The big worry that you’ll run out of juice before you reach home is always a sticky point with electric cars. But here in Mahabaleshwar, in the month of May, the peak holiday season when everyone runs to the hills to escape the heat, car owners are facing Range Anxiety too. And it’s not because everyone is zipping around in E20s…
Regular Mahabaleshwar goers will know that trying to tank up your car during peak season can be a nightmare. Not only do you have to queue up for ages at one of the two crowded pumps that service the hill station, but often enough, they’ve completely run out of fuel. Chances are that the neighbouring Panchgani has run dry too.
Enough luggage space for the family’s weekend out.
Often enough, I’ve had to light-foot it with one eye on the fuel gauge ‘Empty’ light glowing bright, in search of the nearest pump, praying it has fuel. Anxious moments like this make you wish you had a car with the range of an Airbus. Our longterm GL350 CDI comes close — its massive tank of 100 litres, which safely equates to around 850km between fill-ups, means that I can drive to Mahabaleshwar, roam around for a good 300km and come back home, all on one tankful of diesel. I have to admit it’s a great feeling to drive past long lines of cars waiting to be filled, smug with the assurance that I won’t have to join that queue.
But it’s not just for skipping visits to the pump that I took the GL to Mahabaleshwar almost every weekend during its time with us; this hulking-big SUV is just so comfortable and practical for the 550km round trip. Unlike most seven seaters, the last row of seats is genuinely useable and you don’t feel you’re losing circulation to your legs even after our routine three-hour long stints between coffee breaks. Also, you don’t have to choose between a third row and luggage space, another typical seven-seater trade-off. In the GL, there’s enough luggage space for all seven people for the weekend. Quite frankly, if it weren’t for this Merc — during the weekend I had a full house — I’d have needed two cars to pack in the family, in-laws and friends.
With the GL, it’s the regular ‘via Pune’ route we take. It’s more comfortable for everyone thanks to the multi-lane expressway followed by NH4, which lets you cruise without a fuss. Even with a full load, this SUV always feels like it has a surplus of power. The creamy smooth V6 belts out enough torque to make overtaking simply effortless. You don’t mind the lethargy of the 7-speed gearbox, which takes its time swapping cogs, because performance is seamless, unhurried and lowers your pulse rate — just the way Mrs. Sorabjee likes it.
The high seating position is simply fantastic because you get a great view of the road ahead. The lofty perch adds to the feeling of invincibility this solid SUV exudes. It’s the elders who don’t like the elevated proportions, though — it’s quite a hike to get into the cabin. For the driver, the climb inside isn’t eased by the heavily contoured seats that come with this launch edition. That the side bolsters were badly scuffed after just 27,000km on the clock tells you that many backsides have struggled to plonk themselves here.
Range: 100 litre fuel tank means fewer trips to the fuel pump.
The launch edition also comes with 21-inch wheels which, though good-looking, badly corrupt the ride. The truth is, this version of the GL is one of the poorest riding Mercedes’ (after the R-class) that I have experienced. There’s just too much body movement, the chassis doesn’t feel taut and the low-pro tyres crash through sharp edges, spoiling the ambience of the cabin. There’s just too much roll in Comfort mode and it’s best to use the softest setting strictly in the city. At highway speeds, you need Sport mode to tie up this 2.5-tonne SUV effectively.
Mention must be made of the GPS system which, if you’re driving from Pune to Mahab, is not to be trusted. I’m not sure of other routes, but this one I know in my sleep, and I was shocked when the pretty voice coaxed me to cross over to NH17 via Bhor instead of sticking to NH4! That’s like asking me to drive to Delhi via Kanyakumari.
GPS: Not to be trusted on the drive from Pune to Mahableshwar.
Back in Mumbai, the GL’s massive length was an issue in our tight office parking lot. But it’s amazing how quickly you get used to this vehicle’s size. The fantastic all-round visibility, reverse cameras and generous mirrors take the pain out of piloting this behemoth in crowded areas.
Merc’s biggest SUV may not be its finest, but for sheer practicality and as a family car, it’s a luxury that’s hard to beat.