Matt Hubbard reviews the Mercedes-Benz G 350 BlueTEC Long Wheelbase
The Mercedes G Class is a big, square box of a car that is constructed from thick steel and sits on a ladder chassis with live axles and recirculating ball steering. The G Class of today has been refreshed over the years but is basically the same car that was introduced in 1979.
The G 350 turbo-diesel I tested costs £84k. That is the same as a Range Rover Vogue SE SDV8, which is the best SUV on the market today.
So why would anyone buy a G-Class, and what's it like?
Merc G's are hand built in a factory in Graz, Austria, as they always have been. Around 5,000 are made per year and 100 are sold in the UK. Its origins are as a military vehicle, and it's still used by military forces around the world.
It was designed to go anywhere, and still can. The G may be bought mostly as a style statement in the UK but its short overhangs, chunky tyres, decent ground clearance and general ruggedness means it'll sweep just as gracefully across a ploughed field as around Grosvenor Square.
The exterior is quite refreshingly old school when compared to most modern cars with little in the way of frippery. The flared wheel arches are there to catch mud and the spare wheel is stuck to the rear door because there's nowhere inside for it to go..
The latch door handles look pretty ancient. Pull the clasp, open the door, and feel its heft. You have to climb up to get into the car.
Once inside it becomes apparent where at least some of that £84k has been spent. The interior is lush, with ruched leather on the doors, more leather on the dash, vented leather seats and more bling than a platinum selling rapper's front room.
In other words it feels like a really posh Mercedes, which it is. It has all the toys you would expect in a high-end E-Class such as a COMAND infotainment system, electric heated seats, modern dials and automatic everything.
You can't escape the G's shape though. The flat windscreen, dead straight pillars and general structure underneath all the flim-flam make it feel almost like an aftermarket job, where someone has taken an old car and bedecked it in the finest of materials and tech. It just doesn't feel designed in, rather added as an afterthought.
The boxy shape means there's plenty of space inside, room for three in the back and a large, deep boot.
The seats are super-comfortable but the driving position feels strange in such a pricey SUV. Imagine a posh Land Rover Defender, elbow up against the door, pedals down below, steering wheel in your lap.
The engine sounds pretty smooth and refined. It's slightly lacking in horsepower (211hp) but more than makes up for it with torque (398lb ft), which is enough to take it from 0-62mph in 9.1 seconds.
The engine and gearbox work well - both are modern units and tug the 2.5 ton beast along quite quickly.
It's in corners where the G-Class's age shows. It rolls just like SUVs of old did. And going in a straight line at speed requires constant, small inputs.
The driving experience is not without enjoyment. You sit high up and are entombed in luxury. The sound system is great and there's space for everyone.
The big problem is that a Range Rover, Porsche Cayenne or even Mercedes GL can do everything the G-Class does much, much better. These newer cars are faster, more economical, cleaner, more refined, more comfortable and, if you spec wisely, much cheaper.
But the newer cars all lack the one thing the G-Class has, by virtue of its ancient design and high price - exclusivity.
Despite travelling far and wide I only see one or two G's on the road a year, although if you live near the American Embassy in London you'll see a white G 63 AMG most days.
That exclusivity is the key to the G-Class's continuing success and its appeal to buyers. Without it nobody would buy one.
NB - Photos taken on the banking at Brooklands which is right next to Mercedes-Benz World
Price - £83,805
Engine - 3-litre, V6, diesel
Transmission - 7-speed, automatic
0-62mph - 9.1 seconds
Top Speed - 108mph
Power - 211hp
Torque - 540Nm/398lb ft
Economy - 25.2mpg
CO2 - 295g/km
Kerb Weight - 2,570kg
By Matt Hubbard