Mercedes GClass Same face, new undercrackers
Still expensive, still brutal, still complete overkill – but now Mercedes’ most rugged 4x4 is also a great car to drive.
THE FUTURE HAS finally caught up with the venerable Mercedes G-wagen, a member of the elite dinosaur club after 28 years in the same guise. But while Land Rover had to dispatch its Defender to pasture after three decades and has yet to reveal its successor, Daimler has seamlessly replaced its off-road icon. This is no mere update or engine implant designed to stave off the legislators. Codenamed W463, this G-Class is all-new, with just three parts carried over: only the clicky door handles (fab), spare wheel cover (huge) and headlamp washers (squirty) remain – everything else is new. Under that same-again skin lurks a tough new ladder-frame skeleton for core strength, while the 4x4 hardware is of the serious, trail-rated variety; offroad ability is a must for Merc’s military icon. But so are superior on-road manners and the latest connectivity. Surely incompatible bedfellows? Climb onboard and the first thing that strikes you is the bigger interior. The old G-Class was cramped front and rear, but a 64mm stretch in width means there’s finally space for niceties such as your elbows and rear-seat passengers’ feet. The boot capacity’s a decent 454 litres too, though the sidehinged tailgate remains heavy and awkward while the loadbay is pinched by the sub-woofer on the left and fuel tank on the right.
I drove the outgoing G63 a week before the new car’s launch and was flabbergasted by its brute speed, animal character and what can only be described as the loosest of relationships between steering wheel and front axle. The chassis wizards of Stuttgart have excelled themselves here, for the new G bears no relationship to the haphazard way in which the old one drove.
The 577bhp AMG launch model hammers down a road at a lick to trouble sports cars (0-62mph in 4.5sec!) but it’ll no longer scare the bejeezus out of you at the first corner. Ride comfort is exemplary, even on 22-inch wheels, as new double-wishbone front and rigidaxle rear suspension soak up bumps and keep body sway as under control as 2.5 tonnes of hurtling metal can be.
But the steering is the biggest achievement: no longer do you saw away at the helm like BA Baracus in an episode of the A-Team circa 1985 – instead the G-Class flows with a pleasing accuracy and responsiveness.
Fine on-road manners are all the more surprising when you consider its off-road mettle: the new G scarpers up inclines you’d struggle to manage on foot, three separate locking differentials and a low-range transfer box making mincemeat out of hills even with a startling 1:1 gradient.
With up-to-date infotainment, giant E-Class screens and digital trickery galore, there’s no stopping this G-wagen. It’s finally caught up with the zeitgeist. Only steep prices starting at £145k for the G63 (the only UK model until the diesel arrives in 2019) and its outré character will hold this one back.