What's New for 2002
This vehicle is officially new to the U.S. market, though its basic design dates back over 20 years.
Finally! Over 20 years after its introduction in Europe, the Mercedes-Benz Gelaendewagen comes to America. Translated, Gelaendewagen (ga-lin-di-va-gon) means "tough terrain vehicle." Those familiar with this rig usually call it by its nickname, G-wagen.
Born out of a joint venture in 1979 between Mercedes-Benz and two other companies, Steyr and Puch of Austria, the Steyr-Daimler-Puch G-wagen was (and is) virtually hand-built in Austria and was first and foremost a heavy-duty off-road vehicle favored by various military groups and safari zealots. Usually propelled by a diesel engine, the G-wagen was not luxurious by any stretch, but developed a reputation for being able to get through most anything, no matter how treacherous or steep the terrain.
As the years went on, G-wagens were brought into the States via the gray market, that is, by companies that brought European-spec vehicles over to the States and modified them to meet our government's safety and emissions standards. But this year marks the first time the vehicle is officially imported into the U.S.
To cater to spoiled American tastes, Mercedes-Benz brings over the premium version of the G, the G500, in a four-door hardtop body style. Every luxury feature that any sane person could possibly desire is standard in the G500. A navigation system, heated seats front and rear, a nine-speaker audio system with six-disc CD changer, power everything, sunroof and enough leather and wood to make one think that they're sitting in an S-Class sedan all come standard. Unfortunately, the stereo and navigation systems are operated via Mercedes' confusing all-in-one "COMAND" interface. Of course, as with all Mercedes vehicles, there is the option of a fully integrated hands-free cell phone that can be worked via voice commands.
Built on a 112.2-inch wheelbase, the G500 is so called because of its 5.0-liter gasoline V8 engine that pumps out 292 horsepower and 336 pound-feet of torque. Peak torque arrives before 3,000 rpm, promising brisk acceleration and stout off-road grunt. Using two spark plugs and three valves per cylinder, the V8 operates cleanly, allowing it to meet even California's strict emissions require-ments. A five-speed automatic gearbox with Touch Shift automanual control transfers the power to all four wheels.
Other vital stats for the G500 include rigid axles front and rear (preferred for heavy-duty use, as they are stronger than independent designs), suspension by coil springs and gas shocks at each wheel, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and 18-inch alloy wheels wearing meaty 265/60R18 rubber. Towing capacity is rated at 7000 pounds.
Greatly aiding the G-wagen's off-road capability are aggressive approach and departure angles (of 36 and 27 degrees, respectively), a low range that can be selected on the fly (up to 15 mph) and locking differentials for the front axle, center differential and rear axle. The triple locking differentials are unique and are meant for extreme off-road conditions. Switching on all three diff locks is done simply via three push buttons on the dash.
On the blacktop, the G500 is surprisingly civilized. With the V8 working in tandem with the smooth and alert automatic gearbox, brisk acceleration is available whether it be from a stop or when swift passing response is needed. Strong and linear braking performance is at the ready to quickly bring the massive G to a halt. In the curves, it's no sport sedan, but neither is there excessive body roll. And in spite of the primitive live-axle setup fore and aft, the ride is compliant over broken pavement.
Priced at around $73,000, the G500 competes at the upper echelon of luxury SUVs that includes rigs such as the Range Rover 4.6 HSE and Lexus LX 470.