The heart and mind of an average Indian is a tough nut to crack. What else could explain the fetish that we Indians have for Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) and the aversion that we show for taking them off-road? It might sound weird but, unlike our pals in Middle East or USA, we Indians hardly take our SUVs off-road and limit their usage to highways and expressways. But, that doesn’t stop manufacturers from launching highly competent off-roaders in our country. What better place in India than Leh, with its beautiful mountains and challenging roads, to prove the off-roading prowess of these models? Mercedes-Benz knows this only too well and so, off they took us to Leh for an “Offroad Driving Experience” of the two new Sports Utility Vehicles in their lineup, the G55 AMG and the GL Class.
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When Mercedes-Benz launched the G55 AMG, the most expensive and the least practical variant of the G-Class in India, they just wanted to prove a point. With classic looks that could rival a Porsche 911 for its timelessness, power and acceleration figures that would not look out of place in a Ferrari and off-roading capabilities that could match, if not beat, that of a Jeep, the G55 AMG is what most enthusiast’s dream car would be made up of. Bring the GL-Class into the picture and they form a deadly off-roading duo. So, how did they fare on the tough terrain that the mighty Himalayas had on offer? Read on, to know.
Exteriors – Square is back, and how?
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There are very few cars on earth that look, feel and drive the same way as they did decades back. Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the name of which is derived from Geländewagen (German for ‘overland vehicle’), belongs to that rarefied category. It is square, it is boxy, it is old, yet it is mind-blowingly attractive. It has been around and has looked almost the same since its introduction in the year 1979, yet its mass appeal is timeless. It was, and still is, so popular that Mercedes-Benz was forced to continue production of the G-Class even as it intended to stop the model around a decade back. The G-Class was originally designed to be used in the military services and there are lots of countries which still swear by it. Kitted out in the top-end AMG trim, the G55 with the special ‘AMG’ touches like the star-shaped alloys and the brilliant twin exhausts that are placed on both sides just before the rear wheels make sure that the G55 AMG turns heads wherever you go.
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As much as we tried, we were just not able to take our eyes off the G55 AMG and concentrate on the GL-Class that accompanied us for the ride. Do not mistake us, the GL-Class is no slouch either when it comes to looks, with its humongous size and the subtle yet classy chrome bits seeking the attraction of the onlookers. The GL-Class fits in as a large SUV in Mercedes’ lineup with a full-sized third row seats, a rarity in India. The GL-Class is so big that the G55 AMG looks so small when parked next to it. Get over its size and you can see some interesting bits like the dual projector headlamps, the attractive Daytime Running Lamps, a big, chunky D-Pillar and the chrome inserts in the rear bumper and number plate garnish. Both the models have a few common ‘typical-Mercedes’ design elements like the horizontal chrome-slatted grille with the huge ‘three pointed star’ logo in the middle, the side indicators in the rear view mirrors and the subtle chrome inserts here and there that adds to the classy looks but, thankfully, does not look overboard.
Interiors – Uninspiring but rock-solid
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The interiors in both the models are typically Mercedes with a bland design but a terrific build quality. The GL-Class especially impresses with its layout and the way things are put together. From the driver’s seat, the instrument console with the circular scooped-out speedometer and tachometer looks and feels sporty. The theme extends to the center console as well with the air-conditioning vents and other buttons and knobs shaped in concentric circles. One thing that the GL offers you in abundance is ‘space’. All three rows can comfortably take in adults unlike most of the other seven-seat SUVs in India. The beige leather seats, the dark wood veneer in the dashboard, the two-tone interiors and the chrome add-ons here and there lend the interiors a classy look and feel.
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The G55 AMG in contrast shows its age in the interiors. Everything is square and boxy with the steering wheel, the drilled aluminum pedals, the shiny black inserts in the steering wheel and dashboard and the chrome-ringed dials and buttons doing their best to liven up the interiors. The light cream colored leather seats are another eye-catching element in the G. A casual glance at the interiors of the G is enough to make out that it is designed for some serious off-roading with the chunky grab-handle for the front passenger and the three buttons for locking differentials at the top of the center console. Unlike the GL-Class, the G is not as spacious and wide and it shows with limited space for the occupants.
Drive – A revelation On & Off the road
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The G55 AMG turns you on the moment you turn its ignition on. The growl from the V8 engine is addictive and is sheer music to an enthusiast’s ears. It breaks all the pre-conceived notions that you will be having about a boxy SUV. With 507 bhp from its super-charged 5450 cc engine, it is extremely powerful and insanely quick. The handling is also crisp and inspires confidence but the real deal-breaker is the harsh ride, which is, to put it lightly, uncomfortable for the Indian road conditions. It can chew up miles on smooth expressways all day long and can take the occasional off-roading exercises. Be it rocky mountains, muddy patches or slippery snow, the G55 AMG managed to find its way out aided by its short wheelbase and small front and rear overhangs. The weight distribution is an impressive 50:50 in the front and back and, along with the three locking differentials, the G55 AMG is more than capable off-road than any of its owners in India will ever take it to.
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Drive the GL-Class immediately afterwards and there is a world of difference not only with the quality of interiors and space, but also with its ‘magic carpet’ ride, that most models of Mercedes are famous for. There are two driving modes to choose from – the Sport mode and the Comfort mode with the latter tuned for better ride and the former for sporty handling. In Comfort mode, the GL absorbs most bumps and comes across as a supremely comfortable cruiser. Surprisingly for its size, the GL-Class is as capable as the G55 AMG off-road with its dedicated ‘Off-Road pro package’ that aides its climb angle, wading depth and ground clerance. The ground clearance can be adjusted to three levels at the touch of a button. There is also a Downhill Speed Regulator (DSR) that allows us to set a speed and take our feet off the pedals while climbing down a hill. With the car automatically controlling its speed at the set level, the manual inputs are needed only for steering the vehicle in the right path.
Conclusion – We are undoubtedly fascinated
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We have some great off-roading shots taken from the event and we will let the pictures do the talking. At the end of the drive, It was a revelation of sorts with what these high-end SUVs are capable of both on and off the road. It is a pity though that most of the customers who buy these models would not be venturing off-road at all. Nevertheless, with around 20 bookings already for the G55 AMG that is priced at a stratospheric 1.25 crores and the GL-Class continuing with its considerable success since its launch last year, Mercedes-Benz has all the reasons to smile.