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The most powerful diesel engine ever fitted to a G-Class raises the game for Mercedes' iconic SUV

Our Verdict

Mercedes-Benz G-Class

The Gelaendewagen is Mercedes' take on the rugged, boxy Land Rover Defender with more added luxury

18 December 2018

What is it?

You’re looking at the sensible version of an extrovert car.

Sensible because it is the entry-level model with the best fuel economy; extrovert because this is still a G-Class (née Wagon), and is therefore an archaic presence on any road it graces. It is more capable off it than almost anyone would ever need, too, and hugely expensive. When it goes on sale in January, the G350d tested here costs nearly £100,000, which is at the upper end of most rivals’ ranges.

But consider the specification and slowly that price begins to make sense. We’ve already driven the rejuvenated G-Class in flag-flying, snorting AMG guise, but some things bear repeating. Mercedes spent many years over-hauling its hand–assembled icon. It has enlisted the expertise of AMG for the suspension design and gave its engineers and designers sleepless nights in the attempt to preserve the general feel of the original (Land Rover take note). As a result, the car betters its old self not only in terms of breakover and approach angles etc, but also in terms of usability. And is recognisably G-Class.

To that end, the changes have been targeted. Rumour has it in excess of €5 million was spent getting the bonnet-mounted indicators – four decades out of date – to adhere to modern safety regulations and yet recirculating-ball steering has given way to a rack-and-pinion set-up that is laser-guided by comparison. Likewise, the click-snap door handles haven’t gone anywhere, and neither has the chromed cover for the spare wheel – both are carried over unchanged – but the front suspension is now by double wishbones for more precise steering control and greater ride quality. The G-Class also continues uses a ladder-frame chassis, and yet the interior finishing is truly superb (its general topography, of course, has changed very little). 

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What’s new here is Mercedes’ OM656 straight-six – the most powerful diesel engine ever fitted to a G-Class. It forms one third of an engine line-up that otherwise consists of twin-turbocharged petrol V8s (though, as it stands, in the UK we’ll have the 586bhp G63 but not the 416bhp G500), and also serves in the luxury S-Class.

In Mercedes’ flagship saloon there are two states of tune, and it's the lower one the G350d gets, with 282bhp from 3400rpm and 442lb ft arriving at only 1200rpm. Admittedly, these are relatively modest gains over the 3.0-litre BlueTEC V6 diesel that powered the outgoing G350d, but a combined fuel economy of 29.4mpg is a useful improvement over the old car’s 25.2mpg. The claimed 0-62mph time has also fallen from 9.1sec to just 7.4sec, which looks to be a similarly useful real-world improvement. 

What's it like?

You’ll struggle to find any mode of transport more drenched in personality than the AMG-fettled G63. And yet, while the G350d isn’t as entertaining, it is without question the more likeable sibling. This is largely because diesel power reinstates a touch of utilitarian charm and honesty to the experience of driving a G-Class. You might be no more inclined to use the car to anything like its full terrain-conquering potential, but with the diesel the possibility of such a workout does somehow seem more probable.

And even if you don’t, there are more tangible benefits: our test car returned 32mpg along a flat stretch of autobahn between Innsbruck and Munich. Given the new G-Class weighs the thick end of 2.5 tonnes and still has the aerodynamic qualities of a parachute, that’s pretty good going. Mercedes pioneered in passenger cars the use of stepped-bowl pistons with its latest range of four-cylinder diesel engines, and the same propagation-enhancing technology is found within the OM656. In Eco – along with Comfort and Dynamic, one of the car’s three powertrain modes – the engine will also decouple from the lazily smooth nine-speed gearbox to coast at idling speeds for as long as you refrain from touching the brake or throttle pedals.

What's more, this new straight six is refined not only by the standards of those few machines with three locking differentials and a rigid rear axle, but by those of any segment. It first delivers all that torque with a wide, bass-heavy warble that quickly smooths out and remains smooth as silk through to 5000rpm. I’d say that sound is a bit more present from within the cabin of the G-Class than an E-Class, though without a microphone you wouldn’t know for sure. That shows just how far this off-roader has come. Six hours in the saddle doesn’t precipitate the kind of aural fatigue you got in the old car – a feat all the more impressive given Mercedes has reclined the rake of the windscreen by only a single degree. Don't expect the same isolation from wind noise you'd get in a BMW X5, mind.

And, really, the G350d of 2018 still isn’t overtly cultured. This is especially true without the AMG-tuned suspension of the G63. Mercedes’ improvements to the car’s ride and handling are vast, but bumps in the road can still send a well-defined ripple through the chassis. At times it’s as though each suspension turret is two-foot taller than it actually is. Corner with any commitment and it’s all the suspension can do to stop the bodywork first collapsing over the hard-worked outside front tyre, then its counterpart over the rear. The G-Class is still very much a car with a high and peripatetic centre of gravity. On most roads a Range Rover Sport would feel like an Alpine A110 by comparison, and the driving position feels conspicuously perched (great off-road; less so on it).

Should I buy one?

The G-Class and Porsche’s 911 share a common theme: the most accessible model in the range is by far the most authentic. Porsche’s seminal sports car was conceived as a more delicate device than the ludicrously well equipped, fat-wheeled, wide-body spaceships of today and the G-Class originated as a military vehicle. The supercar power and low-profile tyres of the G63 are a fun sideshow but for many prospective owners it simply won’t be a sustainable relationship. After a few miles it’s all too tiring and, frankly, too superficial.

