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Detroit Motor Show: Mercedes-Benz GL-Class

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The GL-Class, launched at the Detroit motor show this week, is the third member of the ML-Class/R-Class family.

All three models share the same basic underpinnings and are built alongside each other at the DaimlerChrysler factory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but the GL is the biggest of the lot. It'll be offered in five- or seven-seat form, with up to 2,300 litres of loadspace and flat-folding rear seats. Options include the Pre-Safe crash-sensing system.

The GL has the 4Matic permanent four-wheel drive system, with self-levelling air suspension, adaptive damping and stability control, plus electronic trailer stabilisation, downhill speed regulation, hill-start assist and off-road ABS. Top-spec ECE models have the optional Off-Road Pro package, with a two-speed gear transfer case with low-ratio gears, 100% differential locks for the transfer case and rear axle, and the suspension modified for higher ground clearance.

The engine line-up is comprehensive, with entry-level GL 320 CDI models (224bhp) kicking off a range of diesels equipped with particulate filters and designed to tempt US buyers out of their gasoline-guzzlers. The latest version of the 420 CDI's V8 now gives 306bhp. There are also GL 450 (340bhp) and GL 500 (388bhp) petrol models for the unconvinced. Seven-speed automatic transmission is standard on all models.

The GL-Class goes on sale in the US in the spring, though European sales will not start until September 2006. The old-school G-Class/G-Wagen, developed from Mercedes' military jeeps, although it has become progressively more luxurious over the years, will continue in production to special order.

Mercedes has also presented "the world's cleanest diesel engine", fitted in a model badged E320 Bluetec, to go on sale in the US in the autumn. It has a new six-cylinder V6, claimed to give the power of a V8 (211bhp) but the fuel consumption of a four-cylinder unit (35mpg). 211bhp may not be much for a V8 these days, and 35mpg would be pretty mediocre for a four-cylinder engine, especially by European standards, but more crucially, the Bluetec unit combines a highly-effective particulate filter, a catalytic converter that tackles carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, and systems to reduce nitrous oxides and other untreated emissions. These include AdBlue, which injects an aqueous urea solution into the exhaust gas stream to break down nitrous oxides into harmless nitrogen and water. The solution needs only to be topped up at the usual service intervals. The Bluetec engine will thus be able to meet emissions standards in all the US states, including the stringent measures in California.

The Bluetec engine will also be offered at a later date in the GL-Class (in which it will give around 25mpg). It requires low-sulphur diesel fuel, not yet widely available in the US, but on its way. Ultimately, the Bluetec units will incorporate electric motors in a hybrid system, as previewed in the S-Class Bluetec Hybrid concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show last autumn, but this is still some way off production. The technology has already proved successful in Mercedes' Actros, Axor and Atego trucks.

For out-and-out power and luxury, however, the S65 AMG is the star of the Mercedes stand in Detroit. The top-dog S-Class develops 612bhp from its AMG-built biturbo V12, and 738lb ft of torque. Acceleration 0-60mph comes up in 4.4 seconds, although top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.

AMG sports suspension with active body control, Speedshift five-speed auto transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifts, huge AMG composite brake discs (but no SBC brake-by-wire) and 19-inch AMG alloys are all fitted, as well as a full body kit and leather upholstery with AMG sports seats and special trim.
 
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