Let’s face it, no-one needs a Mercedes-Benz of any sort, or a Land Rover for that matter (perhaps with the exception of the rugged Defender). That sentiment is only exaggerated when you get to the upper echelons of each of these brands. At the very top, the peak of luxury if you will, you get the new Mercedes-Benz GL and LR’s latest Range Rover. However, these are far from necessities. Both cars are symbols of status, success and, fairly often, excess. But hey, if you can, why not? So, are you like King Louie of the monkeys from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book? You’ve reached the top and had to stop and that’s what’s bothering you? Fret not, friends, I may have just the cure for that itch. Yup, the Mercedes-Benz GL and the Range Rover will undoubtedly soothe that prickle, take the thorn out of your oh-so-successful side and, perhaps most importantly, outshine the Joneses next door. But what you need to know is which one of these two limo-like SUVs is for the true connoisseur.
Looks are everything. Okay, that’s not entirely true as substance is massively important when it comes to vehicles, but just this once, when you’re keen to make sure those around you realise just how much money you have and how tastefully you use it, looks mean more than they normally would. And when parked next to each other, the Mercedes GL and the Range Rover have quite a battle going on. The two are different – very different, in fact – but neither one is particularly ugly.
The Range Rover takes a clean approach to styling. Penned under the guidance of design chief Gerry McGovern, it is almost simplistic in its appearance, but not to the point that it takes away from how magnificent a vehicle it is. Simplistic is, in fact, the wrong word. This thing is pure elegance. Furthermore, it’s a vehicle that pays homage to the iconic original of 1970 of which it is a direct descendant. The angled rear stays true to its ancestor, the lines along the shoulder are still evident, albeit in evolved form, and the overall shape of the body still rings true. That said, it’s modern from every angle. Headlamps with LED daytime running lights add to the effect, and let’s not forget that this Range Rover is the world’s very first aluminium monocoque SUV. That, significantly, makes it a whopping 400kg lighter than the third-generation model it replaces.
The Mercedes-Benz GL is a much busier package than the Rangie, but by no means unattractive. It’s still a tad too boxy for my liking, particularly at the rear, but it is a definite improvement over the model it replaces, which was more akin to an oversized hearse. The new model is smoother and more rounded, at least up front. It’s definitely the more extroverted of the two SUVs we have here, but then again, perhaps being more in your face is an advantage in this comparison. This specific GL, the 63 AMG, is even louder, visually, thanks to its bold, aggressive grille, big wheels and quad exhaust set-up. It also happens to be the first time the GL63 AMG, which is around 100kg lighter than its predecessor, has found its way to South Africa.
Inside, both cars are comfortable, with high-quality materials bathing every surface you lay your eyes on and cosseting you in the utmost luxury. However, I can’t help but feel that the Range Rover has the Mercedes pegged when it comes to plushness. Whether it’s the materials we’re talking about, the design or even details as small as the stitching, it just looks and feels the better place to be.
Capaciousness is not a problem in either of these SUVs but that also depends on how many family members and friends you have. The high-end Autobiography spec Range Rover we have here has a four-seat layout, while the GL boasts room for seven. And that’s not meaning only juniors can be shoved in the back – it’s a full seven-seater. To a certain extent, the four-seat layout of the Range Rover makes it more exclusive and it certainly makes it more executive, what with the electrically-adjustable heated rear seats and separate controls for ventilation and air conditioning in the back. It also has a cavernous cargo area covered in mahogany carpet to match the seats of the stylish two-tone interior. Not unlike its exterior, everything about the Range Rover screams class and elegance.
The GL’s boot, by comparison, is miniscule when the third row of seats is erect but they do fold flat to give you ample room when you don’t have a full complement of passengers, which is a big tick in the versatility department.
Performance and handling
And still on the topic of versatility, it’s time to establish whether the GL can match the Range Rover’s off-road cred and whether the Rangie can keep up with the AMG on the blacktop. Short answer to both: no. See, it’s not just the looks or interiors of these two SUVs that differentiate them from one other. No, the two specific models we have on test are also significantly different under the bonnet. Both boast forced-induction V8s but that’s pretty much where the similarities stop. Powering the slick Range Rover is the British firm’s SDV8 engine, a 4.4-litre turbodiesel with 250kW and 700Nm of torque on tap, while the GL63 draws its power from a twin-turbo 5.5-litre petrol unit with significantly more grunt available: power is rated at 400kW and torque sits at 760Nm.
