The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder
A highly effective all-terrain tool at an unfeasible price for a select few
Pros
Far from ubiquitous
Nearly indestructible
People will get out of your way
Cons
Hideously costly
You won't like it on motorways
Crudeness can only be tamed so far

Mercedes-Benz G-class (463) review (2010-on)

Military background has made the 4x4 as hard as nails

More Info

What is the Mercedes-Benz G-class?

The automotive equivalent of the pyramids: vast, ancient, indestructible and nowhere more at home than in the middle of a desert. Production of the “G-wagen”, as it has always been known, started in 1979, and while the car has evolved over the years, the basic recipe of a ladder chassis, yawning panel gaps and death-defying off-road ability (in the style of the original Land Rover) remains.

Today there are two versions  on offer: the almost sensible choice between the two being the 208bhp 3-litre diesel G350. The other, the 537bhp twin-turbo G63 AMG is reserved for a small coterie of delightfully deranged and disgustingly rich customers, the majority probably residents of the Gulf states. There is also an utterly unhinged 604bhp G65 AMG, powered by a 6-litre V12 motor, which is not made with right-hand drive, which is probably just as well.

 

The drive

Whatever else you have driven, it cannot be compared to the G-wagen. The chassis is barely more sophisticated than a Land Rover Defender’s, yet even the diesel G-class will hit 62mph in only a fraction over nine seconds. The £123,975 G63 AMG needs just 5.4 seconds — that’s faster than a Porsche Cayman. Both models have a seven-speed automatic gearbox as standard.

Driving a G-class fast feels more perilous than it is because you sit so high and the car rolls and wallows so much: fundamentally, though, it’s a stable machine, but the combination of soft springs and vague steering can have you believe otherwise. It’s best to slow down and complete your journey at a leisurely pace; then, in its own sweet way, the G-class almost starts to make a little sense.

You’ll also be less likely to be broken by the fuel bills: even the diesel struggles to better 25mpg in official tests, which probably means nearer 20mpg in real life. You’ll have fun filling it up, too: its 21-gallon tank brings the exciting prospect of a £130 fuel bill.

But if you ever have any extreme off-roading to do, the G’s your man. It has three manually lockable differentials, a wading depth that could justify renaming it the U-class and among the best approach and departure angles in the business. Whether you’re going to want to venture off road in a car costing a minimum of £83,805 is another question altogether.

 

The interior

There’s no area in which the G-class has been more obviously updated over the years. The cabin is still a rough and tough place to be, entirely in keeping with the character of the car, but now it’s been fitted with equipment, dash and dials that befit its class-topping status and price. Naturally, there’s space aplenty inside and a vast boot, but the Tonka-toy shape, body-on-frame construction and wide panel gaps means ride and refinement are pretty agricultural, something that needs to be borne in mind before you gaily throw your family on board and head off on a two-week driving holiday.

Published October 2012

The one to buy

Mercedes-Benz G350 BlueTec

Specifications

Price:
£83,805
Engine:
2987cc, V6
Power:
208bhp @ 3400rpm
Torque:
398 lb ft @ 1600rpm
Transmission:
7-speed automatic
Acceleration:
0-62mph in 9.1sec
Top Speed:
108mph
Fuel
25.2mpg (combined)
CO2:
295g/km
Road Tax Band:
M
Dimensions:
L 4662mm, W 1760mm, H 1951mm

Mercedes-Benz G-class rivals