I could say I knew where this one was going, but I couldn’t see much. In the tight confines of a modern Mumbai apartment building’s parking lot, driving the Mercedes-Benz GL is like asking the captain of a 100,000 tonne boat to parallel park in Monaco’s yacht bay. Few vehicles have compounded my problems as much as the GL did and on an early morning dash to Goa, the GL was turning out to be my biggest worry, more than reaching Goa some hours late.
We were off to the land of beaches and worn out Activas in our search for some interesting machines. We could have opted to take something from our long-term fleet, but when we scratched our collective heads, someone from the corner of the office suggested this leviathan. Thankfully, it was also suggested that a second vehicle be used, and so someone (this time sensibly) suggested the Skoda Yeti, which was to leave a day later.
So, as we found our way to Goa, having successfully squeezed out of my parking lot, I found there was a lot to like about the GL. To begin with, other road users simply get out of your way – even on a busy Sunday morning, they scamper to the slow lane in some sort of mass frenzy. It meant all the time we’d lost getting out of Mumbai was quickly being made up by Herr 3.0-litre turbodiesel GL. Five up and all their luggage in the boot, the GL was fast making progress towards what would be five days of fun and frolic in the sun. There were times when I missed having the awesome power of a V8 diesel; still, we were going quicker than most other road users and any opportunity to open a gap meant simply using the paddle shifts to the fullest.
And so, the following day, as the Yeti arrived, the two got on with their jobs. Parked beside each other, the Yeti looked small, but wasn’t completely dwarfed. It may not be high for an SUV at 1.8 metres (the GL stands just a bit higher at 1.84 metres), but the Yeti more than makes up with its wide track. However, with nearly a metre-long gap between the two, the Yeti’s compactness becomes pronounced. And so, the Yeti led the procession around Goa, just to ensure that if it couldn’t wriggle its way through, the GL wouldn’t dare follow it.
In the narrow bylanes of Panaji, the Yeti found itself quite at home . The nicely servoed steering provides more feedback than the one found on the big Merc, and thanks to its overall dimensions, it was the easiest to park in what is becoming a city just like any other across India – a parking nightmare! The GL, which hid its bulk so well on the highways, wasn’t as easy in the city as biting into a freshly baked Bebinca, but it wasn’t a handful either. Of course, where the Yeti quietly blended into the city landscape, the GL was attracting a whole lot more attention. With its beefy grille, LED strips and 5.1 metres of metal, the GL was hard to ignore for most road users when it turned a corner.
And to prove how good it really is, we took up an offer made by our good friend Delbert, of a trip to his native island of Chorao. Since the only way of getting there was on a ferry, the Yeti and GL clambered on to it to get some of the stunning visuals you see on these pages. Aboard, the two pretty much took up half the space available, forcing other passengers to... ahem, make do with whatever was available. It gave us some time to admire the great water body and the insides of both vehicles. While the GL is positioned as a proper seven-seater, we found that the third row is good for children at best. The Yeti, on the other hand, is more of a four-seater, with the fifth seat good enough as long as no one threatened to be there for an entire Mumbai-Goa journey. The quality on both cars is pretty good for what their price tags seem to suggest – I wish the GL had more intuitive controls that were easier to use.
When we reached the island, we found what could be one of the best paved roads in the country, our very own Isle of Man. A narrow two-laned road leading up to a hill some eight kilometres away, it turned out to be a fantastic place to pit the two. The Yeti would turn into corners in a flash, but overcook it a bit and you would be understeering into the corner. The GL on the other hand felt very very good. Despite its large dimensions, it feels like it can nearly do what its younger and more capable brother, the ML, can. There is a lot more grip and even though there is some body roll, you don’t really make a mess of it.
In the end, both served the purpose as far as our trip was concerned. They quietly went about their jobs of hauling us to Goa and back in no time, paved their way through when road conditions became dire or non-existent and happily posed for photographs like a mother elephant and her calf. An excuse to drive them over a long distance also made us appreciate these machines for what they are. And as long as someone in the office doesn’t suggest such crazy story ideas anytime soon, it’ll mean I can park whatever other car that comes over peacefully!