The boxy design is more than four decades old, it has military origins and is a relic of hybrid- and electric car-free times gone by. No wonder that it has reached cult status and enjoys thousands of dedicated fans worldwide. Last year Mercedes-Benz replaced the oldest vehicle in their range by a more civilized version. G wagon fans all over the world dreaded this moment. How will the first new G ever look like? Luckily no disappoint here. The new G looks, at first glance, just like the old one. Full of character and far removed from the rounded crossover appeal of its competition.
It is one of the most recognized 4x4s in the world and stands synonymously for off-road adventures into the most remote areas of the globe. The Mercedes G is a true automobile icon – with enormous staying power. It is an enthusiast’s car and a modern classic. While looking very impressive when parked in front of trendy cafés and bars, the G feels more at home beyond urban areas. He wants to be taken off the tarmac, where he really is in his element. Bumpy dirt roads are just ironed out. Go into more difficult stuff and he shines.
In our times of hybrids and electric cars it is quite refreshing to see that cars like the Mercedes Geländewagen or “G” for short are still being built. The square dinosaur belongs to an automobile era, that is almost a distant memory. In times of fuel efficiency, inconvenient truths, economical down-turns and credit crunches vehicles like this, sucking up large amounts of fossil fuel have no existential rights. Or do they?
I mean even the Pope used to be driven around in a “G”. The papal carriage with its 8mm thick transparent plexiglass dome featured the divine one-off color mystic-white. And, according to strict Vatican regulations, it was fitted with a Catholic converter.
On the opposite side of the fence, the Russian mafia prefers the G in black with tinted windows and Hollywood stars like Arnold and Bruce are enhancing their masculinity with the icon from Schwarzenzegger’s Austrian hometown Graz. Yes, this German car has been handmade in Austria for four decades now.
But who initiated its inception? It was none other than the former Schah (King) of Persia (Iran). Once upon a time the proud owner of 25% Daimler stock, he asked Mercedes-Benz to build him an off-roader, fit for a king, as he was sick and tired of being chauffeured around the desert in an uncomfortable Jeep to inspect his troops.
The inventor of the automobile obliged and together with Austrian 4×4 specialist Steyr-Puch the Geländewagen was born. Though Mercedes stopped calling him that in 1989. Since then it is simply known as the ‘G’. Introduced in 1979, ironically just when the one Iranian dictator was replaced by an even worse one. Having started his career in the army as a vehicle that can overcome any obstacle, did those abilities detoriate with the constant pimping over the years and the gradual metamorphosis into an iconic lifestyle vehicle? Clearly not. Even in the fancy-tired top of the range G 63 AMG the off-road abilities are still more than convincing.
And afterwards you just give it a wash, change your outfit and proceed straight to the opera. That’s the beauty of the car. It doesn’t look out of place, wherever you park it. Whether you are wearing denims and T-shirt or a suit and tie. It’s got charisma, stance, presence, it is unique and quite rare. The G makes a clear statement. Don’t mess with me.
Remember the time when metrosexual was not only frowned upon but regarded as a downright perverted activity for men? That’s the pre-skinny latte era, when the G came into being. It is pure testosterone, nothing oestrogen about it. It is the Vin Diesel among SUVs. Even SUV is an insult, it is simply the “Geländewagen”, literally translated “off-road vehicle”.
The epitome of G force used to be the 2018 420kW walk-in fridge G 63 AMG. With ridiculous performance figures, like 0-100km/h in 5.4 seconds and 760 Nm of torque, it is licenced to kill sportscars on freeways. Despite being electronically limited at 220 km/h it is still obscenely fast for a square-cut, metal-sheeted SUV doyen with container hinges on the doors.
The AMG engine emits a deep, archaic roar, that reverberates right into your bone-marrow – and scatters pedestrians all over the place. It’s wellness for the ears in tunnels, with the windows down. Or in narrow streets of medieval German towns, such as Rothenburg, where I once almost got stuck, while driving this monster. Some of those alleyways tend to narrow in a frightening sort of way, requiring reverse manoeuvres with almost surgical precision.
Luckily there are more open spaces in South Africa or even better Namibia, where I took a 2017 G 63 AMG model for a farewell trip, just before the new one was launched. Mercedes never changed the angular style, flat panels, exposed door hinges and near upright screen in more than 30 years of production. For a single model to be in production for decades without interruption and in virtually unchanged form is quite rare.
