Stuttgart’s big-daddy SUV now offers a genuine 30mpg diesel option, which raises the game for the iconic G-Wagen

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It must be at least partly by coincidence that 2019 is shaping up to be such a significant year for the reimagined off-roading icon – although you couldn’t find a clearer or more potent symbol of the car buyer’s current obsession with all things SUV if you spent the whole year looking for one.

In April, we put the fourth Jeep Wrangler-dubbed generation of the inimitable and original Jeep through the Autocar road test – and by the end of 2019, we’ll have driven the much-anticipated all-new Land Rover Defender as well. The big question now is, by this time next year, which leather-lined, rough-stuff specialist will enthusiasts, owners and critics alike be praising in the highest of terms: Wrangler, Defender or subject of this week’s road test: the all-new Mercedes G-Class?

The passenger doors have oversized handles and need a good firm slam to shut against tight seals. And not by accident. A lot of effort went into tuning the chunky tactile feel of the process of getting in and out.

You might know it as Geländewagen, or G-Wagen – and if you do, you may also know that it’s now served for longer in uninterrupted production than any other Mercedes passenger car. It’s four decades since Mercedes and part-owned subsidiary Steyr Daimler-Puch launched the original version, available as it was in a choice of wheelbases and bodystyles, and with as much as 154bhp to call its own. Even in 1979, it arrived decades after both the Series I Land Rover and the Willys-Overland CJ – but, as a result of its subsequent graduation to higher and more prized status as luxury lifestyle accessory, the G-Wagen now gives up little, if anything, by way of iconic status to either off-roading-institution rival.

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The new G-Class was introduced in the German market last year with a choice of V8 turbocharged petrol engines, and it wasn’t until January that Mercedes completed the line-up by adding a diesel: the six-cylinder, 282bhp G350d, now available in right-hand-drive form, which we elected to test – and which also happens to be, by Mercedes’ own reckoning, the most fuel-efficient G-Wagen that it has yet made.

The Mercedes G-Class range at a glance

Just two engines are available for the G-Class in the UK, and they couldn’t be more different in terms of character or performance.

Our diesel-drinking G350d is the entry-level model – though, with an asking price starting at £94,065, it’s by no means cheap.

Sitting above this is the bonkers AMG-tuned G63, with its 577bhp twin-turbo V8 and £143,370 price. AMG Line is the only trim available for the G350d, while the full-fat AMG model acts as a stand-alone trim level.

Price £94,065 Power 282bhp Torque 443lb ft 0-60mph 7.5sec 30-70mph in fourth 8.5sec Fuel economy 24.9mpg CO2 emissions 252g/km 70-0mph 52.2m



Mercedes-Benz G-Class 2019 road test review - hero side

The G-Wagen hasn’t had the sort of developmental history that can be easily divided into mid-life revisions and bigger generational renewals.

This one definitely counts as one of the latter, however. The car’s superstructure is all new, its axles, body panels, engines and interior likewise. But it remains almost entirely hand-built, with 100 man hours of assembly and finishing going into each example.

Traditional oversized indicator repeaters next to the bonnet are a stark contrast to the LED running lights of the round headlamps underneath. Yet the G-Class wears both very well.

Like a traditional off-roader, it retains body-on-frame construction – although the body is now made of a mix of aluminium and steel, and is 53mm longer and 121mm wider than that of the last version. In combination with the ladder frame underneath, the whole structure is 170kg lighter than it used to be, but also 55% more torsionally rigid.

Mercedes-AMG was called in to help configure and tune the all-new suspension, which is, for the first time, semi-independent. Double wishbones support the car’s body at the front and are directly mounted to the ladder frame, while a tower brace reinforces the frontal structure under the bonnet. At the rear, an all-new rigid axle has been developed, which is secured via four trailing links per side and a Panhard rod.

The rest is done via fixed-ride-height coil springs and adjustable passive dampers, but the improvement delivered to the car’s on-road ride and handling compared with that of the last-gen car is alleged to be very significant indeed. Vitally, they’re improvements that haven’t come at the expense of off-road capability: the new G-Class has 6mm more ground clearance than the outgoing version and 10mm more wading depth, and delivers marginal improvements on approach and departure angle.

On engines, buyers in some markets can choose between V8 turbo petrol power of either 416bhp (G500) or 577bhp (AMG G63) – but not if you live in the UK, where the only alternative to a top-line AMG model is this G350d diesel. It is powered by Mercedes’ OM656-generation 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged straight six diesel motor, which produces 282bhp and 443lb ft of torque (the latter being almost as much as a G500 makes anyway), but is also RDE-emissions compliant.

Driving through a specially calibrated version of Mercedes’ own 9G-Tronic automatic gearbox (which allows the G350d to disconnect the powertrain from the wheels so that the car can coast under a trailing throttle when driven in Eco mode), the engine’s rated for WLTP combined fuel economy of up to 25.9mpg: not great, you might think – but we’ll see how it translates during our own real-world testing.