To drive, the Range Rover is the more relaxed of the two. However, don’t think that diesel engine guarantees good fuel consumption. I struggled to get below 15ℓ/100km on the daily commute, though the open road does provide opportunities for it to dip below 10ℓ/100km. But that aside, it truly is a dream to drive. The torque is there when you need it and there’s very little delay in power delivery. Once you’re up to speed, overtaking is no problem either – you just flex that right foot a little and blast past the slower traffic. Some figures: the 0-100kph sprint takes 6.9 seconds and top speed is rated at 217kph. No slouch for something this size.
Although lighter than before, the Rangie is still a heavy chunk of metal – 2360kg heavy, to be precise – and you can feel it under braking. That’s not to say the brakes aren’t up to the task – they certainly are – it all just feels a bit boat-like when they do, the nose dipping heavily, creating a wallowy feeling in the cabin. Still, the Range Rover offers a ride as smooth as its leather-bathed interior, and if you’re not interested in showing off your driving skills you’ll battle to find anything more comfortable than this behemoth. The only problem you might have is manoeuvring in and out of tight spots, as when the walls get close, you truly understand the meaning of driving a vehicle that’s five metres long and 2.2 metres wide.
The fuel consumption story is the same for the GL – with such a potent engine under that sizeable bonnet it’s no surprise that an average figure close to 20ℓl/100km is the order of the day. What’s more, it’s easy to feel that the sheer enormity of the GL has dulled that AMG magic ever so slightly. It’s big (5.1m long and 2.1m wide), it’s heavy (2550kg) and it’s not the easiest car to drive fast. Still, 400kW is a titanic amount of power (okay, the Titanic had in the region of 900kW and a fair whack more torque, but this gives you an idea of just how ‘titanic’ 400kW really is), and when you get it right the 63 AMG is tremendously rewarding to drive.
It’s hellishly fast for a creature of its size. It’ll get to 100kph in a mere 5.4 seconds and go on to a top speed of 210kph. And with the AMG Ride Control suspension settings in Sport Plus mode and the ‘S’ button pressed, the GL offers a stirring ride. I may not describe it as wieldy, but it corners flat and when you plant your foot, a lion roars from beneath the bonnet. It’s rare to hear such aural pleasure, but AMG delivers every time and the GL is no exception.
So where Mercedes can’t match Range Rover off-road (at least not with the GL63 AMG, which doesn’t come with the On/Off-Road Package – for that you have to opt for either the GL350 or the GL500, both of which are supremely capable off-road), it’s clear that Range Rover can’t match Mercedes through a mountain pass. But does that really matter? Well, that’s entirely up to you – if showboating and making a big noise while blitzing every gap in the traffic are your thing, the AMG is better. If you went to venture to the base of Everest, you undoubtedly need the Range Rover.
So, what’s the deal here? You’re forking out approximately R1.6 million, but what are you actually getting for your money? Well, that’s an easy question to answer: not only do you get one of the best limousine-like luxury performance vehicles money can buy (and I’m not referring only to SUVs here, I mean, overall, these two SUVs are the epitome of luxury motoring for the price, perhaps only challenged in that regard by the Audi A8, the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class), in the case of the Range Rover, a supremely capable off-roader, too. The GL can also fulfil that role, just not in AMG guise, but like you need a different Merc to go off-road, you would choose the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 Range Rover if outright performance was the decisive factor
Both models here are truly fantastic. But in this specific comparison, as a style accessory, an off-roader, a little piece of ‘heaven on road’ and the complete package, I’d have to go for the Range Rover. It may not have the seven seats of the Mercedes-Benz GL, but in return it has a cavernous boot, acres of space inside, first-rate build quality and unrivalled design inside and out. Should I ever be fortunate enough to be faced with a choice of these two vehicles, the Range Rover would be where I’d put my money. And my current car, and my house, and possibly a few vital organs. And you know what? It would be totally worth it.