Long before there ever was a Hummer, Mercedes-Benz took an SUV designed for the military and made it available to the public. The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, originally known as the Gelandewagen, came out in 1979. On the vehicle's 30th anniversary, we looked at a 2009 Mercedes-Benz G550.
Mercedes-Benz designers obviously had better things to do during the 30 years of the G-Class' existence, as they didn't devote any time to revamping the exterior. Its utilitarian purpose is still evident in the boxlike body and large windows. A high roof means plenty of room to stack cargo inside.
But looking in the cabin, the G-Class has evolved from heavy-duty work truck to luxury SUV, with leather seats and burl walnut insets. The front seats are power adjustable in 10 directions and feature pneumatic bolsters, showing the class of buyer expected for the G550. These seats also have heaters and fans, complementing the vehicle's dual zone climate control.
Electronics have found their way into the dashboard of the G-Class, as well. Our G550 sported a hard-drive-based navigation system, useful for finding your way across the deserts to Dakar or detouring around traffic on Los Angeles' I-405. For entertainment, it had an iPod port, HD radio, and a Harmon Kardon Logic7 surround sound system. The G550 also supports Bluetooth phones for hands-free calling. Basically, Mercedes-Benz has packed the G550 with its latest set of cabin gadgets.
But lest you think the G550 lost its edge, it sports three buttons at the top of the stack that let you individually lock its three differentials. Fitted with a 5-liter V-8 engine, it has 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. A dual-speed transfer case gives it a low range suitable for walking over boulders and fording rivers.
Driving the G550, we felt like we were on safari, albeit a very well-appointed expedition. The driver position is high, as in most SUVs, and the large windows afford excellent visibility. Sensing the capabilities of this rig, we yearned to drive it off the asphalt ribbon and into the fields that surrounded us. It seemed foolish to take the roads, as the G550 felt like it could travel the same route the crow flies. But the fact we didn't want to try to explain scratches in the glossy black paint to our friendly Mercedes-Benz rep kept us in check.
But not in check enough to keep from throwing it into some turns. The engine gives it plenty of power, enough to move the big rig adroitly. Piling on a little too much speed before going into a corner, the high center of gravity made itself felt to a scary degree. Fortunately, the G550 is equipped with a stability program, traction control, and other electronic road-holding equipment to help keep it upright.
The price for the 2009 Mercedes-Benz G550 is $100,250, with no options really necessary, as navigation, stereo, power-adjustable seats, and everything else is included. The cost of running the G550 is equally high, as it gets an EPA-rated 11 mpg city and 15 mpg highway.
This video is one of many you can find on YouTube, showing G-Class SUVs in tough off-road situations: