Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: Third SUV, Built in America
The Mercedes introduction of the third prong of its latest attack on the American SUV market is the 7-passenter GL-Class. The GL-Class complements the 5-passenger M-Class and 6-passenger R-Class “Grand Sports Tourer” (whatever that is) as Mercedes-Benz broadens its people-carrier offerings to meet the needs of SUV buyers.
The full technical details of the GL announced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2006, were precluded by the first photos and brief technical specifications shown here:
GL is “Real” SUV with Unitbody Construction
The primary powerplant will be a new 4.6L four-valve V8 engine mated to Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic transmission. The engine will deliver about 335HP. As a proper SUV, the GL-Class will be standard with 4Matic and off-road electronic aids that include a downhill assist, hill-start assist, and a two-speed transfer case with locking front and center differentials. Its towing capacity will be about 7500 pounds. Safety will include airbags for all three rows as well as improvements to crumple zones that reduce injury to cyclists and pedestrians.
As a luxury SUV, there will be plenty of wood and leather inside the GL-Class: power front seats, sunroof for front passengers and a fixed rear glass roof for the third row, and power-folding third row seats that will fold flat. All seats up mean one can carry seven passengers. Ensuring that these passengers will be comfortable as best they can, Mercedes gave the GL-Class about 12 inches more in overall length and three inches in width over the five-passenger ML-Class.
GL-Class, R-Class, and M-Class: Positioning Within the Brand.
Mercedes-Benz launched the latest iteration of its M-Class as well as an all-new R-Class for the 2006 model year. The latest vehicle takes on the GL-Class designation (but does not replace the existing low-volume, high-price G-Class (Gelandewagen, G-Wagen), which has nearly achieved cult status). All three of the new vehicles share the same platform and are built at Mercedes’ facility in Alabama.
While R-Class competes with SUVs wearing a shape that has more in common with a station wagon than with a traditional SUV, both the GL-Class and the M-Class offer more traditional styling and focus on conventional SUV attributes, like cargo-hauling and towing. The mission of the R-Class is to move six adults in luxurious comfort more so than picking up the home-improvement supplies at Home Depot this week. The seven-passenger GL-Class offers more size and presence over the M-Class, which seats only five passengers.