For the 2013 model year, the G-Class has undergone another significant round of changes. Inside, the dashboard has been redesigned, the instrument cluster and centre console is new, Merc’s iDrive Command controller has been added and a console-mounted 7in tablet-style screen, which gives uncanny preview of Apple’s upcoming ‘Mini’ iPad.
Also new is the updated multi-functional steering wheel and the climate control fascia. The majority of the controls - including the electric window switches and column stalks - are familiar from existing Mercedes models.
Although dashboard is new - and covered in handsome, heavily grained leather - it retains the grab handle on the passenger side and the styling has not strayed too far from the original.
The most obvious exterior changes are the modern, folding, mirrors and LED daytime running lights. Modern essentials such as frontal airbags and window bags, ESP and anti-whiplash seat headrests are also standard. The seats are covered in ruggedly thick leather.
The rest of the car is impressively old-school. The exterior panels seems to have been stamped from super-thick steel and the body has wide shut lines that let the hinges poke through. The doors use old-fashioned latches that grab the doors with a deeply impressive ‘click’.
You have to climb up into the driver’s seat (it is worse in the rear because the back seats are placed even higher off the ground) and the closeness of the windscreen and the vertical attitude of the A-pillars is surprise at first. But the electric seat and electric wheel adjuster will move far enough apart for the moderately tall to get comfortable. Headroom is vast.
The V6 turbodiesel motor is a tight fit under the bonnet (one of the ECUs actually sits higher than the wing top) but the engine noise is impressively distant and more of a metallic thrum than death-rattle. The centre-console aluminium new shift lever - controlling the 7-speed autobox - is very neat and nicely made and it takes just a wrist flick to push it into ‘drive’.
The G 350 is a surprisingly swift machine. The modern drivetrain gives the car a surprisingly modern flavour. Despite the bluff shape and weight, this car has got an impressive turn of speed. Stuck behind a container lorry on a B-road, the G 350 made very easy work of a rapid overtaking manoeuvre.
It also rides surprisingly well, though the ultra-tall, fat tyres must help on the broken road surfaces, and the body control is also really remarkable good.
The big ‘but’ is the ancient recirculating ball steering set-up. It is not very easy to keep the G 350 running in a straight line, and there’s also the suspicion that the big tyres also tend to follow camber changes. On the A3 in Surrey, the car needed constant steering correction a problem made worse by the fact that the steering needs bigger inputs than is normal, so it’s harder to be precise when trying to place the nose.
However, there’s something about the charm and authenticity of the G-Class which is surprisingly compelling. The visibility out of the car is extraordinary, the super-high driving position surprisingly relaxing, the car’s performance gratifying brisk and the chassis remarkably competent on-road for a hard-core off-roader. Only the vague steering and inability to run in straight line on some roads spoils what would otherwise be a remarkable modern driving experience.