According to the Mercedes engineers, it is much easier to design a new car, than to reinvent an existing legend. But Mercedes-Benz did the almost impossible. They saved the iconic key G elements: the boxy Bauhaus style, the characteristic door handles, visible hinges and protruding turn signals, as well as the unique sound the door makes, when thrown shut. Not to forget the reserve wheel bolted to the back door.
The engineers’ motto was clear: ‘The new G stays a G, only better’. Their challenge and chance was to advance the icon technologically. The new G is 53mm longer and 121mm wider than its predecessor, thus gaining even more presence. The on and off-road performances improved. This G actually goes in a straight line and the steering is precise. All three 100% diff locks and the low range gears were retained and the buttons are still clearly visible in the dash. The wading depth increased by 10cm and is now a class-leading 70cm. There are five driving programs in Dynamic Select: comfort, sport, eco, individual and (the new) G select (for off road use).
A mix of materials – doors, fenders and hood are aluminium, body is steel – shed 170kgs. The new G is still hand-made at the Austrian Magna Steyr plant, where the 300 000. G wagon was manufactured in the summer of 2017.
And in the recent past you could see that German engineers clearly have a sense of humor. I can just picture this scene in a pub at the outskirts of Stuttgart. Close to where Karl Benz invented the first automobile in 1886. With each and every Weissbier the ideas are getting wilder. Until a sudden moment of silence. That’s it. Ja. Why don’t we turn the rather bland utilitarian Australian army G wagon with its three axles into an obnoxious AMG monster? With an endless parts supply in house, they opted for the portal axles of the go-anywhere Unimog truck. According to what the engineers are telling me, with portal axles unlike conventional axles, the wheels are not at the height of the axle centre, but are instead much further down on the axle’s heads, owing to the portal transmission. Whether or not you understand any of this tech gibberish, the resulting ground clearance does in fact reach insane proportions.
The first in the portal axle family was the above-mentioned G 63 6×6. Initially just two show cars were planned. But after publishing the first pics and videos potential customers went crazy. Even outside the Emirates. So Mercedes-Benz decided to produce just over a hundred units. A well-off South African car nut wanted one as well. Unfortunately the six-wheeler wasn’t available in right-hand drive. Until well-known Mercedes tuner Brabus jumped in. From an order of ten cars onwards, we convert them to right-hand drive, the Brabus guys promised. And ten it was. At R12 mio. each.
Four years ago the 6×6 was followed by the ‘baby’ G 500 4×4², as an unlimited model in the official Daimler line-up. In 2017 I (literally) climbed behind the wheel of my favourite ride. It felt like a mixture of Russian mafia, Mad Max and Terminator. A regular G wagon was used to transport the pope. As mentioned before, it was dubbed the Popemobile. Then this G 500 4×4² must clearly be the Godmobile.
Thanks to the much wider stance (30cm more) the on-road abilities are significantly better than in the standard G wagon. And with a top speed of 210km/h it is by far the fastest car on portal axles in the world. At the first robot I was standing behind a normal SUV and I was looking straight over his roof. This car is beyond borders. A G wagon on steroids. And while enjoying it on windy tarmac, I couldn’t wait to release it into the wild of the Mercedes off-road area, close to the old town of Biberach. Everything was there: mud, sand, water, steep inclines and deep ruts. The 4×4² irons out everything in a spectacular manner. It’s a straight line vehicle, no detours necessary. Toys for big boys. The day ended at the market square of medieval Biberach with some ice cream and – sorry, I couldn’t resist – stair climbing.
How can one top this vehicular pleasure, you might ask yourself now. Yes, with an additional axle. A couple of weeks ago I was finally sitting behind the wheel of one of the ten South African G 63 6x6es. One that has received loads of additional custom fabrications by the ‘Just Like Papa’ team in Cape Town, which makes this one even more unique. My personal highlight is the shock-proof Single Malt Whisky cabinet under the chromed roll bar. Turning this 6×6 into the coolest sundowner vehicle in the country.
About 500kW and the enormous torque of 1100Nm are flattening the steep sand dunes of Atlantis. Even with almost no momentum the beast screams up the loose inclines in a rather intoxicating way. To be honest the grin on my face stayed on for hours. The electrification of cars seems to be unstoppable, but as long as fun-loving German engineers are coming up with exhilarating vehicles like the G, the future looks bright for petrol-heads.
2020 Mercedes G 63 AMG
Engine V8 4.0-l., bi-turbo petrol, paired with a 9G-tronic auto
Power 430kW and 850Nm
Top Speed 240km/h
0-100km/h 4.5 seconds