The Mercedes-Benz G-Class has been the 'it' car when it comes to off-roading ability and sheer cool-factor for the past three decades.
Models tested: Mercedes-Benz G 350 BlueTEC & G 55 AMG.
Perhaps that's due to its rugged and extremely masculine looks? Perhaps it has something to do with being regarded as one of the world's best off-road vehicles? Or maybe it's because of its celebrity-owners list that includes the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brad Pitt and even the Pope? Whichever way you look at it, it's an impressive car with credentials that no amount of marketing can ever buy.
Much to the delight of Australian fans it's finally back and available for sale in our corner of the world.
There are a few things that need to be understood about the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. It's almost entirely hand-built, it's a no compromise 4WD and it appeals to a specific type of buyer.
Its credentials need no arguing. In the past 32 years the G-Class has won countless awards, of which many have been consecutive “best off-roader of the year”. If you still doubt its abilities, just remember that the Australian Defence Force has already ordered 1200 G-Class vehicles and we can only imagine the amount of testing that was done to ensure the G-Class met the requirements of the army.
If you happen to have anywhere between $162,000 and $218,000 to spend on the ultimate off-road vehicle (or the manliest car on the road), then the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon is going to make you a happy customer.
There are two variants on sale in the Australian market: the G 350 BlueTEC ($161,680 MLP*) and the G 55 AMG ($217,230 MLP*), and not surprisingly, they are totally different vehicles.
The Mercedes-Benz G 350 BlueTEC is the one you'd go for if you actually intend to do some serious off-roading. Powered by a 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine mated to a 7G -TRONIC automatic transmission, it delivers 155kW (3400rpm) and 540Nm of torque (1600-2400rpm).
It accelerates from 0-100km/h in a respectable 9.1 seconds and goes up to a maximum speed of 175km/h.
The BlueTEC turbo-diesel engine is Mercedes-Benz's new technology designed specifically to reduce vehicle emissions (Nitrogen Oxide – NOx – being its main target). By cleverly injecting an aqueous urea solution (known as AdBlue) into the exhaust-gas stream at a precise moment, the system converts around 80 percent of NOx into nitrogen and water.
Mercedes engineers have fitted the AdBlue filler cap right next to the fuel cap so refilling is simple and painless. It will only need an injection once per service (15,000km) and will warn the driver if AdBlue is running low (1600km from warning light till AdBlue runs out). The official AdBlue bottle for the G-Wagon can be bought from Mercedes-Benz dealers (cheaper than oil) but is the essentially the same as the stuff you can find at a truck shop.
The reason the G 350 BlueTEC is recommended for off-road is not because the G 55 AMG is incapable, far front it, but mainly because the G 55 AMG is the ultimate road-going 4WD and those looking at buying one would be far too busy being the envy of all car lovers to take it off-road.
The Mercedes-Benz G 55 AMG is the sort of car that turns heads wherever it goes. You'd expect to see Colonel Gidaffi use one of these to take his kids to school (he does apparently own a few older G-Class vehicles).
Powered by a hand-built 5.5-litre supercharged AMG V8 engine, the G 55 AMG is the definition of having the best of both worlds. A serious off-roader with enough power to murder most sports cars.
Some may remember the ads that Ford ran for the Territory turbo, where it would go about eating sportscars 'for breakfast'. Well, that would be most appropriate for the G 55 AMG. Its V8 heart beats out 373kW and a ridiculous 700Nm of torque. Match that to a five-speed automatic transmission borrowed from the SL Black series and it will go from 0-100km/h in just 5.5 seconds.
It's not just the 0-100km/h time that makes it impressive, it's the way it continues to accelerate past the 100km/h mark without hesitation that makes it a truly remarkable vehicle.
Facts and figures don't do the G 55 AMG justice. Unless you happen to own a Leopard II tank (which coincidently came into service the same year at the original G-Class), the G55 is quite possibly the manliest vehicle you can own.
With a chrome-plated AMG exhaust system with twin side-venting tailpipes (similar to the SLR), on acceleration the G 55 sounds like a muscle car gone mad. The aural enjoyment from having one of these will result in many trips to the fuel station. At one stage I simply had to get out of our G 55 test vehicle and have my co-driver accelerate past me so that I could just listen to the exhaust note. An activity I could partake in all day long.
The G 350 BlueTEC uses around 11.2L of diesel per 100km and the G 55 AMG makes do with around 15.9L of 98 RON fuel per 100km (both figures are for combined cycle). Although if you happen to love the sound of the G 55 AMG, expect that figure to climb past the 20L/100km mark rather easily.
During our test drive we took a G 55 AMG and a G 350 BlueTEC out to Tasmania's secluded roads outside of Launceston. One may suspect Mercedes-Benz would pick a route less twisty and challenging, but alas, we were driving on Targa Tasmania-style roads in what would appear to be a military-style vehicle.
