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Classic Mercedes G-Wagen Drive: So Much Has Stayed the Same

Before we talk about where we're going, let's have a look at where we've been

1980 Mercedes-Benz 230 G front 3/4
  • Mercedes-Benz brought a bunch of classic G-wagens to the launch of the 2025 G-Class in France.
  • We got to drive pristine examples of a 230 G, 500 GE, and G 65 Final Edition.
  • These oldies-but-goodies show us how Mercedes-Benz has kept its G-Class' heritage alive in the new versions.

Ah, the Geländewagen. An icon among icons. An SUV that's both proudly anachronistic and a modern status symbol. There's nothing else quite like it, and as you've likely seen, there's a new one — well, new-ish — coming later this year.

Last week, I got to drive the full 2025 G-Class range — the base G 550, hopped-up AMG G 63, and fully electric G 580 with EQ Technology (yes, that's really its name). But we can explore those elsewhere. What I want to talk about here is the fleet of classic G-wagens Mercedes-Benz had on hand at this event.

The 230 G, 500 GE, and G 65 Final Edition are three excellent examples of the G-Class' history and just how far it, and Mercedes as a whole, has come. Here are some off-the-cuff notes about what it was like to tool around France in each.

1980 Mercedes-Benz 230 G driving

1980 Mercedes-Benz 230 G

The very first production G-Class rolled off the line in Graz, Austria, in 1979. That makes this 230 G as close to an original as I'll likely ever drive. Powered by a 2.3-liter inline-four, the 230 G made 82 horsepower when it was new, which pales in comparison to the 2025 G-Class, which makes 443 hp in its base form. Even more hilarious? The 230 G needed 26 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 62 mph. And that's if you're really deliberate about your intentions. Goodness.

One look at this original G-wagen and you can totally see the lineage between it and the newer models. It's still as handsome and iconic as ever, and I love the look of an old two-door G-Class. It's just great.

  • First thing I notice is how the dash design is so similar to the new car. You're right up against the windshield, the gauge cluster is relatively compact, and there's the requisite grab handle on the passenger side of the dash. Perfect.
  • This four-speed manual is a sweetheart. It rewards smooth, slow shifts more than anything, and it doesn't mind if you wind out third gear at higher backroad speeds and essentially click into fourth as a makeshift overdrive.
  • Wow, it's slow. Every move you make needs to be planned. No darting into traffic with this one.
  • Is the steering wheel connected to anything? I can't tell. Turning is a hilarious game of guess and check.
  • It took me the entire length of my drive to not honk the horn when I meant to turn on the wipers. (The horn and wipe buttons are contained in the same little module, with the horn requiring a more delicate tap to active than the wipers.)
  • This G-Class is downright agricultural. I mean that as a compliment.
1993 Mercedes-Benz 500 GE driving

1993 Mercedes-Benz 500 GE

The 500 GE was the very first V8-powered G-Class. At the time, that was a huge deal; the 5.0-liter V8 produced 237 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, and meant the long-wheelbase four-door G-Class could hit 62 mph in 11.4 seconds.

Its this generation of G-Class that I love the most. The look, the feel, the brush guard on the front fascia — it's all just right. This is when the G-Class turned from wartime/farm implement to a vehicle for German business executives smoking cigarettes on their way to make a hostile takeover.

  • Smells like crayons. Heck yeah.
  • The width of the interior is noticeable, even compared to the more modern G 65. Those big armrests are fantastic, and the leather on the doors looks period-spec great.
  • These buttons — so chunky and satisfying. The diff locks are perfect.
  • This V8 feels indestructible, even 30-plus years on. The linear power delivery of a naturally aspirated V8 cannot be beat.
  • Love the spec of this 500 GE. Give me one in lavender or a pale pastel green.
Mercedes-AMG G 65 Final Edition front 3/4

2018 Mercedes-Benz G 65 AMG Final Edition

Considering the W463-generation G-Class was sold from 1990 to 2018, this truly marked the end of an era. The G 65 was an insane version of the G-Class, powered by Mercedes' heroic 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12. The G 65 Final Edition produced 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque — mind-blowing figures for a vehicle like this. Running to 62 mph took 5.3 seconds, which made it the quickest G-Class of the time. Kind of crazy, considering the new AMG G 63 does the same deed a full second quicker.

  • Oh, how far we've come in such a short time. It's hard to believe this car isn't even 10 years old. The switchgear still feels great, but the tech is super outdated.
  • You really appreciate how much wider the current G-Class is when you get inside one of these. I feel like I'm brushing shoulders with my front passenger. Good or bad thing, depending on who it is.
  • Recirculating ball steering. What a treat. The steering wheel's turned left, but the wheels are going straight.
  • You can tell that this engine was never meant to go in this SUV. The engine, transmission and suspension don't exactly seem to work in harmony. There's a lot of hesitation in the shifts and the chassis flexes under the sheer force of the V12's power.
  • The gold trim looks fab on the G 65. I especially love the way it's worked into the carbon fiber. A neat touch for the Final Edition model.

Edmunds says

The only thing better than driving a new G-Class is driving an old one.