2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class
The Mercedes G-Class, a.k.a. the G-wagon/wagen or Gelandewagen which is a purposeful machine that follows its own rules, holds a special place in our heart, right next to the vintage Defenders and Broncos. It’s been 40 years since the G-Class started wooing people to its sharp corners, severe verticality and decidedly anti-luxurious, militaristic disposition. Those qualities, along with its legitimate utility and off-road capabilities, drew fans from around the world, but it was time to nudge the machine into the 21st century.
So Mercedes went back to the drawing board, made a variety of measured modifications to its iconic exterior and more essential enhancements underneath... and thus, a legend is reborn.
LONG LONG TIME AGO
To truly appreciate the unique DNA of the G-Wagon, we should give you a little history: According to legend, the G-Wagon was commissioned by the Shah of Iran in 1975. The Shah, who was an investor in Daimler, wanted a military vehicle with a little more panache than a standard-issue Jeep. The G-Class was already in development as a partnership between Daimler and Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG, a heavy builder based in Graz Austria. The product developers wanted to create something with the reliability, durability, and off-roading chops to meet day-to-day industrial, municipal, and military use in basically any environment. At the same time, they were aiming to produce a fully equipped, comfortable model for carrying both people and goods on normal roads and one that would also appeal to customers looking for an exclusive leisure vehicle.
So when the Shah made the call, Mercedes answered and the carmaker took the concept they have been developing with Steyr and fired up a factory line in Graz, the same factory line where G-Wagon’s are still being built 39 years later, and dished out over 20,000 military-grade SUVs. At least, that’s how the legend goes... But that’s enough history for now, what you want to know is how this new 21st-century-updated Gelandewagen holds up to modern standard, and the answer to that can be found below.
Given the G-Wagon’s iconic status, the question was how it could be updated without losing its unique character. In the 21st Century context, this boils down to meeting safety and emissions regulations along with a high level of driving dynamics and creature comforts. In its newly reborn form, the G-Class has had its most glaring shortcomings either edited out entirely or reduced to the point where they no longer exist. While this new G-Class looks very much the same at a glance, the fact that it is larger all round to improve cabin room and crash safety means all the body panels are new.
Inside this roomier cabin, the commanding driving position has not changed, and the familiar sidelights perched up top of the front fenders are still there. But everything else is new. The widescreen instrument and infotainment pack dominates the new cabin and comes in a choice of instrument designs. The new seats are more supportive and even more comfortable than before, while the rear cabin room is also more generous. Other old-school Mercedes cabin design elements like the alloy door handle, center console buttons and heavy-duty doors requiring some strength to slam, are all there, making it a familiar environment for Mercedes owners.
On the dynamic side, the huge difference compared to the previous G-Class is the new double wishbone front suspension and rack & pinion steering giving a whole new life to the G-Class both on and off-road. Compared to the previous beam front axle, the independent suspension now delivers superior front wheel articulation for even better traction over uneven ground. It certainly enhances the G’s reputation as a ‘mountain goat.’ As with the original, the new G has three differential locks, one for each axle and one in the center. The old center lock was purely mechanical and had a 50/50 front/rear power split when open. The new version is a torque-sensing unit that runs with a 40/60-power split when open, thus giving it better handling. You can feel the difference this makes when the going becomes slippery in rugged terrain. The extra traction the locked differential makes is instantly apparent and give the new G’s off-road ability a whole new level.
Just like the previous generation G-Class, the updated version features a full ladder chassis but now comes 55% stiffer. This helps the independent front suspension to perform optimally, and the springs and dampers do not have to be wound up as tightly to keep a grip on things. To some, the old car could be frightening when you came into a corner at high speeds. But the new G eliminated this dramatically with better stability, better brakes, and more precise steering.
The G500 is powered by a 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 which produces 442-horsepower from 5,250 to 5,500 rpm, with 450 lb-ft of torque. This is enough for a quick 5.9-second dash from 0-100 km/h sprint and can run up to 160 km/h with ease, after which you feel the aerodynamic drag taking over. On the road, you can feel and hear the deep V8 growl when accelerating, which reminds you of what lurks underneath the hood. At highway speeds, the G500is quiet with much lower cabin noise than the previous Gs. The loudest sound is the wind rushing past the big exterior mirrors. Regardless, the new G-Class is still a large, tall and has a high center of gravity. But it now feels far more agile, stable in crosswinds at highway speeds, and dare we say it, modern!
So what do we think overall of the new G-Class? As a complete ground-up redesign, the new G-Class is a curiously restrained execution, filled with tweaks and enhancements. Mercedes could have easily decided that a 40-year run could have resulted in something completely new and different that would only echo its predecessor’s name like most modern vehicles, but they didn’t. It’s still the G we all grew up knowing and will easily hold on its own for another 40 years. The bottom line when it comes to the G-class: the more things change, the more it stays the same. This may not be the same G-Wagon built for the Shah of Iran, but it’s an SUV that has earned the right to tell a great story.
Starting Price: BD48,000
Engine: 4.0-Liter Bi-Turbo V8
Transmission: Nine-Speed Automatic
Drive Type: All-Wheel-Drive
Seating Capacity: 7