momentum. The sudden rush of acceleration is awesome, but it feels like you’re piloting the beast from atop a flagpole. AMG has tried in vain to hide the GL’s immensity, but a high seating position only exacerbates the fact that you’re surrounded by 2.5 tons of top-heavy metal.
The suspension has three firmness settings, but I found the softest far too wallowy. Even in its hardest mode the GL rocks and rolls like a dinghy on the high seas, and hard deceleration, as well as aggressive steering inputs, give impetus to its omnidirectional sway. Nevertheless, it makes for a very comfortable ride - just don’t expect to charge around your favourite corner with pinpoint accuracy.
The GL’s all-wheel drive format carries over, but it’s more for grip on tar than for road traction. Still, there’s a lot more ground clearance than in your average sedan so it is possible to mount those all-important shopping-mall pavements (you may have to because it’s literally too big for some parking bays), but I’d draw the line there.
The front bumper hangs quite low for any real adventuring, and its low-profile 275/50R20 tyres just aren’t designed for the dirt.
It’s a cumbersome vehicle to say the least, but the space this big body provides is excellent. With the rearmost seating row folded flat, the boot’s absolutely enormous and unlike other seven seaters it still offers decent luggage room when in use.
In typical Mercedes fashion, the third row is operable electronically too, which means no muscles whatsoever are required to flip it up and down.
If it were a dessert I’d call it calorific. Complete gluttony in one over-the-top dish. But oh so irresistibly delicious.
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GL350 IS A PRACTICAL ALL-ROUNDER
By Denis Droppa
The GL63 AMG is something of an anachronism - an off-roader that doesn’t go off-road. Try bundu bashing with those low-profile tyres and you’ll see what I mean.
For a more “sensible” choice in the Mercedes GL range, look no further than the GL350 Bluetec 4Matic. It’s a genuine all-rounder GL that’s equally adept on tar and dirt and which throws good fuel economy into the bargain.
Bluetec is Mercedes’ name for diesel engines with emissions-reducing technology, in particular nitrogen oxide (NOx), and requires an occasional refill of a liquid called AdBlue.
The factory-claimed fuel consumption is 7.5 litres per 100km and although this isn’t realistically attainable in real-world driving, the 9.4 litres per 100km achieved by our test vehicle was still very decent for a hefty 2.5-ton seven-seater with all-wheel drive.
The three-litre V6 turbodiesel is not limp-wristed in the performance department either, and its 190kW and 620Nm outputs ensure effortless cruiseability. It’s a torquey powerplant with loads of lag-free muscle and a useful 220km/h top speed, and while it comes nowhere close to the accelerative thrust of the GL63 AMG, its ability to cover the 0-100km/h sprint in just 7.9 seconds is a laudable feat for a diesel-powered SUV.
What stands out is the silent and silky nature of that power delivery, as if the engine runs on single-malt whisky instead of diesel. The all-round refinement compares with the S-Class sedan, and so too the luxurious fit and finish in the spacious cabin.
Basically the GL is a Mercedes S-Class on stilts.
The adaptive air suspension delivers a pillowy ride, but stiffens up in the corners to ensure that this elephant handles more like a leopard.
Off the tar, the GL350 Bluetec gives a very good account of itself. Along with permanent all-wheel drive it has an On&Off-Road package that offers height-adjustable air suspension up to 306mm of ground clearance, six drive programs, a centre differential lock, low range, under-body protection, and off-road-adapted ABS braking and stability control.
It means you can tease this Benz through more or less any obstacle course that takes your fancy; this is a hardcore offroader with a useful 23 degree breakover angle, 600mm wading depth, and high-profile 275/55 R19 tyres.
LONG-RANGE FUEL TANK
The 100-litre fuel tank ensures long distances between fill-ups in remote locations, but the lack of a full-sized spare wheel (there’s only a spacesaver) can cause some angst on an off-road expedition.
One innovation in the new GL is the standard Crosswind Assist which supports the driver with deliberate braking action in strong crosswinds, thus increasing the feeling of safety.
One extra-cost option I’d specify for this extra-large hefalump is the Active-Park assistant, which steers the GL automatically into the best possible position for parking.
The GL350 Bluetec is a relative bargain too. At R975 377, it’s the only Mercedes-Benz GL you can buy for less than seven figures. - Star Motoring
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