From 70’s German squaddie carrier, to the ultimate must-have automotive accessory for the Hollywood elite, the Mercedes “G-Wagen” has been transformed from utilitarian mud-plugger to plush SUV, with luxury trappings designed to compete with the latest crop of premium 4x4s. However, the underpinnings remain largely unchanged from its military origins and with rivals as talented as the new Range Rover vying for customers’ money, the G-Class has its work cut out. Motors.co.uk took to the wheel to find out if its worthy of your attention.
A 40-something military vehicle dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age. Lined up next to Mercedes’ more modern SUVs, the G-Class looks decidedly archaic, though with an air of purposefulness and inexplicable cool. Everything about it has an over-engineered feel, from the rifle-bolt door locks to the sheer weight and solidity of everything you touch. And unlike some rivals, the G-Class is the real deal in the rough stuff, having three separate locking differentials, generous ground clearance and a surfeit of torque from both engine options. Buyers can choose from a 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 or, for those looking to really earn those Esso points, a 5.5-litre turbocharged petrol V8, which endows this 2.5-tonne leviathan with sports car-rivalling pace.
While many sports car manufacturers purport to offer Formula One cars for the road, the G-Class is about as close as you can get to a road legal battle tank. From the moment you slam home the heavy door, it is the G-Class’s sheer presence and size that dominates proceedings. We tested the diesel version, and while the same engine fitted into any other Merc model turns it into something of a hot-rod, it is merely adequate in this monstrous SUV, feeling a tad overwhelmed by the sheer bulk it has to propel. Its automatic gearbox and good visibility make the G-Class surprisingly easy to pilot around town, but on the open road, the ponderous steering and lolloping ride make it a more tiring proposition that its rivals.
In an attempt to modernise the interior of what was originally a stripped out off-roader, Mercedes has raided its parts bin, and the G-Class is slathered in switches, buttons and toys from a multitude of different luxury models. And while our test car had posh Alcantara headling and TVs for rear passengers, there is no escaping the car’s old-school feel. Passenger space, for instance, is a lot tighter than you might expect of a car of this size, with priority given to the industrial grade off-road equipment under the surface. Refinement, too, is compromised; its brick-like shape and large panel gaps meaning wind noise was an ever present feature on a motorway run. That said, you’ll never tire of the elevated driving position, which puts you on a par with those in small lorries.
That all depends on what you’re going to use it for. If you’ve got to cover vast distances up hill and down dale, and you’ve got a lot of equipment to carry or tow with you, the G-Class will likely be the most useful piece of kit you’ll ever own, with a cavernous 2250 litre boot and 3.5-tonne towing capability. If, however, you’re more likely to spend time driving around the posher parts of London, the mighty G-Wagen feels cumbersome. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its sheer size, parallel parking is an absolute nightmare, and you’ll spend a lot of time in petrol station forecourts, with fuel consumption dropping into single figures around town.
Objectively, you’d have to be mad to buy a G-Class over one of its more modern rivals. It doesn’t exude anywhere near the refinement or sheer waftability of the modern Range Rover, feeling more a beast of burden, and will be ruinously expensive to run. None of this will matter should you experience it for yourself. We found ourselves bewitched by the G-Class’s combination of presence, luxury and an image that weirdly makes it the right car for almost any situation. If you’ve got the cash, and you fancy standing out from the crowd, try the G-Class. We think you’ll love it.
Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Mercedes-Benz G-Class in our classifieds here.
Mercedes-Benz G 350 BlueTEC
List price: £83,005
Price as tested: £97,070
Engine: 3.0-litre, six cylinder, turbodiesel
Top speed: 108mph
0-62mph: 9.1 seconds
Fuel economy: 20.8mpg (urban), 28.8mpg (extra-urban) 25.2mpg (combined)
Emissions: 295g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: N/A
August 2, 2013