Mercedes-Benz G-Class: still going forty years onWhen most people think about luxury off roaders built in the 70's, they think of the Range Rover. However, Mercedes has one of its own - it's a bit of legend and it's called the G-Class. Or G Wagen to its mates.
-Effortless cool is a difficult thing to pull off. Steve McQueen managed it. Johnny Depp pulls it off quite nicely too. It requires the subject, to put it politely, not to give a damn about how they're perceived despite the fact they know they're managing to look awesome. A few cars can manage it and this is one, the Mercedes G-Class or the G Wagon to his friends. The Mercedes GelÃ¤ndewagen or cross-country vehicle has been on the road since the late 70s, and while it's been there, it seemed decades of automotive design go by and thought, "Nah, what a good [unk]", and then it just carried on with his day. The G came to be in the early '70s when Mercedes began its development looking for a comfortable, safe, capable vehicle to take people across any terrain the earth could throw with it. The new model would not mainly look like an off-road vehicle. It was tested in the Arctic Circle and the Sahara Desert. In 1979, production of the G began. There were two versions, a civilian version and a military version, and also, it was licensed off to other companies. So, technically, you can have a Peugeot to one of these in some bits of Africa and France. Now, the civilian one came in three flavors -- short wheelbase, short wheelbase convertible, and long wheelbase. In 1980, Mercedes presented one of these to the pope, albeit with a big dome on the back. So, this was actually the Popemobile and that's pretty cool. By 1986, over 50,000 G-Wagens had rolled out to the custom G facility in Graz. Now, this is why it's worth mentioning that every single G-Wagen is hand built and you can sort of tell it in a rugged kind of way. I likened it to a birdhouse. It works and the roof keeps the water out, but still, you know, it wasn't put together by an efficient machine. Anyway, back to the story. In 1990, the G-Wagen had a massive overhaul -- full-time four-wheel drive [unk] with three locking differentials. Also, it stopped officially being the G-Wagen and became the G-Class to fit in with Merc's naming structure. It also added a V8 to the lineup for the first time. In 2005, a frankly crazy G55 AMG was launched, and throughout the northeast, the G was neat, taut, and modernized, but still kept its signature shape. 2012, though, is when things get a bit mad. A G65 AMG was launched. Now, that comes with 604 brake horsepower and 738-pound foot of torque from a twin turbo V12. Thankfully, though, there's another more restrained car. That's the G63 AMG. Now, that comes with 537 brake horsepower and 561-pound foot that comes with a far more sensible 5.5-liter twin turbo V8. Around the same time, a 6 x 6 six-wheel-drive version was announced and you can get that with the 63 AMG engine unit that did knot to 60 in seven seconds. [unk]. The one we have, though, is the almost sensible one. It's the 350 BlueTEC. It's a diesel with 211 brake horsepower. It should make it good for Mother Nature, but its combined MPG of 25-ish isn't all that promising, neither is its 295 grams per kilometer of carbon dioxide. Now, if those numbers worried you, then these ones certainly will. The base price for this car is [unk] over 83,000 pounds and the one we're in with all its toys is pushing 100 grand. A driver's car? This ain't. It's not all that brisk, knot to 62 miles an hour takes 9.1 seconds, so in trouble of many [unk] of the lights, but that's about it. Its top speed is 108 miles an hour which isn't very fast at all. Now, it handles well enough. You know, it's nice and perky around the time on the open road, but it's not that great at cornering. But you have to remember, this is a car designed for crossing deserts, not for the corners at Silverstone. Now, we haven't had the chance to take you off road, but I did have a couple of bit some anecdotal evidence as to its offering pretensions. The first is a rather lovely story. It's the story of a chap named Gunther Holtorf. In 1989, he sets off with his wife on an 18-month tour of Africa in his G-Wagen. He's still going. His wife passed away on route, but Gunther and Otto, his G, have covered 500,000 miles and visited 200 countries and not reported a single major breakdown. That's quite impressive. Another story, though, well, that's not quite as promising. You see, in 2011, there was a press trip to Australia. Seven G-Wagens went to tackle the Canning Stock Trail. It's 1,150 miles of quite perilous outback. Now, six of the G-Wagens on the trip knocked their shock absorbers and the only one that didn't was the military-spec vehicle. So, what you want about his drive? It still causes a stir. This is a car that was designed for crossing deserts, but now, it crosses boundaries. Its look, its presence, and its styles still has people watching it, waiting for it, taking pictures of it, and still has a massive fan base as well. That's more than enough to justify its continued existence. Production is set to cease in 2015, but I'll wage you that it will continue. The G-Class was supposed to have been killed off numerous times over its lifetime. Replacement is even made in the form of the GL-Class, but its look, its charm, and its capability continues to win fans all over the world. So, much so, it actually has the longest production run at any Mercedes ever. It's also worth noting that many of the world's militaries use these things. So, while it travels the world, wins fans, and keeps the pace, the G, well, it'll will just keep doing what it does and it won't care what you think about it and it'll do it effortlessly.