Driving the new GLK, G-Class: Like a box of expensive chocolates | Inquirer Business
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Driving the new GLK, G-Class: Like a box of expensive chocolates

/ 02:33 AM June 13, 2012

THE UNSHACKLED Iron Shoeckl

It was a backdrop straight out of a movie animator’s fantasy, or maybe a colorist’s dream: brown-hued chalets, dotted with white snowflakes, on carpets of well-manicured greens. Here and there, slivers of yellow sunlight penetrated a gray, overcast sky, like random celestial spotlights. Only this was no fantasy, nor a dream. For us, who drove the youngest Mercedes Benz SUV, the GLK, and its legendary all-terrain G-Class, it was all real.

And how alive we felt, negotiating the winding passes, gaping at unusual rock formations, peering over the slopes, watching the valleys and forests as we motored to La Clusaz, a charming village that is quintessentially French to the core.

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Though our route to La Clusaz, France, was usually taken by skiers and snowboarders, this test-drive group rode Mercedes Benz’s most prominent and newest offroaders—the GLK and the G-Class, which CATS Motors Inc. would release in Philippine shores in October or November.

A RED GLK 220 CDI BlueEfficiency, one of 7 GLK models

I would never have imagined myself behind the wheel of a Mercedes Benz SUV—let alone off-roading in the French Alps—a lifetime ago, during my college days, while onboard a jeepney with the iconic “Chedeng” three-pointed star emblem proudly propped on the hood. But, as a movie character named Forrest G so memorably said once, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

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I got the most expensive kind—the one with rum, wine or brandy in them, and I savored every bite, rather, every exciting twist and turn, ascent and descent of our drive through the French Alps.

My high-seat driving position in the newly designed GLK body helped me to enjoy the drive and the ride even more. The new look combines the classic straight lines of an all-terrain vehicle with the modern design language of the current Mercedes-Benz sedans. The interior features a completely redesigned dashboard with modified instrument cluster, new colors and materials, as well as hallmark, circular air vents. New LED ambient lighting lends a more premium look and feel. The 7G-Tronic Plus makes for a more user-friendly offroad experience, the gear selector lever on the steering column frees up more room for additional stowage space in the center console (for a lady, that’s a purse or “kikay kit” space already). Though the new gear position does take some getting used to, the habit grows on you.

A GLK perfectly backdropped the snow-capped French Alps.

My two thumbs up goes to the Comand (Yup, I spelled it just right), Mercedes-Benz’s onboard link to the Internet, as well as the new apps, and a navigation system with 3D map imaging. There’s also an option for an iPad docking station at the rear bench.

360-degree cam

This would have beaten any ordinary bird’s eye view. A 360-degree-view camera that would soon be installed in GLKs would offer a view of the car’s entire surroundings, thus helping the driver maneuver in difficult terrain. Unfortunately, though, this optional feature was not yet installed on our test units.

The type of terrain around the GLK offroad hub in Le Grizzly was a mix of rocky, uneven ground and sloshy deep mud. Turning left to the forested area on board a black GLK, the offroad package (optional feature) was at work right away with sensitive anti-lock brake system and electronic traction system on all four wheels.

On a steep downhill, I activated the downhill speed regulation system with just a push of a button, then the vehicle crawled down to speeds (range of choice was between 3 and 18 kph). Pushing the left lower lever down would slow it down, while pushing it up would speed it up. Everything was made simpler (read: idiot-proof). The entire offroad package controls are easy to understand. The basis for them is the 4Matic permanent all-wheel-drive with the 4TS electronic traction system. The vehicle is now able to “think” for itself, once the system is engaged.

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There was an instance when my left wheels were submerged deep in mud, causing the rear right wheel to tilt up, and the whole car would be left in a slanting position. No panic, no sweat. Putting the gear on Park and engaging the footbrake, I got off the vehicle, and started clicking my camera away. How many of us get stuck in mud in the French Alps, anyway?

G-Class freaks

Before the trip, I had been scouting for G-Class owners in the country, to ask them about their experience with the vehicle. To make a long story short, it was just too hard to find one. I learned that, though it did have a cult following, the G-Class is as elusive in the Philippines as the mythological Bigfoot is in the French Alps.

Those who could afford the G-Class almost always came from the G-8 nations, and perhaps a few from oil-rich countries such as Dubai, Kuwait, and Kazakhstan.

Globetrotting German Gunther Holtorf, who’s on a mission to travel the world with “Otto,” a 1988 Mercedes-Benz 300 GD, told this writer that the Sheikh of Dubai owns 15 G-class units, whispering that man was a G-Class freak. Obviously. “The same applies to the Emir of Qatar, and Bahrain. All of them have a dozen G-Class vehicles. I was there,” Gunther gushed.

No prince, emir or G-freak sheikh checked in during our stay at a hotel in La Clusaz. Still, it was hard to ignore a plethora of new G-Class vehicles parked just outside, enough to turn heads of heads of state.

Hard to forget, too, the Iron Shoeckl, a steel rail three to five stories high and shaped like a pyramid, where the G-Class units would be made to climb up one crazy-steep side, seesaw on top, and then roll down the other crazy-steep side. The procedure is so precarious that only select drivers are made to negotiate the Iron Shoeckl, and there is a special license issued to such drivers. Drivers on the Shoeckl have to take into consideration many factors, including the number of passengers as well as the weight distribution of the vehicle. While riding the G-Class, and my driver on the shoeckl, my palms were wet, I hyperventilated a bit, and I swore my heart skipped a beat while we rocked back and forth at the top.

For a moment there, fear interrupted my appreciation of the glimmering G 65 AMG (with its AMG 6.0-liter V12 biturbo engine that delivers 612 hp and reaches a maximum torque of 1000 newton meters—a record in the off-road segment), the new G 63 AMG (with an AMG 5.5-liter V8 biturbo engine delivering 544 hp and the AMG speedshift plus 7G Tronic automatic transmission system) and the other new G-Class units sprawled around the Iron Shoeckl. But before I knew it, the shoeckl was behind me, and we were down again on reassuring solid ground.

My senses were with me again, as engineers at the site explained that the fuel consumption of 13.8 liters per 100 km (NEDC combined) is a reduction of 2.1 liters from the predecessor model, representing fuel savings of 13 percent—credited to the biturbo eight-cylinder engine, along with the automatic transmission system, the generator management system and the Eco start/stop function.

The new G-Class also outperforms the predecessor model G 55 AMG Kompressor by 37 hp and 60 newton meters.

Back here in Manila, eagerly awaiting my chance to see the new G-Class on familiar grounds, I appreciate now why the iconic three-pointed star emblem is almost universally coveted. It’s not just about the car, but the “box of shoecklates” that come with it.

Find out if your palms get sweaty, too, when you ask for a test drive at www.Mercedes-Benz.com.ph.

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TAGS: auto, G-Class, GLK, Mercedes-Benz, Motoring
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