The car’s exterior styling, meanwhile, has been widely acclaimed a shining example of how to perfectly update a look that depends so squarely on the design cachet of historical authenticity, which flows from both outline and detail alike. The exposed door hinges, oversized door handles, ‘bug-eye’ indicators and exposed spare wheel all look like they belong entirely; and yet the tightened panel fit and more integrated look of the bumpers and wheel arches speak of a designed-in build quality unknown to the car previously.


Mercedes-Benz G-Class 2019 road test review - cabin

Getting into the G-Class will mean climbing up for all but the very tallest of drivers, but thankfully the car’s standard-fit running boards-cum-steps perform a double function.

Once you’re in, although you might expect to find limited head room having risen to such altitude, you really don’t. Mercedes’ improvements to interior passenger space, which have allegedly added almost 70mm to elbow room up front and 150mm to second-row leg room, do tell; and so a car that didn’t quite measure up before on proper luxury SUV passenger space now absolutely does.

Seats are high-set but comfortable, and offer good leg room and great head room. You sit closer to the windscreen than in most SUVs, but with a real sense of occasion.

While other markets offer the G-Class without digital instruments, Mercedes’ UK distributor includes both its Comand Online infotainment system and its twin 12.3in digital instrument screen as standard – and it spreads out behind the button-busy steering wheel in a way that may seem alien to anyone familiar with the decades-old simplicity that this car used to represent. The instrument display itself is adaptable and clear, however, and the usability of the infotainment set-up is made particularly creditable by the sheer choice of ways in which you can input to and interact with it.

You can use the central touchpad, the haptic scroller or the steering wheel pads. Most testers could achieve simple processes using the steering wheel pads, while the car’s voice-recognition system is also consistently good.

The car has smartphone integration for Apple and Android handsets as standard. Opt for Mercedes’ premium pack and you also get its 16-speaker Burmester surround audio system, which has 590W of power, and certainly won’t disappoint hip-hop fans drawn to the G-Class for its music video star quality.

Aside from the newly ritzy suite of digital technology, the features given star billing by the interior design are the matt chrome air vents; the quartic speaker grilles (which reference the shape and positioning of the front indicator repeaters); and the three individual diff lock switches in the middle of the fascia.

The switches’ prominence seems to vastly overplay their importance given how infrequently you might press them, but their function seems so integral to the character of the G-Class that they deserve no less.

The car’s perceived quality, as manifest in the tactile richness of Mercedes’ palette of materials and they way they’re fitted together, is very slightly below the best you might hope for in a modern, £100,000 luxury car – but it’s by so narrow a margin that many would be unlikely to notice it. The one obstacle to the car’s practicality, meanwhile, is its side-hinged boot door, which, allowing for the bulky spare wheel it carries, can be too large to swing open in a tight parking space. Not that you would regularly seek out one of those for a car this size.


Mercedes-Benz G-Class 2019 road test review - engine

The G350d’s engine makes for plenty of outright performance and, producing peak torque from just 1200rpm, for fine drivability too – even in a 2.5-tonne car. That the G-Class isn’t ‘fast’ seems an entirely moot point. It is, in any case, more than a second quicker from rest to 60mph than the old Land Rover Discovery TD6, according to our test results, and doesn’t want for power when overtaking, on motorways or when picking up speed from town pace. The car’s nine-speed gearbox clearly thrives on so much pulling power, and has a knack for picking the right gear first time and sticking with it in give-and-take motoring.

You can select gears yourself using the shift paddles, but that you so seldom feel the need to is a tribute to the effectiveness of the gearbox and engine calibrations, as well as to the responsiveness of both – and also to how well they are matched to the motive character of the car.

As wonderfully ludicrous as the G63’s engine is, I’d go for the G350d if it were my money on the line. It’s an impressively refined motor and suits the G-Class’s character far better than the V8 does.

With some heavy-duty towing or very-low-speed serious off-roading to do, owners will find the G350d very well prepared. The progressiveness of the initial accelerator pedal response allows you to ease it into motion as gently and smoothly as you’re ever likely to want to do – and that’s in high range on the transmission, of course. Conserving and controlling momentum at low speeds is very easy, and good brake pedal feel makes bleeding it off equally easy.

There is excellent mechanical refinement to praise from the car, which long-time diesel G-Wagen owners certainly wouldn’t have expected. And there is very creditable fuel economy on offer, too: our average test economy result of 24.9mpg fell only marginally short of Mercedes’ WLTP combined fuel economy claim for the car, while our touring testing proved that beating 30 to the gallon can be achieved on a longer run.

The car’s outright braking performance on dry Tarmac, as we benchmarked it, did show evidence of the G-Class’s mass and its tendency to dive, but was still well above the margin of respectability.


Mercedes-Benz G-Class 2019 road test review - splash

The Mercedes G-Class always used to have the sort of unreconstructed handling that might have led you to describe it as a one-speed car: heavy of tiller, permissive of springing, low on grip level, and without indulgences like self-centring on the old recirculating ball steering or much at all in the way of feel or on-centre stability – not at all as easy to drive as modern SUVs have made us used to.

The new one is a different prospect entirely. Its new electromechanical steering and suspension give it enough simple handling accuracy, lateral grip and high-speed stability that you really can drive it exactly as you would any large 4x4 on the road: fairly quickly and easily from A to B as and when you need to, but otherwise in a relaxed but secure mode that makes the best of its luxurious character and lets you enjoy the view from that first-storey vantage point.

