by Roger Biermann
The G-Class is the oldest Mercedes passenger vehicle on the market, remaining in production for 35 years. But it wasn’t until 2002 that the US got its first official taste of the Gelandewagen. Age hasn’t diminished its popularity though, last year the G-Class sold a record number of units in the US – totaling 3950. Relying on a tradition of hand-assembled bodies and interiors, the G-Class feels bespoke, despite the military origins. Toughness? That comes standard courtesy of unibody construction and three fully lockable differentials. Competitors? Technically it has none, though Range Rover do class and capability to rival the G.
Despite its age, the interior looks relatively fresh. Mercedes updated the G-Class in 2013 to feature the COMAND infotainment system with navigation, Smartphone connectivity, and in-car internet connectivity. As for the interior appointments, those have been premium and luxurious for a long, long time – Mercedes has always prided itself on the G-Class being incredibly luxurious despite the rugged capabilities. Rich leathers adorn the seats and dash, with a choice of inlays from aluminum to wood-look paneling. All buttons and switchgear feels equally as premium – as it should in a vehicle costing 6-figures.
Despite the large appearance of the G-Class, internal seating is more cramped than it appears – for all occupants, though rear occupants suffer the most with difficult ingress and egress and cramped leg room. The cabin ergonomics leave much to be desired, and where there is space, it’s packaged in a manner that makes it unusable.
When you’re driving a nearly 40 year old military vehicle, you’ve got to expect the ride of one. The ride isn’t too firm or jarring, but is very, very bouncy. Not only does it feel boat-like in its size, but bumpy roads feel like a rubber dinghy cresting waves on the open sea. There’s pronounced body roll too, and under braking the body jerks and heaves about without much elegance.
The steering is particularly bad – seemingly untouched since it was developed. Vague is a kind term to use as the wheel is all but devoid of feel. It also fails to self center and required constant adjustments that leave you shuffling all over the place rather than tracking a steady line.
Off-road, the ride is a little better, though the unsteady brakes still pose a problem. Summer performance tires don’t help off-road performance either.
Internationally, the G-Class gets a range of duty-orientated engines. We get just 3 – all twin-turbo gasoline fuelled – a 4.0-liter V8 with 416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque, a 5.5-liter AMG V8 with 563hp and 561 lb-ft, and the AMG 6.0-liter V12 with 621hp and 738 lb-ft. All models feature a 7-speed automatic gearbox and permanent 4WD, with a low range transfer case and 3 locking differentials. All models can tow up to 7000lbs, and all can achieve a sub-6 second 0-60mph run, the V12 G65 managing a 5.2s sprint to the G63’s 5.3s and the G550’s 5.8s.
A luxury SUV with military background has advantages. The G Class features a two-speed transfer case, 3 lockable differentials, and live axles at both ends. Additionally, Distronic Plus semi-automated driving, blind spot assist, and park assist make the G Class safer, and easier to live with. The G Class isn’t rated by either the IIHS or NHTSA, but features ABS with EBD, stability control, adaptive cruise control, blind spot assist and a full suite of airbags. ISOFIX/Universal LATCH anchors are standard for child seat anchoring.
The G-Class places style over substance in many ways – compromising off-road ability with on-road geared low profile tires and side-exhausts. The engines are fun in a straight line, but the G-wagon is a one trick pony. Not ideal, but unlike any other lifestyle vehicle there is.