The Mercedes-Benz GL Class, launched in 2006, was ostensibly a replacement for the utilitarian G Class, but is in fact a very Americanised and far more sophisticated version of its progenitor and sits above the M Class in the Mercedes line-up.
Manufactured in the USA, the Mercedes-Benz GL follows that country's motto of 'size matters', at a gargantuan 5088mm in length and with a proportionally generous provision of features. Rivals are allegedly the Audi Q7 and BMW X5, but the GL is larger and plusher than either of these, rather you're looking at fellow US vehicles the Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator. Arguably the GL Class is surplus to requirements on narrower European roads and budgets, yet the car has sold here in respectable numbers.
The UK market was offered a choice of three engine variants, a well-used and much appreciated Mercedes stalwart 224bhp 3.0 litre in the GL320 CDi, a new 306bhp 4.0 litre in the GL420 CDi and a 388bhp 5.5 litre petrol in the GL500. All models are Euro4 emissions regulations compliant and come with a 7-speed 7G-TRONIC Mercedes automatic gearbox.
Bang for your buck
The massive used Mercedes GL is not all brawn – a considerable amount of planning has gone into making what is a supremely practical car. Details seem trivial when it's hard to get past the GL's standout feature - its size - but in fact the GL is well endowed with clever ideas and is surprisingly economical to run.
This is a genuine seven-seater, although the third row is optional, with electrically foldable seats in the two rear rows leading to a completely flat load floor and almost enough luggage space to fit your whole house in the boot. Even with seven-adults, the GL is comfortable to a fault.
The entry-level GL320 CDi includes automatic climate control, heated and electrically controlled 8-way adjustable front seats, part-leather upholstery, a full complement of airbags (among a raft of passive and active safety features), height and reach adjustable steering wheel with audio remote controls, cruise control and 18-inch alloys. The GL is also among those few cars which have taken into account pedestrian safety, with carefully planned crumple and impact yielding zones to protect pedestrians and cyclists.
Desirable options include a rear entertainment system capable of pacifying even the most fractious of rear passengers and, given the vehicle's size, a very useful rear parking camera assist. You may also find features such as a glass roof panel and navigation system.
What you'll pay
A used GL is a classic example of getting what you pay for. We're talking absolute luxury in an enormous package, so you're unlikely to find anything much under £20,000 for the earliest versions. Expect to pay about £23,000 for 2008 models, going up to £40,000 for nearly new 2012 models.
What to check
The GL falls into 'Chelsea tractor' territory, so expect to see parking scrapes and kerbing. Interior fitment quality is unimpeachable but do still check for damage from infant passengers. Other than that you may find some underbody or valance damage from overenthusiastic off-roading, but engines, mechanicals and overall build quality are second to none.
Surprisingly affordable. Expect to pay about £100 for a pair of front brake pads, £300 for a radiator, £150 for a replacement headlamp, £300 for an alternator and about £240 for a starter motor.
How it drives
It's pretty difficult to criticise the Mercedes GL as it simply does everything so well. The only serious gripe could be levelled at the car's ostentatious proportions but even that seems redundant – if you don't want a big car you won't be looking at the GL. Added to class-leading levels of luxury and comfort inside are superlative qualities both on and off-road.
Well-balanced power outputs give you torque where you need it and comfortable cruising speeds, while a proper low-ratio box and fully locking centre and rear differentials allied to air suspension, Downhill Speed Regulation, hill start assist and off-road ABS should get you out of the most stubborn mud-hole on weekend adventures. Don't be fooled by the smart, stylish looks, the Mercedes GL is a workhorse in any environment. On the blacktop, the GL is refined and absurdly competent both around corners and whizzing down a straight, yet efficient enough to satisfy even the green brigade. This is one case where the biggest really is the best.