The Mercedes G Wagen, the three-decade old off-roading icon has been given a new lease of life thanks to Mercedes-Benz World, which is importing updated examples of Steyr-Puch’s classic G-class into the UK. Available in right-hand drive and with a choice of diesel engines for the first time, you can now have one of these rugged, boxy, five-seat hand-built Gelaendewagen 4x4s on your driveway.
But assuming you’re not a UN peace-keeper or professional mountaineer, the question isn’t so much, “Would you be to mad to buy one” but, “Exactly how mad would you need to be?” A little bit nerve-frayed, or a stark raving lottery-winner? Our test example, a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel G 350 Bluetec version gave us a good idea.
Mercedes-Benz should be applauded for the thoroughness of its update to the G-class: this oil-burner gets M-B’s seven-speed auto ’box, electro-hydraulic power steering even, and returns an acceptable (for a two and a half tonne off-road behemoth) 25mpg and 295g/km of CO2 on the combined cycle. You get a full Comand sat-nav system as standard as well as heated leather and even ISOFIX child seat anchorages, while rear DVD screens, a heated steering wheel and a TV tuner are all waiting on the options list.
And yet the G-class’s driving experience remains determinedly, irredeemably old tech. Optional 18-inch alloy wheels with 60-profile winter tyres combine with the G-class’s rough and ready “trailing link and panhard rod” suspension for an alarmingly choppy ride on typical urban roads. Performance is as plentiful as you’d ever want given the G-class’s approximation of body control and lack of steering precision, with a 0-62mph time of 9.1sec and a 109mph top speed.
And this is only the 207bhp, 398lb ft version – there’s also a 500bhp, 516lb ft 5.5-litre V8 AMG model available which manages 0-62mph in 5.5sec and goes on to what would likely be a terrifying 130mph top speed.
But whichever version you choose this is a car you’d only ever drive slowly, particularly over larger bumps and dips, for fear of being thrown out of your seat. And regrettably, Mercedes’ electro-hydraulic power steering doesn’t seem to be powerful enough for the G-class: the car’s helm is now seriously heavy and slow to self-centre.
None of which would matter much if you were buying the G-class for its considerable off-road credentials. This car will forge 600mm of standing water – more than a Land Rover Defender – and has approach and departure angles to humble a Toyota Land Cruiser. There are three separate differential locks, too, for peerless traction in slippery conditions, and a low-range transfer case for the seven-speed ’box.
Add to all that the incredible reputation that the G-class has in 4x4 circles for unstoppable reliability and robustness, and if you regularly venture off the beaten track, you might just forgive the car its ‘characterful’ on-road ride and handling.
But whatever you do, don’t buy the G-class because you think it’s a luxury SUV; certain commercial vehicles are significantly more refined and comfortable. While a Range Rover is just about the most comfortable road car you can buy, we would rate a G-class as just about the least comfortable.
As a true go-anywhere off-roader – now with added creature comforts – the G-class has a place for those who can afford the premium. It’s certainly got character to burn and provides a real sense of occasion. But as an everyday road car, it’s both antiquated and compromised.