Mercedes G-Class: Review

The most astonishing stat from Mercedes at Frankfurt was not the IAA's drag coefficient, the 230km of steel in its show hall or the 15,000 euros that a GT-inspired MV Agusta costs; it was the G-Wagen sales figures. Now in its 36th year, sales in the first eight months of 2015 were up 20 per cent on the same period in 2014. 20 per cent! And, yes, Mercedes wants us to call it the G-Class. But the editor has spoken and for PH purposes 'G-Wagen' lives on, purely because it sounds cooler!

So when it comes to a facelift, you can understand Merc's reluctance to alter anything drastically. If it ain't broke and so on. So cosmetically there's very little changed beyond a new front bumper and dials for the non-AMG cars. For the AMG G-Wagens, there is more power. Obviously. The G63 is boosted by 27hp to 571hp and the G65 now rated at a ludicrous 630hp, 18 more than previously.

But there's also a new diesel model. We may associate G-Wagens in the UK with G63s rollin' on 22s but of the couple of hundred or so sold each year the diesel is the majority. Across Europe the old G400 had forged itself a reputation as the off-road engine to have, a mantle that now has to be taken on by the G350d. A V8 has been replaced by a V6, with power down slightly at 245hp compared to 251 but torque up at 442lb ft as opposed to 412 previously. It's also, says Mercedes, the most efficient G-Class ever, with 261g/km of CO2 and 28.5mpg combined. It's all relative...

Comfort zone
On the road it's surprising to discover how refined the G-Wagen is actually. Inevitably the shape means wind noise becomes an issue and the driving position is awkward but the powertrain suits it very nicely. There's huge torque, the shifts are quick enough and the interior is just like any other Merc but higher up. Of course it can't fully disguise its origins, the slow and vague steering the most obvious giveaway, but a G-Wagen on the road is far more liveable than you might think.

Telling you about a G-Wagen on the road is a bit daft though. It's commuting in a Caterham, or doing a track day in a Rolls-Royce. It is possible to do, but rather missing the point. To the off-road course...

The only car available off road was the new G500, a model we won't get in the UK because of issues in making it right-hand drive. Shame. It uses a version of the 'hot-V' 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 as seen in the C63 and GT, retuned for this installation. So apologies, it's not 510hp. There's the G63 for that, don't forget. Instead the G500 is rated at 422hp from its 3,982cc. At the ADAC 'Off-Road Zentrum' with two of the three diffs locked and low range when required, the G500 is mighty. That engine pulls from very few revs, the square shape means visibility is great and the car feels invincible. Ascents, descents, rock crawls, wading; it doesn't feel at all stretched where you know others would struggle. All the time accompanied by a great V8 burble from the side-exit exhausts. Just like endlessly lapping the Caterham or covering 500 miles in one hit with a Rolls-Royce, it's one of those motoring experiences that will raise a smile because the vehicle is so perfectly suited.

Taken to extremes
But the analogy continues further in making a rational case for the G-Wagen. Alright, so that's probably more applicable just to the Caterham but such is the compromise inherent in the big Merc that any objective argument will always be difficult. The G350d costs £87K, a huge amount of money and more than a lot of SUVs which will be much more pleasant on the road.

Which, let's face it, is where the majority of them will spend their time. Fans of the G-Wagen will continue to enjoy the car, and those who have never really got it still won't see the point. It could easily be argued Mercedes is selling enough to not worry about the latter, especially when it now offers so many other SUVs to cater for them. The G-Wagen's singularity of purpose is admirable, even when masked somewhat by the trappings of 21st century luxury. It is still a silly choice as an everyday 4x4 but as an addition to a collection and as a motoring icon, the G-Wagen remains as imperious as ever.

: 2,987cc, V6 diesel
Transmission: 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 245@3,600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 443@1,600-2,400rpm
0-62mph: 8.8 seconds
Top Speed: 119mph
Weight: 2,612kg
MPG: 28.5 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 261g/km
Price: £87,795

: 5,461cc, V8 bi-turbo
Transmission: AMG Speedshift seven-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 571@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 561@1,750-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 5.4 seconds
Top Speed: 130mph
Weight: 2,550kg
MPG: 17 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 322g/km
Price: £131,675

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (32) Join the discussion on the forum

  • jason61c 22 Sep 2015

    It's good for the defender fanboys to have something to aspire to. Awesomess in a box.

  • GTEYE 22 Sep 2015

    I guess there would be no point fiddling the emissions of one of these...

    Fabulous machine, fabulous price these days too.

  • TurboHatchback 22 Sep 2015

    I like these very much, the last of the proper off-roaders remaining on sale in the UK even if the price means they will never leave the tarmac of Mayfair. Electronics and independent suspension is all very well but there is no match for proper live axles and locking differentials off road.

    One thing I do notice is that the sidepipes in the very top picture look like they're asking to be ripped off or otherwise traumatised off road, not sure if it's just a funny camera angle or whether they haven't thought that change through?

  • WTFWT 22 Sep 2015

    I managed to wangle a week in one of these in G320 petrol spec about 10 years ago and used it on the road in the Alps.

    It was so gutless, cramped and utterly charmless that I was left totally bemused. The ride was awful, the road roar was ridiculous, and I don't think you can even describe "handling" in any conventional sense. I adore Defenders but thought it lacked any redeeming features. Maybe they have transformed it, but I can't really see how.

  • loveice 22 Sep 2015

    jason61c said:
    It's good for the defender fanboys to have something to aspire to. Awesomess in a box.
    3 diff locks vs 1...

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