Off-Road Icons: Mercedes-Benz G-Class

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Having made its debut back in 1979, the G-Glass still looks as good as ever.

This day had to come eventually. For the first time in this series, a vehicle which has no relation whatsoever to the Willys Jeep. The G-Class is sometimes also called the G-Wagen, short for Gelandewagen, essentially "cross-country vehicle". It has become a highly popular vehicle, both for military and civilian use, and has even been built under license by other companies. The G-Class began development in 1972, and debuted in 1979.

It was designed with the idea in mind that it would serve as both a military and civilian vehicle. Believe it or not, the vehicle was proposed by the Shah of Iran, who was a major shareholder at the time. Mercedes soon jumped on the idea, and the result was one of the toughest off-road vehicles on the market. It is also the longest-running model produced in the long, long history of Mercedes-Benz. It is produced through a partnership with Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria, with Mercedes handling the design work and Magna Steyr handling the production side of things.

Don't be fooled by the G-Class's lavish interior, body-on-frame construction makes for a tough off-roader, and the three locking differentials are the sort of feature which is rare even on other off-roaders. The G-Class comes with a variety of engines, although, as is usually the case, there is a much greater selection offered for Europe. The range topped out in the US with the G 55 AMG (now discontinued), which was fitted with a 500 horsepower supercharged V8. Europe gets the G 65 AMG, complete with a 612 horsepower twin-turbo V12, it is both the most powerful production SUV in the world as well as one of the most insane vehicles ever conceived.

Goodbye To The Gearbox; You'll Be Missed
Goodbye To The Gearbox; You'll Be Missed
Car Designs That Have Aged Terribly
Car Designs That Have Aged Terribly

The G-Class has some pretty impressive bragging rights. It grabbed a win in what was then the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1983, proving its ability to work in hot climates. For proof of cold weather reliability, a stock G-Class was driven some 19,000 km through the coldest region on Earth, in Siberia, during winter. Despite temperatures reaching down to -63 degrees Fahrenheit, it didn't suffer from a single breakdown. Although it came out just one year after the Volkswagen Type 183, known more commonly as the Iltis, it has enjoyed a longer production run, and ended up replacing the VW is a number of military applications when the Iltis was retired.

The Iltis, itself a replacement for the Type 181, the famous "Thing", was a reasonably tough vehicle, but it just couldn't hold a candle to the Mercedes. It is used most extensively in its military form by the German military, which is fairly unsurprising. An armored version of the G-Wagen is used as an LAPV (Light Armored Patrol Vehicle) known as the Enok. Slightly less modified versions, known as the Wolf, are used for a variety of other functions. All told, the German Military owns more than 12,000 G-Class vehicles in some 50 different configurations. Other militaries use them as well, and the USMC has a small number sprinkled all over the world.


This is the IFAV, or Interim Fast Attack Vehicle, a lightly armored vehicle popular with Force Recon. Perhaps the most famous use for the G-Class was the pair which were delivered to the Vatican in 1980 to serve as the 'Popemobile'. Several other vehicles have been used since then, including the current Mercedes-Benz M-Class, but one of the G-Class Popemobiles is currently on display at the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart, Germany. What is interesting about the G-Class is how well it is able to walk the line between luxury and utility and how Mercedes has been able to successfully retain this combination over the years.

Other brands tend to like to keep these concepts separate, and while you can get a nice enough interior in a Wrangler, it is the Grand Cherokee which is clearly built more with comfort in mind. There is the Land Cruiser to the FJ Cruiser and the Discovery to the Defender, but the G-Class manages to set the bar in both luxury and utility at the same time. There is, of course, no practical reason why these things couldn't be combined. The issue is really one more relating to image, but Mercedes doesn't seem to be too concerned about this. And why should they be, it certainly isn't hurting for sales.

The G-Class certainly isn't cheap, coming in at over $100k for even the most basic of versions, making it by far the most expensive vehicle in this series. That said, it is also one which you can take off-road all day, and then simply drive through the car wash and you're ready to take it to dinner at an expensive restaurant. The idea of taking your off-roader to the trails while you are dressed in a tuxedo might sound absurd, but if you are the sort of person who is likely to try something like that, this is the only vehicle for you.


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