The versatile...

* Space and performance * The family loved it * Two faults is unforgiveable...

The versatile...

The family certainly loved the GL. The hoped-for space was there in abundance, but the ease that the car transformed from seven- to five- to two-seater and back was a real boon, as was the cars party piece: the powered folding rear row of seats. Unusually for a seven-seater, it didnt make anyone at the very back feel like they were in the cheap seats adults were just as happy, as colleague Ivan Aistrop proved when he took his six fellow groomsmen to a friends wedding.

In fact, maybe theres something in the air at What Car?, because the Merc was called on to perform matrimonial duties on a few occasions over the past year. Its a clear sign of the image the big Merc has: some may question its place in an increasingly environmentally aware world, but it never failed to make an impact.

It certainly left an impression on me. I loved its comfort and refinement: given the sheer size of the car, it was incredibly quiet. There was hardly any road, wind or engine noise to spoil the sound from the excellent Harman Kardon hi-fi system (although, like the car, it took a while to run in), while seat and cabin comfort was everything I expected from a car of its price.

Ride comfort isnt a given at any price, but the GL has to be one of the best-riding cars on the market. Those big wheels and squashy tyres (which lasted all of my 23,500 miles) help, but so many other large 4x4s can feel fidgety on the road: the GL just feels serene. Effortless performance helped, as did the slick-shifting seven-speed (yes, seven) automatic gearbox. I got to really love the positioning of the gearbox shifter on a stalk to the right of the steering wheel, too it just felt so right.

The GL ventured into Europe on a few occasions and went up and down the UK frequently. Most importantly for me, it kept me calm on my tortuous commute each day through the busiest stretch of the M25.

I also tested its towing ability to the full, with the mother of all caravans an eight metre-long Sterling Europa 650. With the Merc at just over five metres long, it was quite a combination.

Yet even with a full complement of Fowlers on board, the GL towed without any fuss. Sure, it took the edge off the cars performance, and economy tumbled from my usual average of around 22mpg to nearer 15mpg, but the car felt incredibly stable and the only other pay-off was a slightly firmer ride.