Not so long ago I had the chance to jet off to the wilds of Namibia to experience the return of the Mercedes Benz G-Class off roader, and over the last week I also had the pleasure to drive the G-Wagon, G-Wagen or Gelandewagen, as it’s more popularly known, on road test as well. It is of course Mercedes Benz’s iteration of a Toyota Land Cruiser or Land Rover Defender, a rough and rugged, off road, 4×4 vehicle. My first impression of the G-Class was obviously heavily swayed by the almost exclusive sand dune driving we did in Namibia. It’s an environment unlike one I’ll ever drive on a daily basis. So now that I have the monstrosity parked in my driveway, what are my thoughts?
Both the G-Class’ erstwhile Defender and Land Cruiser competitors have been around since the late 1940s and early 1950s, both with a cursory nod to World War 2 fanning the flame of their development, much like the American Jeep on the allied side. The Germans didn’t win that war remember, and promptly had their military torn apart. Presumably accounting for the lack of a civilian conversion, military based off roader in their country. However, some 30 years on, in 1981, the G-Wagon was gifted to the world. It may not have been converted from military use after WW2 but it does have military genealogy at its core, or so we’re told.
And wow, does this show. Particularly on the interior: Radio/CD player – no. Exposed screen heads – yes. Electric windows – no. Snorkel air intake – yes. This G-Wagon wants to be fording through a river in enemy controlled territory with its spot lights on, not taking me down to the local for a beer with my mate. To test the vehicle properly I literally have to drive the length of Africa up to Libya and get it scuffed up in a battle with Colonel Gadhafi’s militia. As such an eventuality is a bit extreme for my taste, I can only comment on far more mundane things on the G300 CDI Professional.
Like how dated it looks in this specification. With steel wheels and the totally square, big windows, rear three quarter, it looks almost like an antique. I was born in 1981; Depeche Mode and Metallica (my two favorite bands) were formed in 1981, and this car was first built in 1981 and we’ve all moved with the times, except for the car that is. I know ‘keeping it old school’ is the done thing these days, and worrying what a G-Wagon looks like is like worrying about the politics of the ANC: utterly pointless. But you will worry when you see the price tag… R 773 990. Sounds like a lot, right? That’s twice as much as a Land Rover Defender. But hang on, because most of me is convinced it’s totally worth it.
Ignore its folkloric reputation and rarefied presence at your peril. Divisional Manager of MBSA, Eckhart Meyer, told me that not one month has gone by since he landed in South Africa five years ago, without a customer calling, asking about the G-Wagon’s return to South Africa. That’s why the price is what it is, because Mercedes will get that much for one. The G-Wagon is hand built in Austria, unlike any other vehicle with the three pointed Mercedes-Benz star. It has 6 400 manual welds affected to its steel, ladder chassis, making it virtually indestructible they say. Mercedes-Benz are confident it is “the most limitless off road capable vehicle ever made.” And Austro-Germans do tend to be rather bullish in their ambitions. The governor of California, and Hitler, and an Austrian Countess I met in KwaZulu-Natal who goes by the name of Isabella Von Stepski spring to mind.
The impression one gets of its off road capability, even if you are sitting in your driveway, is immense. Over the two days earlier this year, sand-dunning, rock crawling and river crossing through the Namibian landscape – the vehicle didn’t skip a beat. Approach and departure angles of 36 and 31 degrees respectively, 213 mm ground clearance and 600 mm fording depth. The level of weapons grade engineering that feels like it’s gone into this vehicle is hard to ignore and plain to feel.
This ‘limitless-ness’ is a big part of what you’re paying for, the other is the technology that underpins the G-Wagon. Its 3.0-litre V6 diesel produces 135 kW and 400 Nm and is matted to a five speed automatic. This is light years ahead, in my humble opinion, of what the Land Rover Defender offers you with its breathless 90 kW, four cylinder motor, manual gearbox and performance that tops out at 132 km/h. The G300 CDI can do 160 km/h easily, making it a scud missile by comparison, and it’s effortless to drive with the automatic gearbox. It’s also twice as comfortable as a Defender. It’s more spacious, the seats have more adjustment, and you don’t have to have your whole torso out the window as you must do in a Defender. The ride is genuinely good as well. It’s comfortable and can be taken on long journeys easily. The Defender does pip the G-Wagon by offering, central locking, electric windows and a radio/cd player, and of course not having music in a vehicle like this is immensely frustrating with only the sound of the snorkel breathing like Darth Vader above the driver’s window to entertain you. The G-Wagon is the only car as well, that must have all its doors slammed closed with full force for them close properly.
The Austrian plant can only handle a few hundred handfuls of hand built orders every year, so don’t worry Land Rover man, the rarity of the G-Class will remain intact. What I loved most about my time in the G-Wagon was the sense that everywhere I went, was like a military invasion. I know I think like a six year old boy most of the time, but I really felt like that all the time. I’m invading the pub, I’m invading the supermarket, and now I’m invading Citrusdal. It was like I was back on my lounge room floor, playing with green, stick men soldiers, trying to incite a coup in a faraway land. And I bet that’s exactly how G-Wagon owners feel about their cars too.
What we like…
- It’s like one of the seven automotive wonders of the world.
- 3.0-litre V6 diesel is a great, hi-tech engine, but can still run on 500 ppm diesel.
- It’s hand built and should be more reliable than its competitors.
- Comfortable interior and easy to use controls with automatic gearbox.
What we would like…
- A radio for goodness sake.
- Central locking.
- For the price to come down by a few R100 000.
|Base Price (incl. VAT)||R773 990|
|Warranty||2 year / Unlimited km|
|Engine Capacity||2 998 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||6-cylinders, V-Formation|
|Power||135 kW @ 3 800 r/min|
|Torque||400 N.m @ 1 650 r/min|
|Drive type||Permanent all-wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h in 9.1 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||160 km/h (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption||11.7 l/100km (claimed combined)|
|CO2 Emissions||307 g/km|