Frankly, simple inertia can suffice when tackling challenging off-road terrain. Even a Honda Accord could make it across mud ruts, if hit with enough force.
|1. G550 models get a 5.5L V8 engine making 382-hp and 391 lb-ft of torque enabling a 0-60 time of just 6.0 seconds. 2. The G-Class features three sequentially locking differentials for maximum off-road grip. 3. Available since 1979 the 2013 G550 is priced at $113,000 while the G63 AMG retails for $134,300. 4. The G550 is rated to tow up to 7,500 lbs. 5. The G-Class is used by more than 20 militaries worldwide.|
What truly takes engineering prowess, however, is crawling over such obstacles at low speed, a task that is best suited to the Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
TRUCK WITH A CAPITAL T
The G-Class exists on an exclusive list of vehicles that are built for one very specific purpose, in this case, the challenge of crossing any terrain. Still, the G isn’t exactly what anyone would call practical, though its massive presence makes a bold statement while roaming through the glass mountains and over the concrete ruts of the city.
The 2013 G-Class holds true to the heritage of the vehicle, using body-on-frame construction and a ladder-type frame consisting of sheet steel up to four mm thick. The SUV shamelessly disregards weight savings in search of rugged performance, tipping the scales with a curb weight of 5,578 lbs.
Historically, it was known as the Gelandewagen, or “cross-country wagon”, when it was first offered to the public in 1979, a moniker which it represents well thanks to its full-time four wheel drive setup and three separate sequential locking differentials; one for the front axle, one for the rear, and one in the middle to link the front and rear. The locking diffs are the G-Wagon’s secret weapon, as the even distribution of power to every wheel combined with the sheer weight and rigidity of the vehicle make it very hard to find a situation in which it has no traction.
In the G550, the 5.5-liter V8 gas engine makes 382-hp, but more importantly 391 lb-ft of torque, because moving the vehicle over off-road obstacles is all about torque.
TACKLING THE TRAILS
At low revs, the G-Class feels not just confident, but unstoppable. Piloting the G-Class through uneven ground surfaces shows the potential, as even when two wheels are removed from the ground, the torque that is continually delivered to the planted wheels still moves you along steadily. Solid axles and longitudinal and transverse control arms allow the G to keep its wheels on the ground at all times. One of the few downsides of the locking differentials, however, is a compromised turning radius, which forces some unwanted three-point turns when running on the trails.
Down hill descent is easily tackled by the back pressure of first gear and low-range, while inclines are handled with ease, with the truck hold itself in place by simply removing your foot from the gas pedal. Combined with 8-inches of ground clearance and big 18-inch wheels, the G-Class is an uncompromising off-road machine, but not so much a graceful grocery getter.
On road, the G simply feels tall, standing at 76-inches (that’s 6’ 3”). As a result, in turns it does not inspire confidence, offering an uncomfortable amount of body roll at speed. The suspension is semi-spongy, relying on gravity instead to keep the big truck stuck to the road.
When not cornering, the G-Class rides softer than the hardcore off-roader would suggest by its looks, and manages to keep wind noise to a minimum, another surprise in this brick house on wheels. And with a 0-60 mph sprint capable in six seconds, the G-Class is no slouch, offering power-a-plenty for straight-line acceleration. The accelerator is very sensitive because it is suited for off-roading, which sometimes requires very small increase in power. It makes for an odd sensation the first time you take this lumbering beast onto the pavement.
You’ll want to be light on the throttle, however, as fuel economy is rated 12-mpg in the city and 15-mpg on the highway.
MODERN LUXURY IN A TRADITIONAL PACKAGE
Interior luxury is typically Mercedes-Benz, not lacking in any way compared to other models. A protruding, tablet-like touchscreen is mounted above the central locking diff buttons, and gives the classic vehicle a touch of 21st century. The leather seats can be had in three different shades, and offer an extensive button panel for lumbar support, making custom comfort easy. The seating position is high, which helps the driver’s sightlines around the big SUV, while all the airbags in the seats offer familiar luxury comfort. Headroom and leg space is not an issue, as the boxy construction allows for maximum interior volume.
A newly redesigned bumper and headlights also help to modernize the G-Class, giving the front end a slightly more swept-back look, though the main design highlight is still the classic box shape of the body. Foglights are now incorporated into the bumper, and daytime LED running lights sit beneath the headlights to complete the 2013 feel on this fundamentally 1979 model year vehicle. With modern design continually becoming increasingly fluidic, the G-Class demands a second glance, as it does not fit in with anything else on the road today.
With 30 years of history behind it, the G-Class still accomplishes what it set out to back in 1979, crossing any terrain, in any environment. At the same time, continual updates ensure that in most respects it’s equally modern. So while the uncompromising nature of the vehicle does hinder it in some areas, the G-Class remains one of very few vehicles uniquely qualified for both crossing the Serengeti and standing out on Hollywood Blvd.