The recently launched 2011 Mercedes GL500 in India was a good revamp. But the only point was that no one actually noticed this. Infact, the GL was not at all in the contention for many who were in the market for an off-roader par excellence. This was because the car was never marketed properly by Mercedes in its Indian avatar. The other competitor that we are looking at here is the 2010 Toyota Land Cruiser in India. Now, the Land Cruiser needs no introduction and many have actually seen it going up hills and boulders in various ads and stuff. The Toyota does have the butch ability and Discovery as also National Geographic channels have the older versions of the Land Cruiser whilst they are out on a prowling trip. Not many would actually notice these but the automobile enthusiasts would definitely take heed of this. To settle the score, we have brought these two non willing competitors face to face and that too for the first time in automotive history. Most of the cars we have usually compared are the sedans or hatchbacks but very rarely are SUVs given the same preference as these cars.
Slab headed is what one would call the 2010 Toyota Land Cruiser in India. Yes, even when it was launched in its very second avatar, this car had serious look issues. But then Toyota never designed it to be aesthetically pleasing. It was designed to look the part as also traverse the deep ravines. The front end of this car looks like a brick and it has been fitted with the head lamps and sort. The fog lamps are almost as big as the head lamps for this one. The side profile throws open the 18 inch wheels which are of the size 285/60. Moreover, the rear profile looks bulbous at the best and the pop out tail lamps don’t do it any justice as well. To brighten up things a bit, there is a chrome bar at the rear. Toyota knows that Indians love chrome and hence there is this something which they feel should be a part of every car that they design for India. Just like the older Pajero, the stop lamps are mounted on the rear bumper. If the LC was a hammer glove fist, the 2011 Mercedes GL500 in India looks like a softy velvety punch. Style oozes out of its every angle. There are day time running LEDs in place of the fog lamps. the head lamp cluster has also been done neatly and the aura created by the 3 pointed star is very much visible in this car. Looking by stances, the ground clearance of the Merc looks a bit more than the Landy and statistics also prove this right since the Merc rides on 20 inch wheels filled with 275/50 section rubber. Both the SUVs come with roof rails as standard and if only one gripe from the Merc’s design can be pointed out, it would be the outdated outside rear view mirrors. They are the same used for every car in the Merc stable ranging from the C-class to the much costlier S class and also the SLS AMG versions. The rear of this car seems more raised than the front portion and there are twin bazooka exhausts as well. The reflectors find their position on the bumpers and going on with the overall dimensions of the GL, they are also quite big. Though initially, the Land Cruiser may look like it is longer, in reality and what the stats support is that the Merc is two inches longer. Just that the entire package has been wrapped up in a delicious aluminium concoction that one fails to notice it.
Obviously for this round, it would be the Mercedes GL500 for the immense presence and the sophistication which is found missing in the Land Cruiser.
While the Land Cruiser looks the big part, step or climb inside the interiors and you would find the LC the same in its proportions as well. Beginning with the door handle which is one of the biggest in this class, then there is the giant sized steering wheel which has got all the imminent controls on it. But then the 14 speaker music system takes the piece of cake. Out for the seats and other surroundings, there is plenty of wood and leather. Toyota haven’t offered the car yet with beige interiors coz they know that owners buying this vehicle would definitely want to check its off-roading prowess. The seats, that is the front ones get 6 types of different adjustments for them. Then there is the huge touch screen system which contains the vehicle’s manual as also many other details including the infotainment system and stuff. The buttons and thankfully, there aren’t many around, are big to touch and feel and operate with the slickness which is noticed in Toyota vehicles. Dual zone climate control works beautifully and also cools the cabin within no time. Just that we happen to test it in the rainy season may mean that in summers, it might take a wee bit more to cool. The second row of seats is also very comfortable and the LC can even be ordered with an optional Captain chairs for the second row. The last row of seats is also on the comfortable side but we ended up sitting with our thighs pointed skywards. Boot space when the third row of seats are in place is not that impressive while the rear seats toppled forward can easily see a mountain bike being carried around.
Now, for the Mercedes GL, it is the big daddy of the lot from Mercedes stables, barring the R-class of course. In the interiors front, in typical Mercedes fashion, it is all beige mixed some more of the darker beige. This cabin has more buttons in the central console than the entire cabin of the Land Cruiser. The steering wheel, though smaller in diameter, wasn’t a favorite with us since it was half wood and half leather. Now, why Mercedes persisted with this thing is for any one to guess. The absence of any gear lever inside the cabin means that new drivers would initially be stumped by it. Moreover the richer trim of the wood near the doors and in the central console takes the piece of cake. The infotainment system is pretty much the same one found in other Mercedes cars and the apparent similarity is obvious here. Though the Merc may seem cramped initially, it is just comfortable in the right places. Even the last row of passengers have no complains to make and this inspite of two 6 footers sitting side by side. The extra leg room for the rear passengers has, however, compromised on the boot space and it can’t take in more than 3 suitcases. There is a chilled box in the Merc but the refrigerator in the LC is commendable. The beige interiors in the Mercedes would work as long as the owner doesn’t plan to take this SUV for some dune bashing while the ones in the Land Cruiser would attract heat in the typical Indian summers. One difference is also that the LC can seat eight while the GL is a 7 seater.