Our off-road test route was no match for a car developed on the fiercely steep Austrian mountain Schöckl. The composure shown on Tarmac was altogether more surprising

Useful pace, medium weight and predictable positivity make the steering superbly easy to get on with – and that, in turn, makes what has now become a car even wider than it is tall feel reassuringly precise when being guided along a narrow lane.

The G350d rolls progressively but sticks to a chosen cornering line very faithfully, has handling response and outright grip as strong as any big SUV with a genuine dual-purpose brief, and feels agile and manoeuvrable enough around junctions and car parks but for a turning circle that could do with being tighter.

That the car makes absolutely no attempt at handling dynamism, and instead communicates its preference for an unhurried pace over anything else, feels entirely in keeping with the character of the G-Class. It is a car nonetheless enjoyable to drive at any speed, and that has ridded itself entirely of any sense of crudeness, unwieldiness or lack of stability.


The new generation of G-Class might finally have adopted independent front suspension, but AMG positioned the mounting points so high up that wheel articulation has not merely been preserved but improved. Approach, departure and breakover angles have also all increased (albeit by a single degree) and a wading depth of 700mm is up 100mm and near the top of the class.

There’s nothing on our short off-road course than might threaten progress. Traction is good enough in deep mud that there’s never any need to activate any of the three locking differentials and, through ruts and up the light rockery section, the steering maintains a good level of accuracy while remaining free from corruption.

Our only reservation is that, costing nearly £100,000, you would need to think carefully about the car’s sills in any boulder fields. Unlike the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, they lack additional ‘rock rails’ and would be costly to fix.


Anyone familiar with the coarseness, blusteriness and patchy on-road manners of the G-Class’s progenitors simply won’t believe what they find in this car. The diesel engine starts without so much as a shudder, and settles to the kind of reserved, quiet idle you’d expect of a large executive saloon. It raises its voice slightly under load but remains really smooth and decently willing at high revs – and at a 70mph cruise, it was demure enough to contribute to just 65db of recorded cabin noise, which would have been a competitive result for any diesel-powered, £100,000 luxury car.

The outward shape of the G-Class’s body and the size of its door mirrors make at least some wind noise at motorway speeds inevitable – and there’s enough of it to notice, but not really to irk.

The ride, meanwhile, is more cushioned, quiet and cultured than you would ever believe a car with a rigid rear axle could be. Let’s not forget that almost all large luxury 4x4s moved to monocoque construction and fully independent suspension decades ago, and so the G-Class doesn’t really have a right to cut it with any of them for suppleness or dexterity over bumps on the road.

But it will. There’s just a hint of fussiness about the movements of the rear axle over bigger intrusions to remind you, from time to time, of what you’re driving – but not enough of it to make for much disturbance to your on-board comfort levels, which are always high.


Mercedes-Benz G-Class 2019 road test review - hero front

The G-Class sits at the very top of Mercedes’ SUV model hierarchy. Its mission is to be a rival for a Range Rover as much as for a Jeep Wrangler. That’s what makes it different from a Land Rover Defender, for example; and it also means it must come with an associated showroom price that will likely raise the odd eyebrow.

It’s a positioning that the G-Class, in its old-gen forms, might certainly have struggled to justify – but the new one’s transformed dynamic credentials as a luxury car and its remade interior mean it now carries a near-£100,000 asking price with credibility to spare. The truth is, if you’re convinced that the G-Wagen now looks like the money from without – and we would agree – nothing it does on the road or off it will give you cause to rethink.

The G350d is expected to outperform both the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Range Rover Autobiography in terms of residual values

Mercedes UK gives you full digital instruments, an extended leather interior, design-feature LED headlights, three-zone climate control, colour-selectable ambient lighting, adaptive cruise control and 20in alloy wheels on the G350d as standard. It also gives you all of the key four-wheel-drive hardware on the car at no extra cost, although you do need to pay extra for underbody protection.



Mercedes-Benz G-Class 2019 road test review - static

Mercedes simply wouldn’t have bothered fitting adaptive engine mounts onto a car like the new G-Class – having first added structural integrity and AMG-fettled suspension sophistication – unless it had set out to totally transform the on-road driving experience. Which is precisely what the company has achieved.

While it has a long history of being as capable as any off-roader during tough going, the G-Wagen has never been engineered and finished to appeal as a daily-driven luxury SUV quite like it does now. In recent years, attempts were made to make the car palatable to the rich few who had fallen for its military-chic looks – but none of them amounted to a fraction as much as the grand redefinition that this timeless 4x4 has just been through.

Customary capability, charm and ego, now with 21st-century luxury

The G350d now has the space, drivability, fuel efficiency and luxuriant good manners to be used like any other SUV of its size. It still feels like a special car to drive, packed with charm and sense of occasion; and it still offers truly distinguishing 4x4 capability among the luxury SUV set. It’s almost as easy to drive as it is strangely disarming to behold, and would be equally easy to live with.


Mercedes-Benz G-Class First drives