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 one diesel or one petrol engine, you can now have one of these rugged, boxy, five-seat hand-built Gelaendewagen 4x4s on your driveway. This revival has spawned a couple of special edition run outs including the rugged G 500 4x4 squared and the 6-wheeler giant G 63 6x6. Not content with just leaving the G-Class the same, Mercedes are tinkering with their retro SUV for the 2018 model. Fans will be glad to know its boxy shape, ladder chassis and live rear axle will remain, however there are suggestions it could be wider to allow more interior space, as well as having a revamped cabin and infotainment offering.
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) 28.5mpg and 261g/km of CO2 on the combined cycle, figures vastly improved on from the original reincarnation. While propping up the range is the 5.5-litre V8 petrol engine built by AMG and produces consequently 563bhp and 560lb ft of torque.
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 8.9sec and a 119mph top speed.
While the 5.5-litre V8 AMG model is a different kettle of fish as it manages 0-62mph in 5.4sec 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.
As for the equipment levels, Mercedes has not positioned this SUV to be utilitarian like its predecessor but to reach the luxury end of the spectrum. A tough ask cosidering the rivals that preoccupy those spaces - most notably the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport but also the Bentley Bentayga. As for trims, there is only one choice for the diesel V6 and three options for the AMG-powered V8.
The G 350 d comes with 18in alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, parking sensors, a reversing camera and automatic wipers as standard on the outside, while inside is adorned with heated seats all round, leather upholstery, a Harman & Kardon Logic 7 sound system and Mercedes' Comand infotainment system - complete with an 8.0in display, DAB radio and smartphone integration.
The fire-breathing AMG models come with the choice of three trims - standard AMG lunancy, Edition 463 and Colour Edition. The not-so-entry-level G 63 comes with 20in alloys, stainless steel door sills, red brake calipers, a sports-tuned exhaust, a steel framed electric sunroof and dashings of chrome on the outside, while inside is treated to a designo leather upholstery and climate control.
Upgrading to Edition 463 adorns your G-Wagen with luxuries such as 21in alloy wheels, stainless steel underbody guard, protective headlight guards, an auxiliary heater and heated windscreen as standard, while the interior also gains two tone leather upholstery, rear TV screens and tuner, and driving safety aids, such as blind spot assist and adaptive cruise control. The Colour Edition G 63s are essentially the standard AMG SUV in five garish colour combinations - Tomato Red, Alien Green, Galactic Beam, Solar Beam and Sunset Beam.
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 and a Bentayga are just about the most comfortable road cars 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.