For the overall feel, it is a tough decision on this one, however we would prefer our car with far lesser buttons and on this slim point, the LC’s cabin is a bit more bearing than the one in the GL.
Handling and ride quality
Don’t go by its size, the LC is pretty much a nimble mountain goat. It can climb rocks and dunes with the same ease as the neighboring Sherpa. It actually crushed all those potholes that Mumbai’s monsoon ravaged streets had to throw at it. The suspension settings as also the ride height are adjustable and full time AWD plus the limited slip differential and all those electronic nannies definitely help the LC place itself and acquit well out of a corner. Yes, even we were amazed at the nimbleness of the LC around a corner. In everyday traffic, all those rickshaws and bikers are dead scared of coming near this SUV lest it crush them to submission. Moreover, we got a new respect from all other SUV owners, one Fortuner owner actually rolled down the window and smiled at us. Same feelings, dude! The GL was no slouch in gathering all the attention that the LC was getting and put everyone on the road in awe with the 3 pointed star that it sported. Needless to say, all heads were craning inside to check out the celebrity seated inside. Well, we assure you that there was no celebrity inside but just we mere mortals driving it for the comparison test. Looking at the GL’s pretty exteriors, one would suppose that it wouldn’t be taken for bad roads as nicely as the LC. However, be prepared to be in a shock coz the GL is equally, if not a bit more, adept in tackling off-road conditions. It also got similar armory to the ones in the LC and though we wouldn’t see many owners going with their GL’s to the dirt tracks, if one does indeed change his mind, he can count on the GL. However, the nimbleness with which the Toyota moves around in muck is not what can be expected out of the Mercedes. It has no doubt got the selectable ratios, adjustable ride height and even the various suspension settings, but then, we felt that something was lacking somewhere. When it would actually get stuck, the GL would have the LC’s number to call. For the ride quality, the Merc does let the sharper of the irregularities filter inside the cabin. NVH is nicely done on both, however the Mercedes has the upper hand here with its very wishful damping.
One tends to buy this class of vehicle for either the stature or for truly going off-roads. If its for the latter, then the LC wins it hands down and even if its for the former the LC would have no problem staring down the Mercedes’ throat.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
Both the SUVs here sport different engine options and the fuel feeding them as well. The Toyota Land Cruiser has got a 4461 cc twin turbo diesel V8 engine which pumps out 282 Bhp of power @ 3600 rpm while the 660 Nm of torque is available from as low as 1600 rpm but then has a shorter range traveling till 2800 rpm. This coupled with a 6 speed auto transmission enables the LC to make it from standstill to 100 kmph in 12 seconds. Top speed is approximately 200 kmph. Compared with this, the Mercedes GL500 has got a bigger heart at 5461 cc with a V8 configuration feeding on petrol. Power is greater than the LC standing at 388 Bhp while the torque is more than 100 Nm lower than the LC at 540 Nm. In the real world, the torque is what counts and the LC feels much more driveable than the GL. The GL is no slouch and would punch the air with 0-100 kmph timings of 7 seconds and a top speed in excess of 200 kmph. It has got a fantastic 7 speed auto transmission which is well aligned to the engine. Surprisingly firing up the GL’s engine produced noise (more of the welcome kinds) than what we expected would be more prominent in the LC coz of its diesel powerplant. Only for the true enthusiast that is or rather the off-roader who will go for the torque of the LC.
Brakes in both the cars are fantastic and they are supported by the usual electronics. Not only do these electronics sort out the characteristics of these SUVS, but they also bring in a finesse which was previously not noticed in SUVs of this class. Needless to say, a refinement also. Brake hard at any speed and any gear and both the SUVs would stop dead in their tracks covering the minimum amount of distance. As for safety, both the cars have a zillion airbags as also other (once again) electronics to protect them from crashes and stuff. That is were they to happen. Again for the kind of driving that these 2 tonne plus SUVs would encounter or rather encountered with us, the fuel efficiency and that is the overall figure for the GL500 was a very low 6.3 kmpl while for the LC, it was 8.8 kmpl. Now, there would be an argument that the Merc has got more horses under its hood but then running the LC would be a relatively cheaper affair coz its diesel. The price of both are some lakhs away from each other. The 2011 Mercedes GL500 price in India is Rs 79.40 lakhs while the 2010 Toyota Land Cruiser price in India is Rs 86.51 lakhs. All these prices are ex-show room, Mumbai.
With Mercedes, the cost of ownership is on the higher side since it’s a petrol and we all are aware of the servicing costs that a Mercedes incurs. As for the Toyota, it has got the valuable Toyota badge to it as also a proven reliability record all over the world. Moreover, it’s a diesel and running costs would also be on lower side. While most of the female staffers preferred the Merc, many of the male ones went in for the LC. The LC is only for those who want serious mud plugging action and the Mercedes is for those looking to occasionally dirty their boots. Bottom line is that one wouldn’t go wrong with either of these cars.