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Stuttgart’s latest big-daddy SUV raises the game for the iconic G-Wagen

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If you know the Mercedes G-Class as the Geländewagen or G-Wagen you may also know that it has served for longer in uninterrupted production than any other Mercedes passenger car. 

In 1979 Mercedes and part-owned subsidiary Steyr Daimler-Puch launched the original version, which was available with a choice of wheelbases and bodystyles, and with as much as 154bhp to call its own. 

Since then it has graduated to a higher and more prized status as a luxury lifestyle accessory. As such, it has spawned a super high-end performance variant called the Mercedes-AMG G63 and a zero local-emissions EV, called the Mercedes G580 with EQ technology.

This latest model brings with it a few changes. The entry-level car continues to use a 3.0-litre straight-six diesel, although it is now mated to a 48V mild hybrid integrated starter generator (ISG). It gets more power, which is why it has been rebadged from G400d to G450d.

And the UK now gets the G500, another 3.0-litre straight six, but this one is petrol.

Its breadth of range makes it quite hard to pigeonhole. The Range Rover and Bentley Bentayga are in the same ballpark in terms of money. 

Yet, its off-roading ability also means it goes toe-to-toe with the Land Rover Defender and even the much cheaper Jeep Wrangler.

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DESIGN & STYLING

mercedes g450 review 2024 02 rear tracking

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

Rest assured, this latest model very much looks and feels like a proper G-Class. For instance, it retains its decidedly old-school body-on-frame construction and ladder frame chassis. But it at least gets independent front suspension.

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.

The exterior styling is widely acclaimed as a shining example of how to perfectly update a look that depends so squarely on the design cachet of historical authenticity.

The exposed door hinges, oversized door handles, ‘bug-eye’ indicators and exposed spare wheel all look like they belong entirely.

For this latest update there is a new front bumper and radiator grille, while the A-pillars have been subtly rounded off and a new lip added to the leading edge of the windscreen. The latter two changes are designed to improve aerodynamic efficiency and reduce interior noise, and were inspired by developments for the electric version.

INTERIOR

mercedes g450 review 2024 11 dash

Getting into the G-Class means 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, you might expect to find limited head room having risen to such altitude, but the truth is head room is pretty good. Not much elbow room though, and still feels a bit cramped compared with the competition. Especially a Range Rover.

There are two 12.3in screens and physical climate controls. The instrument display itself is adaptable and clear and the usability of the infotainment set-up is paramount to the tactility of the car.

The off-road ‘control centre’ in the middle of the dashboard has also been revamped to give easier access to key functions. There are now temperature-controlled cup holders and a wireless mobile charger too.

The car’s perceived quality, as manifest in the tactile richness of Mercedes’ palette of materials and the way they’re fitted together, is very slightly below the best you might hope for in a modern 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. The boot itself is tall and narrow, and perhaps a touch cramped for a car of this size.

In another nod to practicality, the G-Class now features keyless entry for the first time.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

mercedes g450 review 2024 16 engine

The UK now gets a G500, huzzah. Alas, it is not a V8. The only way to get your hands on an eight-cylinder G is to go down the AMG route.

The ‘regular’ G-Class, is only available with 3.0-litre inline six engines. The G500 is a 443bhp petrol, while the G450d is a 352bhp diesel.

Makes sense, really. Keep the V8 for the people who really, really don’t care about MPG and the regular G for those that simply just don’t really pay attention to it.

The diesel is a peach. It (along with the G63 and G500) now gets a 48v mild hybrid ISG, which lifts power by 20bhp to 362bhp, which explains the rebaging from 400d to 450d.

On rational grounds this is the G, really. It’s uncomplicated to drive, with that swell of torque and high seating positioning mating for effortless overtaking and off-road work. It’s also the most economical and in real-life, it’s easily as fast as the G500. It’s all out of ideas at 3,500rpm, which isn’t strictly a bad thing.

The G500 is faster but ultimately doesn’t feel like the baby AMG it could do with a V8. It’s smooth alright, and when hassled along with the steering-wheel paddles it will rev beyond 5,000rpm. But it can venture into the ‘strained’ sounding category too often.

Officially the diesel will crack 30mpg too, and even on my mixed test route I achieved 28mpg.

They both have the same 9-speed auto that’s a bit hesitant from the off. You also get the impression it’s working a lot harder with the petrol than the diesel.

RIDE & HANDLING

mercedes g450 review 2024 17 rear action

Despite improvements and a trick electromechanical setup, the G-Class is still not quite car-like to drive. 

You can drive it exactly as you would any large 4x4 on the road though: 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.

Useful pace 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.

It 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 it doesn’t love to be hustled down a set of S bends. Instead it communicates its preference for an unhurried pace over anything else, which feels entirely in keeping with the character of the G-Class.

The engines are mostly quiet and reserved, but the shape of the G-Class’s body and the size of its door mirrors make at least some wind noise at motorway speeds inevitable. The ride, meanwhile, is perhaps more cushioned, quiet and cultured than you would ever believe a car with a rigid rear axle could be. But let’s not beat around the bush, it’s really no Range Rover at motorway speeds.

There’s 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.We’re yet to test it off-road yet. But with a ground clearance of 229mm, a fording depth of 70cm, a 31 degree angle of approach and the ability to remain stable on inclines of up to 35 degrees.

VERDICT

mercedes g450 review 2024 21 front static

The latest G-Class is a natural progression of the car.  In recent years, attempts have been made to make the car palatable to the rich few who had fallen for its military-chic looks – but this latest attempt has made it the most luxurious and good to drive model yet.

The addition of the G500 helps firm up the range. Now buyers have the option of a non-AMG V8 in the UK it might strike a bit more appeal.

The G-Class is seemingly more sensible than ever. But this is still very much a head over heart type of car. A Range Rover is better in most ways, while a Jeep Wrangler offers the same retro looks and off-road ability for less than half the price.

But the G-Class has never been sensible, and we suspect it never will be. And it’s all the better for it

Murray Scullion

Murray Scullion
Title: Digital editor

Murray has been a journalist for more than a decade. During that time he’s written for magazines, newspapers and websites, but he now finds himself as Autocar’s digital editor.

He leads the output of the website and contributes to all other digital aspects, including the social media channels, podcasts and videos. During his time he has reviewed cars ranging from £50 - £500,000, including Austin Allegros and Ferrari 812 Superfasts. He has also interviewed F1 megastars, knows his PCPs from his HPs and has written, researched and experimented with behavioural surplus and driverless technology.

Murray graduated from the University of Derby with a BA in Journalism in 2014 and has previously written for Classic Car Weekly, Modern Classics Magazine, buyacar.co.uk, parkers.co.uk and CAR Magazine, as well as carmagazine.co.uk.

Mercedes-Benz G-Class First drives