The heavy steering will come as a bit of shock at first, but you quickly get used to it. It's not the sort of vehicle you can push hard into a corner comfortably as its narrow and tall design doesn't give it the best handling dynamics. Nonetheless, it's not exactly built to be a sportscar (even though the G 55 AMG can accelerate faster than most).
Both variants use the same suspension set-up (coil springs with gas-pressure shock absorbers for both front and rear) and hence provide very similar ride and handling characteristics. If you're looking to buy a G-Class to drive around town, it's important to know that this isn't your typical city-friendly 4WD. It will do perfectly fine as a city car (and the kids will love it) but it won't be as easy to drive as an ML-Class. Then again, it will also attract a lot more looks.
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is the only vehicle sold from the factory that comes with three selectable differential locks standard. That's front, centre and rear. Low range can be selected by engaging neutral and selecting low with a button located near the gear stick. Once drive is reselected and the vehicle moves forward the transition from high to low will take place.
Once low-range is selected all electronic systems (ESP, ABS, etc.) are remapped for better off-road performance. To showcase the G-Class' off-roading credentials, Mercedes-Benz Australia flew Erwin Wonisch all the way from Germany to give us a real life demonstration.
There really would be no better man than Mr Wonisch (pictured above in the driver's seat) for this job, given he has been actively involved with the G-Class since it's creation over 30 years ago. He is also the man that trains the many different militaries of the world on how to use the G-Class off-road.
The G-Class chosen for the demonstrations was a stock standard G 350 BlueTEC equipped with nothing special. In fact, it was using road tyres (or “dancing-shoes” as Mr Wonisch called them).
We jumped on-board and headed up what would seem a near impossible hill (pictures can't do it justice), but the G-Class doesn't seem to care where you point it. So long as the driver knows what he's doing the G-Class will climb and climb and just when you think it can go no more, it will keep climbing. It does so without a single complaint. From there we turned around, engaged first low-gear and headed down the hill. In this condition the G-Class will not require any breaking as it will coast down slowly using just engine-braking.
Having experienced the G-Class climb a near-impossible hill with 18-inch wheels and road tyres, I can say with certainty that our defence forces made the right choice with the G-Class – and so will you, if you happen to buy a G 350 for off-road use. There is nothing quite like it.
During our time behind the wheel of a G 350 on the off-road track, it became rather obvious that the heavy steering and general heavy handling dynamics of the vehicle were made for these conditions. The G-Class feels more at home when off-road, it offers a perfect driving position with excellent visibility and its relatively narrow size means it can fit through a lot of tight spaces.
The G 55 AMG, although just as capable off-road, does have the limiting factor of its side exhaust-pipes being in the way if the track gets a little too rough, so if you do want to climb Mount Everest, perhaps it's best to stick with the G 350.
If you're looking at buying a G-Wagon for road use, I'd highly recommend that you take it four-wheel driving at least once. Even if you plan on never doing it again, it will give you an idea of just how remarkable your vehicle is when put in its native environment.
In some countries such as Germany and Hong Kong, Mercedes-Benz sells a bare-bone G-Class called the G.Professional which is essentially a military-style vehicle with an interior that you can use a hose to clean. Mercedes-Benz Australia says the G.Professional is currently under consideration for Australia although the Cabriolet and Short Wheelbase variants will not be offered.
Speaking of interiors, the two variants sold in Australia come with a very plush and typical Mercedes-Benz interior. That means comfortable seats, beautiful dials, latest in-car technology and the ability to customise minor details to your liking.
Standard across both variants is Bi-Xenon headlights, reversing camera, full leather upholstery (including for the instrument panel), five seat configuration, anthracite wood trim and a whole lot more. The COMAND APS system (also standard) uses a 6.5-inch colour display with a built-in hard drive for music and sat-nav. It offers iPod and Bluetooth capability and pumps the music through a Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system.
The G350 rides on 18-inch twin-five-spoke alloy wheels (available with off-road suited 16-inch wheels as a no cost option as well) whilst the G 55 AMG variants get bigger wheels (19-inch), better brakes and an AMG exhaust system. The interior is upgraded with luxury front seats, TV-tuner-enabled system and other AMG treatments throughout.
The G-Class range in Australia is available in 13 unique exterior colours which offer extremely good scratch protection (more than 90 percent of G-Class vehicles sold to private customers are black!) and available with a wide range of interior colours. Check out the pictures in the gallery for a basic before and after shot of just how scratch resistant the paint is.
Overall, it's rather hard to fault the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Some may argue that it's a little pricey but that's a bit of nonsense given that it takes 11 full days to build one of these vehicles and nearly all the work is done by hand in Austria, where production has been running for over 30 years (the longest of any Mercedes-Benz model).
The Mercedes-Benz G 350 BlueTEC and G 55 AMG look good in almost all situations. You can take one to do your weekly shopping and drop the kids off at school plus If the world does happen to end in 2012, the G-Class is quite possibly best chance you've got of surviving in the outback.