► Time to test new G-wagen
► Mercedes G-class review
► Tested on road - and off
Imagine going to a Michelin-starred restaurant, the kind of place where even A-listers have to book, devouring a gout-inducingly rich array of courses only to swill it all down with a Coke Zero because it’s conscience-cuddlingly sugar-free – that’s the diesel-engined Mercedes-Benz G-Class in gastronomic form.
It is, like the fire-snorting AMG G63 – the only other new G available in Britain – a captivatingly charming thing, but in this instance the arrival of G350d feels like an unnecessary dose of pragmatism.
Surely filling-up a Mercedes-Benz G-Class less frequently is a good thing?
Given that the AMG-fettled G struggles to get out of the high-teens mpg-wise in the real world – ignore the official claim of 22mpg – then the prospect of a diesel-sipper to ensure fewer filling station visits is an appealing one.
Except this diesel has a bit of a drink problem. Well, in this installation it has. Chief culprits are aerodynamics akin to the Palace of Westminster in a Force 9 gale and the mass of a small moon.
Consequently, a provisional figure of 29mpg isn’t that much better than the gas-guzzling V8-propelled alternative. Factor in that on our drive at altitude in the mountains around Hochgurgl it was dripping closer to 25mpg.
Usefully, at a projected £50,000 less than the AMG G63, the diesel G-Class is still the cheaper of the pair to run as a long-term prospect.
What hampers the efficiency must dent the G350d’s performance, too?
You’d think so, but as a testament to the engineering team’s wizardry, it’ll outgun many a hot hatch in accelerative terms.
Understandably, it’s not got the same cervical vertebrae-realigning ferocity off the line of the AMG, but a 0-62mph dart of 7.4 seconds is impressive. A modest top speed of 123mph indicates that the G’s perpendicularity plays an inevitable supporting role.
Is it powered by something from a Unimog?
Not at all – in fact, the downsizing continues, so don’t be tricked by that 350 badge, because this G-Class is the latest berth for Mercedes’ new inline-six diesel.
Boasting a capacity of 2.9 litres, the forced-induction motor packs a 40bhp heavier punch than the outgoing diesel G at 282bhp. Worry not that its peak power comes on song between 3400 and 4600rpm, because its melody is undiesel-like and remarkably subdued. Double-glazing inevitably helps with that perception from within the cabin.
It’s lusty on the torque front, too, with 443lb ft of twist available at your right foot’s disposal, always metered-out with effortless ease, and no lurches forward between cog swaps with M-B’s nine-speed automatic.
Peak pulling power is available from a barely-idling 1200rpm, remaining strong before it dwindles after 3200rpm. This pays dividends on two fronts.
On-road, where even a 4x4 as majestic as the G-Class will inevitably spend most of its time, it ensures refined, quiet cruising. The only noises you hear are a little tyre roar and wind rushing about the windscreen pillars – with effortless overtaking whenever you happen across someone who hasn’t been scared out of the way by having a G-Class filling their rear-view mirrors.
Its easy-to-modulate nature is equally welcome when off-roading, particularly on the snow-and-ice-packed mountainous Alpine route of our test (above).
Of course, we had the security blankets of 4Matic four-wheel drive, winter tyres and all manner of electronic stability gizmos to aid our progress, but those treks up and down the frozen trails were made all the easier because of the smoothness of the powerplant.
Does the Merc G-Class still handle like a ship on wheels in G350d spec?
You’ll already be familiar with how we raved about how well the Mercedes-AMG G63 handled (see below), and that inherent DNA has a similarly positive effect upon the G350d.
Okay, the stone-age underpinnings of the last G-Wagen didn’t help, but we can’t think of such a chasm-leaping jump between different generations of the same nameplate. It’s extraordinary.
Remember, in spite of the same-again styling, as iconic as its shape is, the G-Class is all-new: longer, wider and still with a ladder-frame chassis with its bodywork perched on top.
Yes the dual-screen dashboard feels suitably contemporary, but the oddly proportioned cabin, sheer windscreen and flat glass all-round make it feel like a much older car. And then you drive it.
In most regards, the G350d feels remarkably similar to the GLE and GLS – not something that could have been said of its predecessor.
The steering in particular is a revelation, perhaps because it now feels as though there’s a physical connection between the front axle and the steering wheel – gone are the days of a satellite delay between the two that would have you veering from side-to-side on motorways.
Similarly, bodyroll is kept very much in check meaning you can exploit that newly-discovered steering accuracy on twistier sections of road without fear of toppling over.
Factor in the comfy air-suspended ride and you’ve got a G-Class that won’t feel like a compromise if you use it as a daily driver. Progress indeed.
So all’s good in the G’s ‘hood, then? Not quite. Like all icons – and in an industry where that word’s tossed about far too easily, it’s not used lightly in this instance – it’s flawed, most notably in terms of its cabin space.
For all it’s an imposing-looking SUV in a Tonka-esque way, there’s not as much room as you might expect considering its growth compared with its predecessor.
Up front it’s snug, but not unpleasantly so, but three adults abreast the back seat will have to be exceptionally good friends. And that assumes they’re not especially tall as lofty front seat occupants will have slid their chairs rearward.
Nit-picking niggles? Some of the interior plastics in the lower extremities feel Fisher Price, not Fortnum & Mason, and that tailgate’s side-hinged on the left, making it a pain when loading kerbside in Blighty.
So would we plump for a G350d? Only if having a G-Class is more important than having the G-Class. Clearly, a £50k saving over the G63 is a lot of find stuffed down the back of a Chesterfield, but if you have it to hand (in which case fuel efficiency is unlikely to be a serious concern anyway), then the V8 call of the G63 remains too hard to ignore.
Read on for our Mercedes-AMG G63 review
Mercedes-AMG G63 tested: the maximum G-Wagen still reigns supreme
‘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.
Browse used Mercedes-Benz for sale
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.
Tech details: the new generation of Merc straight sixes
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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