If you've been following our Facebook page and our jam-packed coverage of three-pointed star's journey in India, you would have seen us posting photographs of Mercedes Benz SUV's in breathtaking backgrounds. These were snagged when IndianAutosBlog.com was invited to Ladakh last month to drive the GL-Class and the G-Wagen.
In a feature story, we're going try describing what we understood of these two outstanding utility vehicles.
How did you feel when you knew you'd be driving Mercedes utility vehicles through the Himalayas?
The adventure trip was an adventure not because of the snow-capped mountains, sub-zero temperature or the desktop wallpaper that spreads out to the horizon at Pengong Tso. Not for me because of the cars at hand which included the GL 350 and the G55 AMG overshadowed nature's best act. The G55 AMG is a thoroughbred off-roader, and the 507bhp that the AMG badge made the wait harder.
Mercedes Benz brought the G55 AMG into India to sell a classic SUV. With acceleration of a Lamborghini and off-roading capability of a ATV, the G55 AMG is a rare animal that combines the best of both worlds. Alongside the R-Class, this pair that joined the Indian stable in 2011 has no competition.
Oh you're talking about the Mercedes's copy of the Armada? And hey is the GL a G-Class with a L board?
There are not many cars in today's world that look and feel like they were decades back. As there is in every case, the exception here is the Mercedes G-Class. The G-Class has outdated interiors, its age is seen with the household type switches and rear seat's sandwiched passenger wears his seat belt that extends from the roof. Mercedes have lifted many components from modern saloons and tossed it into the G's cabin, but there's no hiding of the roots of this utilitarian SUV which was tasked with working with border security forces. The exteriors are no better, the first time I saw it, my respect for the designers behind the Trax and Sumo grew multifold until I realized the original designed back in the 1970's was standing in front of me.
In today's day and age, Mercedes Benz is seeing cut-throat competition thanks to two Germans named BMW and Audi. They have to be a step ahead on everything including the quietness of the steering rake adjustment linkage, sheet metal finish on the edge of the open bonnet and the stitching of the seat in places where only a proctologist can reach. Model lifecycles are getting shorter with every generation and there must be a very convincing excuse for a model to hold on to its place for over thirty years.
This vehicle had created a mountain of a fan following, that it not only influenced clones from Mahindra, Tata and Force Motors, it made Mercedes change their mind when retirement plans were locked in a few years back. The model will drive on for another few years till the successor is ready.
The GL-Class was designed for the SUV-loving crowd. Yes, I'm talking about America where demand for luxury SUVs peaks. The behemoth Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and BMW X5 are its rivals. It was launched stateside in January 2006 and hit European markets during September of the same year. It is a 7-seater and has a lot more leg room, bigger seats, better sound insulation and a softer ride compared to the hardcore G55.
As the GL is among the largest SUVs in India, there's not much detailing on the body work. Simple lines, straight forward headlamps, subtle chrome inserts are part of the optical tricks to break the bulkiness. It's not eye candy, but a purely functional design that provides good all round visibility. A segment first is the off-roading package (Off Road Pro Engineering Package) standard on the GL-Class. The GL is what Mercedes calls its flagship SUV as the G-Class is considered as a special vehicle from the performance division.
Does the G55 make 55bhp or did they leave out a zero somewhere?
No. The AMGed G-Class dubbed G55 has a 5.5-liter V8 engine, tangoing with a supercharger (Kompressor in Mercedes lingo) to produce 507bhp and 700Nm. At an altitude of 15,000 feet, some of this power and torque is lost, but the balance is enough to make you scream for help as the fellow scribe puts pedal to the metal. The growl has overtones of metallic abrasion, a gargle created when you use screws instead of mouth wash, a deep bass of a powerful sound system and err..darn it, you have to listen to the note to know what I'm on about. Even at half volume, there's enough noise to discomfort your blocked ears. It's like the internal combustion engine came under a terrorist attack.
The G55 AMG hides a lion under its skin. Trying to tame this beast is best left to it masters at Mercedes Benz or AMG. Respect it and it'll not kill you. Try throwing it around a bend, it bites back with a loud roar. The stiffened suspension hurts your back after an hour of riding on gravel and broken roads. The seating is up-right and there's limited leg space at the rear.
The angry, gas-guzzling Mercedes then is not a very practical car for a Mumbai or Delhi. It's a vehicle you take to the millionaire's club's weekend party. It's a car you use to arrive at the Filmfare awards' venue.
Two reasons you will spend 1.25 crore rupees to buy this car
1) I can't grow a lion in my house but have space for one in the garage
2) As a Mercedes lover, I want a car to drive on roads where every second vehicle is a C- or E-Class and premium isn't premium any longer.
Tell me about the Learner's G-Class..
The GL-Class is a learner's car if your daddy is the president of an oil company. A perfect (rich) family SUV, the GL-Class seats seven in absolute comfort. The third row is not laid out just for the heck of it and actual people can sit there without getting sick. The ride is a lot softer than the G and the cabin's very silent. Despite its size, anyone who knows to operate a car can use the GL-Class. A stalk I mistook for a high beam lever lets you control the driving mode and shift gears. When I climbed into the car, I searched the gear lever until a Mercedes official told me there isn't one!
Even in the absence of a gear selector, there are literally hundreds of controls and settings, the most used was the suspension setting that allows to control ride height while we were off-roading. Despite having the interior space of a drawing room, there are distractions like the beige leather seats, the dark wood veneer on the dashboard, interiors done up in two tones and chrome additions that add cheer.
Power is derived from a 3-liter, 6-cylinder diesel engine that produces 224bhp power and 510Nm of torque. These numbers are as significant as they sound on the GL-Class that occupies roughly 100 sq.ft of road because we never felt a lack of punch in the engine. It is paired to 7-speed automatic transmission that takes away all the effort from the left part of the body.
Two reasons why I will spend over 65 lakh rupees to buy this car
1) I have a family and a backbone that I love. I mean I do long distances frequently in groups.
2) I need a proper third row for passengers of all body dimensions. I also look for practicality such as fuel economy figures, so a diesel engine is a mandatory.
Any final thoughts on these two vehicles?
Mercedes took us all the way to Leh for us to experience them in an environment they seldom go. For the cars, this must have been a lot more fun. Mercedes offers off-roading package standard with the GL and the G-Class was honed on mountain passes and river crossings. It was its Nurburgring.
Sadly Merc's study shows less than 1 percent of customers in India take their cars away from the road. They don't get to see how beautiful these beasts are in their natural ecosystem. You would agree that seeing a tiger in the zoo is a bit different than traveling to Africa and seeing them in the wild.
So there's only one way to explain this phenomenon - How many of us would pay 1.25 crore for a car and risk breaking it?