The Mercedes-Benz G-Class (for Geländewagen, or "cross country vehicle") was originally developed for military use back in the late 1970s as a heavy-duty four-wheel-drive conveyance. But over the intervening decades, Mercedes has continuously updated it for civilian use, adding more refinement and luxury features as time has gone on. Yet despite the heated seats and abundance of polished wood trim, there's no denying the G's utilitarian roots. It's tall, with an awkward step-in height, its doors close with a reassuring clunk, space efficiency is unexceptional and its 3-ton heft contributes to poor fuel economy and ponderous handling.
Perhaps in spite (or because) of its military roots, boxy shape and lack of practicality, the G-Class has become a status symbol for a select group of upscale buyers looking to add a trucklike vehicle to their garages while still retaining a healthy dose of interior luxury. While the majority of G-Class owners will never go off-roading, the vehicle's triple locking differentials, generous ground clearance and rugged construction make it more than capable of venturing into the dirt at a moment's notice.
Current Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Still in its first generation after more than three decades, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a five-passenger SUV offered in G550, AMG G63, AMG G65 and G550 4x42 trims. All come fully loaded with many of the luxury items found in most modern Mercedes vehicles, including heated leather seats, keyless ignition and entry, adaptive cruise control and a navigation system. An extensive catalog of custom-order paints, leather colors and interior trim choices allow buyers to do some additional personalization.
The base G550 is equipped with a turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 that produces 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. The AMG G63 sports a turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 that puts out 563 hp and 561 lb-ft of torque, as well as including extras like performance-tuned suspension. Then there's the AMG G65 with its turbo 6.0-liter V12 that generates a massive 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque. The 4x42 sticks with the 4.0-liter engine but has a special raised suspension for enhanced off-road duty. In all cases, power is transmitted through a seven-speed automatic transmission, a two-speed transfer case and a full-time four-wheel-drive system.
In reviews, we've found Mercedes G-Class attempts to mask its utilitarian nature with a luxurious interior and comfortable highway ride. But composure suffers when it's hustled around corners, due to its tanklike mass, and it can be a handful to drive in the city. Despite the powerful engine and impressive acceleration, the G's size makes it feel slow, ponderous and top-heavy, and every body motion is grossly exaggerated.
On the other hand, when properly outfitted the G-Class can shine off-road, with old-school competence that can conquer just about any terrain you're brave enough to explore. The G's awkward ergonomics and space utilization can't match the friendlier controls placement and layout of newer rivals, but it is luxurious, with the materials quality and finish befitting a vehicle with such a lofty price point.
Used Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Although the Mercedes-Benz G-Class has been in production since 1979, current models include many of the latest convenience, safety and driver-assist features expected in a luxury-class SUV. These include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, parking assist, navigation and an infotainment system with a large display screen.
The G-Class first officially showed up on American shores for the 2002 model year. It was originally only offered as the G500, sporting a 5.0-liter V8 good for 292 hp and 336 lb-ft of torque. The G55 AMG arrived the next year with its 5.5-liter supercharged V8 that produced 349 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque. It was upgraded to 469 hp and 516 lb-ft for 2005. A five-speed automatic was standard on both models until the G500 got a seven-speed auto for 2007.
Models produced prior to 2007 had lower-quality materials and less advanced interior controls. There were additional upgrades for '09, including slightly different exterior styling, a more advanced COMAND electronics interface and additional standard features like multicontour ventilated seats and an iPod interface. The G550 and its accompanying engine/transmission combo also supplanted the G500 that year, while the G55 AMG was bumped up to 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes discontinued the G55 AMG model following the 2011 model year, replacing it with the G63 AMG in 2013.
It's not out of the question to find a G-Class for sale that's from earlier than 2002, because the G-Wagen was imported on a "gray market" basis for two decades before being officially brought to the U.S. Powered by a variety of gasoline and diesel engines, early Gs were rugged utilitarian workhorses with a go-anywhere reputation.