► Time to test new G-wagen
► Mercedes G-class review
► Tested on road - and off
‘The old G-class was a second or third car for most customers,’ reflects Gunnar Guethenke, unsurprisingly nicknamed Mr G as the head of Mercedes-Benz’s off-road division. ‘With the new 2018 model, we think it is a viable only car.’ Having driven it, we think we agree with him.
This is the most major shake-up in four decades of the G-wagen. The outgoing W463 model has soldiered on since 1990 and it was high time it’s replaced. While there’s been little arguing about the streetside posing and rap-attack creds of the outgoing G, it drove, packaged and wobbled like a car knocking on the door of its 30th birthday party.
10 days in the outgoing Mercedes G63 G-class
So what’s new about the 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-class?
Everything. This is an all-new car, reflected in the assertion that only three parts are carried over: the headlamp washers, the push-button door handles and the giant spare wheel cover bolted to the rear tailgate.
It’s still based around a sturdy (but new) ladder-frame chassis, built like steel girders to support a nearby suspension bridge more than a rich person’s plaything. Off it are hung steel and aluminium body panels, cleverly designed for maximum stiffness and a little less weight (mass falls by around 170kg, to a still-portly 2.5 tonnes.
Much of that heft is attributed to the serious off-roading hardware; the new Mercedes-Benz G-class range comes as standard with three fully locking differentials (one at each axle and a central clutch, to maintain traction in all conditions) and a low-speed transfer box. Daimler claims this provision is unique among off-roading brethren.
Better packaging, interior and – whisper it – a digital revolution
Climb aboard the new G and you won’t confuse old and new cabins. The old G-class had a woefully cramped passenger compartment; your elbows felt pinched by the door cards, rear-seat passengers had nowhere to put their feet and the instruments and electrical architecture reflected the Betamax generation from which they hailed.
The new car is bigger, for starters: 53mm longer and 64mm wider, for superior packaging. It shows – even full-sized adults will be comfy in either row, and the rear bench can accommodate two, or even three, grown-ups thanks to thinner front seats and an impressively almost flat floor. The boot is an adequate 454 litres, pinched by the sub-woofer on the left and fuel tank on the right. Access it via the mother of all side-hinged, heavy tailgates which now locks into place at any extension so it won’t blow shut in a high wind.
Most striking of all is the E-class instrumentation that’s transformed the dashboard: giant twin 12.3in digital displays are standard in UK models (elsewhere you can order retro physical dials, should you fancy) and all the latest Merc trickery is present and correct. So you can now enjoy Apple CarPlay to sync your phone, skip around the menus using wheel-mounted thumb trackpads and there’s even a wifi hotspot. On a G-wagen!
Oh, and there’s still a sturdy grab handle in front of the passenger, as a permanent reminder that this car is still all about scaling serious inclines more than the next playlist.
What’s the new G-class like to drive?
You quickly sense how thorough this overhaul is. The G might look incredibly similar from outside, all the way down to those faux rain gutters and sturdy exposed hinges that riff on the G aesthetic, but it’s essentially very modern.
Only one model will be sold in the UK at launch: the full-monty G63 AMG, which brings the mother of all twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8s with a faintly ludicrous 577bhp and 627lb ft all the way from 2500-3500rpm. So it’s neck-snappingly quick, with 0-62mph in a claimed 4.5sec and you can derestrict it up to 149mph if you’re feeling specially brave. Performance is accompanied by the rudest of V8 blare, exaggerated in Sport mode to bounce off walls and draw even more attention than the set-square boxy G-class already musters.
The old one was fast, too, but felt like it was about to hurl you off the road at the first sign of a corner or bump. The new chassis delivers a quantum leap in ride and handling, soaking up the majority of road scars, quelling body roll and – praise be! – delivering something approaching steering response and feel.
Thank the new electric rack and pinion steering, replacing the stick-in-porridge accuracy of the old recirculating ball set-up. Look: the new G-class might be lighter but it’s still nearly 2.6 tonnes and you’ll never make that much metal truly agile, but the new 2018 G-class has a damn good go at it.
The chunky tyres (up to 22 inches in diameter, and down to 18s on Euro-spec models) give up the ghost first, squealing like a pig escaping the abbatoir, but body control and general poise are to be applauded. Driving the G-wagen is a lesson in upright boxiness, those perpendicular windows affording a fine view out – the bubble-wrap front indicators acting as a gun sight as you haul in the next hot hatch.
(As an aside, the poking-up front indicators will disappear down into a space under the bonnet in a frontal impact. They’re like pop-down lights).
And will the new G-wagen off road like a Land Rover?
You bet. The G-class has always been about genuine mud-plugging, as befits its ongoing military application among governments around the world. And the new one (still codenamed W463; it’s too iconic a badge to change, apparently) does more of the same.
Proper ground clearance (241mm), stubby ends for goat-like departure (30deg), approach (31deg) and breakover (26deg) angles mean the new G-class can scamper up the most extraordinary terrain. We drove the Europe-only (for now) G500 on 18-inch rims and standard all-seasons tyres up 35deg inclines, waded through water up to 70cm high and tip-toed across the kind of cross-axle lumps and bumps which would leave lesser 4x4s stranded.
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The locking differentials help here, and you can adjust them on the fly at speeds of up to 30mph. You can feel each individual wheel grabbing at the ground and the low-speed transfer case means you can descend steep hills on tickover, as engine braking does its thing. It’s frankly incredible off-road – right up there with the best from Land Rover or Jeep.
Comfy, fast, go-anywhere… sounds like a genuine multi-purpose vehicle!
Quite. There’s some truth to Guethenke’s claim that the new G is a jack-of-all-trades. It is a viable only car – so long as you don’t mind the ostentation, the steep running costs and the image, which is part gangster-swagger, part military, part supercar slayer. It’s an extraordinarily versatile car and one gifted with that oft-forgotten automotive talent: character.
UK sales are underway now with first right-hand drive deliveries due in July 2018. Only the Mercedes-AMG G63 will be sold in the UK for now, but it sounds like the international bosses may relent and give us the lesser-tuned G500 V8, too. The real game-changer comes in summer 2019, when the new G350d diesel is expected to usher in the latest iteration of Mercedes’ straight six oil-burner.
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UK prices, specs
As it is, you’ll have to stump up a mind-boggling £143,000 to buy the G63, consigning the new G to be a rich person’s play thing for now. Merc quotes 21mpg fuel economy on the combined cycle, but we reversed those digits to 12mpg in spirited driving. Your pockets will need to be deep – and your cajones huge – to afford the G lifestyle.
At least it’s well specced, with standard heated, electric seats, sat-nav, a tow bar, those huge twin 12.3-inch digital screens and a range of electronic gizmos, such as radar cruise control and blindspot monitoring.
The Mercedes-Benz G-class range has always been hand-built at Graz in Austria at the same factory that builds the i-Pace for Jaguar. It feels special enough to warrant a place on many fantasy dream garage shopping lists. And with the 2018 overhaul fixing nearly everything we didn’t like about the old G-wagen, it no longer feels like you have to make excuses for buying the macho option. This rough diamond has had its flaws polished out exquisitely, with prices to match.
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