- Amazing off-road talent
- True SUV styling
- Excellent forward visibility
- Military-grade price
- Just five seats
- Tough entry and exit
- Fuel economy
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz G-Class takes its off-road-and its luxury-quite seriously.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is no curvy crossover in the latest idiom. Based on a design built for the Shah of Iran's military, the G-Class has evolved only slightly in the two decades or more since it was first engineered. It's one of the most capable sport-utes on the planet-and one of the most expensive. With a base price of more than $100,000, the G-Class is a cult object and a celebrity magnet, with its only real competition being the Land Rover Range Rover or, possibly, the Lexus LX 470 and HUMMER H2.
The 2010 G-Class certainly stands out from the crowd. Its design is based on military vehicles, and as such it can seem very basic. The sides are flat, the windshield is very nearly vertical, and the overall shape is strikingly boxy in an age where even pickup trucks have gone aero. The interior's more of the same, with rugged shapes, flat door panels, and lots of tall glass areas-but it is decked out in leather and chrome in abundance, to justify the G-Class' extreme price tag. For 2010, buyers will see light cosmetic touches like new side trim and chrome accents, with a leather-padded dash inside.
Two G-Class models are defined by their powertrains. The 2010 G550 sports Mercedes' widely used, smoothly stalwart 382-horsepower V-8 engine coupled to a seven-speed automatic. The 5.5-liter, 500-hp G55 AMG adds an intercooled supercharger and upgrades to a beefier five-speed automatic to push the barn-door body through the atmosphere. The G550 accelerates to 60 mph in about 8 seconds; the G55 AMG pounces more brutishly to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, while gulping gas to the tune of 11/13 mpg. The smaller V-8 manages 12/15 mpg.
On-road performance is about what you'd think. The top-heavy feel requires rapt attention on the highway, to control the slow steering and to manage the body through crosswinds. The gas pedal requires a hefty foot, and so does the brake-no multitasking allowed. Still, the amount of ultimate grip available is astonishing, and the G55 model can be hustled to its limits thanks to big, grippy 19-inch wheels and tires and upgraded brakes. With its tall-wagon handling and decent ride, the appeal of the G-Class clearly rests in its extreme off-road talents. It looks heavy-duty-and it is. An automatic four-wheel-drive system with three electronic locking differentials and low-range gearing keeps it clawing over rocky paths and plugging through muddy bogs where you'll only find Land Rovers and wildlife.
Inside, the G-Class impresses with all the headroom you're likely to need. It is somewhat narrow, though, and front-seat passengers will notice the width the most since the center console is fairly tall and bulky. The seats themselves are typically firm and power-adjustable, with multicontour adjustments. The second-row bench has some bottom-cushion tilt to soften the flat cushion. It's a five-seat SUV with plenty of cargo room, but passengers will notice it takes a good climb to get into the G-Class, and cargo loading through the side-hinged rear door takes a higher lift than in today's crossovers. High-quality materials and an excellent finish mark the cabin.
Neither NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested the G-Class. Anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution along with stability control are standard in the 2010 Mercedes-Benz G-Class, as are curtain airbags. A rearview camera is standard, and it's useful since visibility is constrained at the rear, where a wide frame surrounding the rear window blocks out most of the view.
There are many luxury conveniences fitted to the G-Class. Both G-Class models sport Bluetooth connectivity, a sunroof, a navigation system with 40GB of hard drive space for maps and music, a six-DVD audio system, satellite and HD radio, real-time traffic, an iPod interface, a wood-and-leather heated steering wheel, and heated and cooled leather seats in front, with heated second-row seats standard as well. However, there's no American-style DVD entertainment system despite the high sticker price.