This big beast is the Mercedes G-wagen, and after a decade-long absence from the UK it’s back sale on in Blighty – and in right-hand drive form. You can’t just walk into any Mercedes-Benz dealer and buy one though; orders have to be placed with the Specialist Product Division at Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands, the same team that brought us the mad 513bhp DR520-spec C-class.
So what’s so special about the Mercedes G-wagen then?
It’s hand built in Graz, Austria, for a start, with modern mechanicals and mod cons in a body and chassis that dates back to the 1970s. In left-hand drive markets you can have a short-wheelbase G – in two-door hardtop or convertible guise – but only the LWB model is on sale here. Petrol or diesel power is available, but the options are limited: you can have a bonkers AMG version with a supercharged 500bhp 5.4-litre V8 for £117k, the entry-level G300 CDI Professional (for rich builders who want a posh van), or the (slightly) more sensible 350 CDI we tried. There’s nothing smaller available under the bonnet because the G weighs over 2.5 tonnes, more than any S-class or the current GL.
So I’m guessing it’s not a dynamic masterpiece?
Quite right, but it’s still good fun. The big turbodiesel (with Merc’s Bluetec system that reduces NOx by around 50%) only manages 207bhp from 2987cc. But there’s also 398lb ft so although the on-paper figures don’t impress, the G350 CDI will surprise you and other road users when you bury your foot. It’s as fast as this car needs to be – especially when the brakes can feel overwhelmed – but the downside of so much weight is sub-20mpg. Thankfully the tank is a huge 96-litres, though it will take ages to fill and cost you well over £100 as well.
We didn’t get try it off road but with four-wheel drive, a low-range ‘box, three differential locks and lots of ground clearance we can’t imagine it’ll get stuck too often. On road the steering is slow and heavy, the ride is bouncy, the massive door mirrors create a lot a wind noise, and sometimes the engine sounds strained, but none of that matters.
Because driving the G-wagen is a real event. From the moment you unlock the door with a fat black button, and slam it closed with an unmistakable old-school thunk it feels like nothing else on sale today. You sit high, higher than any other SUV driver, and look out past thin A-pillars, over bonnet-mounted indicators to the world below. It’s commanding, confidence inspiring, and although it looks enormous, it’s actually shorter and narrower than a Merc ML. The slab sides mean it’s easy to place, and only your view back is compromised, because whether you look through the rear-view mirror or reversing camera, all you see is the spare wheel.
The rumpled /Designo/ red leather (a £1585 option) resembles a set of theatre curtains, and although the Comand multimedia system, steering wheel and other associated interior trimmings are a generation old, there’s all the gadgets and gizmos you need – climate control, sat-nav, a 4GB hard-drive, heated seats, bi-xenon lights, and an 11-speaker Harman Kardon stereo are standard. More importantly, it all feels completely together and works as a luxury vehicle. It’s a very special place to be.
There’s lots of room inside, too: the boot is huge, and with the rear seats folded there’s 2250 litres of luggage space – a current E-class can only carry 1950 litres.
This is car you most definitely buy with your heart – if you want a 4x4 over an estate as a family car, there are many, many SUVs that are cheaper, cleaner, faster and better on-road. Heck, even Merc’s CLS63 AMG produces much less CO2: 231g/km to the G350 CDI’s 295g/km.
But the G-wagen charmed every member of the CAR team that drove it. Porsche Cayenne? BMW X6? The lack of a decent bank balance notwithstanding, half of us would have a proper Range Rover instead, and half of us would roll round in the G-wagen.
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