New & Used Mercedes-Benz G Class: In Depth
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The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, also known as the Geländewagen, is a large SUV that has both off-roading capability and some military history. It has retained the same basic design and shape for more than two decades, but it’s gotten more luxurious over the years, too. There are two models currently available in the U.S.: the G550 and the G63 AMG.
See our review of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz G-Class for pricing with options, specifications, and gas mileage ratings.
A boxy, tall, flat-sided SUV, the G Class is unique in its design and its longevity, with only the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota FJ Cruiser lending the same off-road-centric, retro feel. Those who want the same kind of feel would have to otherwise consider an older Land Rover Defender or ancient Toyota Land Cruiser, now that the entire HUMMER brand has been consigned to history's junkyard.
Originally developed for the Shah of Iran, and German army use, but introduced for civilian buyers in 1979, the G Class hasn’t changed much over several decades. Instead, it has developed a loyal international following from off-road enthusiasts and military buffs. Hand-assembled in Austria, the G-Wagen fit the part of basic off-roader at first, with a modest lineup of gasoline and diesel engines and three body styles—two- or four-door hardtop, or two-door softtop. Although never officially sold in the U.S. in the 1980s, a number of G-Wagens were imported as a gray-market product and sold to the wealthy as a status symbol. By the mid-1990s, a V-8 version had been introduced, as well as a power-convertible version, and interior appointments became more luxurious.
For 2002, the G-Class finally was brought officially to the U.S., in V-8 G500 form, and just a year later a performance-tuned G55 AMG model, with a 349-hp V-8, made its debut. The G55 later was upgraded to 476 horsepower. By the 2012 model year, Mercedes offered two versions: the G550 with a 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8 and the G55 with 500 hp. Fuel economy has been as low as 11 mpg city, 13 highway for the AMG model.
Driving the G-Wagen is unlike any newer vehicle. The beltline is rather low, and passengers are surrounded by tall glass windows, with a good perch ahead over the hood. There’s barely seating for five, and entry/exit is challenging, but the seats themselves are quite nicely formed. Although newer versions of the G-Wagen have plenty of power on tap, the G feels top-heavy and cumbersome and won’t respond kindly to quick changes of direction. There’s also considerably more road noise than anything else in the Mercedes-Benz stable, although upholstery and trim are top-notch, with heated-and-cooled seats, a heated-steering wheel, and a leather-padded dash.
The G Class has been largely carried over for each of the past few model years, but an updated version comes to the U.S. market in the 2013 model year. The 388-horsepower G550 is joined by a revamped AMG model, the G63, outfitted with a new twin-turbo, 5.5-liter V-8 with 544 horsepower, a stop/start system, and a seven-speed automatic. Most other hardware is carried over, but American versions get new round dials in the instrument cluster, a fixed LCD screen mounted on top of the dash for display of the navigation system, and the latest version of Mercedes' COMAND infotainment controller, which now also operates its app and connectivity suite, called mbrace2.
Mercedes-Benz recently began limited production of a special 6x6 (six-wheeled, six-wheel-drive) version of the G Class.
A few times in the past, the G Class has been at the end of its lifespan, with Mercedes-Benz unsure whether it should continue to engineer and develop future models, given its niche appeal. As of this model year, the company has decided to keep production going through at least 2015--and it is negotiating to keep assembly running through 2019.