By contrast, the diesel engine in the G350d raises the G-Glass’s game. A relatively frugal but strong and quiet performer, it complements the car’s opulent interior and newfound capability as a cruiser. With the chassis and cabin improvements, it means that for the first time in a 40-year existence, the G-Class is something normal people, doing normal things, could happily live with. Just about. And, of course, you still get almost unparalleled off-road ability.

You might still be brave to look past the similarly expensive but more sophisticated, comfortable likes of a Range Rover Autobiography, but no longer would you be stupid. Maybe the G-Wagen's gone soft.

Mercedes-Benz G-Class G350d specification

Where Hochgurgl, Austria Price £94,000 On sale January, 2019 Engine In-line 6 cyls, 2925cc, turbocharged diesel Power 282bhp at 3400-4600rpm Torque 443lb ft at 1200-3200rpm Gearbox 9-spd auto Kerb weight tbc Top speed 124mph 0-62mph 7.4sec Fuel economy 29.4mpg (combined) CO2 253g/km Rivals Range Rover Autobiography SDV8, Bentley Bentagya Diesel

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Comments
34

19 December 2018
As a Defender owner, I love it, and it makes me weep.

19 December 2018

The G class and the A class are the two most misguided Mercedes models. The A calss because it abandoned the compact innovative original for an utterly conventional poorly packaged hatchback. The G class because the theme of nostalgia results in severe aerodynamic compromises. Mercedes might like to think it is giving its customers an honest car, but has in fact produced an inauthentic out of time fake. 

19 December 2018
abkq wrote:

The G class and the A class are the two most misguided Mercedes models. The A calss because it abandoned the compact innovative original for an utterly conventional poorly packaged hatchback. The G class because the theme of nostalgia results in severe aerodynamic compromises. Mercedes might like to think it is giving its customers an honest car, but has in fact produced an inauthentic out of time fake. 

...than efficiency and logic.

19 December 2018

"There is more to life than efficiency and logic" -

If the new G class were a retro model, ie. as a contemporary interpretation of an old classic (ironic or otherwise), then it would have a place in the Mercedes line-up. But the new G class is a mere copy of the old one, so much so that the rake of the windscreen is reclined no more than a further one degree (and to hell with wind noise) and that Mercedes spent 5M euros on the old-style indicator for it to comply with regulations. 

Not only does the new G class lack logic and efficiency, it also lacks any integrity in design. Copying is never acceptable in the arts.

19 December 2018
If it troubles you so much, which car isn't a copy of something?

19 December 2018
abkq wrote:

"There is more to life than efficiency and logic" -

If the new G class were a retro model, ie. as a contemporary interpretation of an old classic (ironic or otherwise), then it would have a place in the Mercedes line-up. But the new G class is a mere copy of the old one, so much so that the rake of the windscreen is reclined no more than a further one degree (and to hell with wind noise) and that Mercedes spent 5M euros on the old-style indicator for it to comply with regulations. 

Not only does the new G class lack logic and efficiency, it also lacks any integrity in design. Copying is never acceptable in the arts.

...most people don't care about logic and efficiency; they care about nebulous concepts such as image and lifestyle.

No matter how much it may offend your refined sensibilities, you have to understand this if you want to make money by selling things to people.

Mercedes are not involved in 'the arts', they are involved in making a profit.

289

19 December 2018

I wouldnt worry abkq....it is unlikely that you are a target audience for the G-Wagen (or that you can afford one either).

For those few who 'get' the G-Wagen and can afford it    they will be delighted at the way Mercedes-Benz has handled this update. All credit to them that they have resisted the temptation to 'modernise' an iconic and definitive off-roader. For that is exactly what it is...this is no SUV and has no desire to be as such.

They are built in small numbers and all eagerly snapped up, so clearly your opinions arent widely shared.

19 December 2018

Perhaps readers with limited understanding of genuinely capable off-road vehicles will question the G-Class design. Some aerodynamic compromises are prerequisites for the most capable off-road vehicles, giving priority to visibility when negotiating the most challenging terrain. A driver needs to be able to clearly see the corners of the vehicle when close to trees and rocks etc, so a more upright windscreen and driving position are an advantage.

The price of the G-Class is too high in the UK, but I assume this is because M-B know that it will sell high-spec versions and make a handsome profit. Under the skin, however, this is still an unashamedly rugged off-roader and buyers need to understand its core purpose. It shouldn’t really be measured against the typical road-biased SUV or cars. I love the Mercedes Unimog, so obviously I’m biased!

19 December 2018
abkq wrote:

The G class and the A class are the two most misguided Mercedes models. The A calss because it abandoned the compact innovative original for an utterly conventional poorly packaged hatchback. The G class because the theme of nostalgia results in severe aerodynamic compromises. Mercedes might like to think it is giving its customers an honest car, but has in fact produced an inauthentic out of time fake. 

aerodynamic compromises.... are you for real?! This is G-CLASS, man!

I love that brick, if I were wealthy enough I'd buy G63AMG on the spot. 

19 December 2018

The A Class is misguided? The orginal A was slow selling pensioner bait, Mercedes being in the business of making money ( it's amazing how many people seem to think car companies are there to make cars or even worse, pander to enthusiasts ) decided to make something people will buy.

 

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