What is it like to drive?
The old G-Class was an utter liability, especially the G63, almost lethally unstable and unable to cope with the demands placed upon it by the rampant engine. The new one is a… revelation. I can’t believe the transformation. OK, it’s not a Range Rover, there’s still a trace of ladder fame shudder and shimmy on rough roads, but the ride, the steering, the drivability – it’s on another level.
Here’s a two-metre tall, 2.5-tonne SUV that can actually be driven with some verve. No longer will you set out for a long trip with trepidation, no longer will corners petrify. You used to be able to swing the steering over a wide arc in the old recirculating ball-equipped car, and nothing would happen. Don’t try that now. You’ll actually change direction.
There’s proper rack and pinion steering and although the type of people who wear camo trousers might loathe the loss of the front beam axle (independent driveshafts now drop out of either side of the front differential casing), the new-found composure and trust is a revelation. The front end has grip, the roll is way better managed than you expect and the G63 engine...
I’m still not sure it’s necessary for the G63 to be this fast. 0-62mph in 4.5secs is bonkers, but there’s now less disparity between the acceleration, handling and brakes. The advantage still lies with the engine, and it’s hard to resist its charms, either the hoof-in-the-back acceleration or the accompanying V8 rumble and roar from the side exit pipes. It is ballistically fast in a way something that weighs 2,485kg probably shouldn’t be. At least the brakes do what they’re supposed to now. That’s new, too.
Oddly for what is Mercedes’ least sporting car, it’s become synonymous with AMG – 577bhp G63 AMGs complete with twin side-exit exhausts seem to outnumber black cabs in the English capital. But there is another way to G-Wagen, and it’s the sensible G400d. The bumpers are – believe it or not – softer-looking and more rounded than the square-jawed ’63. Wheels are more modest because they don’t have to contain family pizza-sized brakes.
It’s the entry-level model, replacing the now discontinued G350d but using an uprated version of the same 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six. No tri-turbo or V8, but a useful power hike of 43bhp and 74lb ft over the old one, for totals of 325bhp and 516lb ft, the latter delivered at a mere 1,200rpm.
And that’s what matters. Having that much thump available so low down and giving performance commensurate with your expectations. It does 0-62mph in 6.4secs, which is swift enough – quicker than a Range Rover D350 (7.1secs) even though the 2,489kg G is a couple of hundred kilos heavier. Swifter, more responsive gearbox in the Merc too.
And by plumping for turbodiesel power, the sacrifice of two seconds from the G’s 0-62mph time is repaid with a £55,000 price cut – to £108,815. It’s still a phenomenally expensive machine, but at least this one might crack 20 miles to the gallon.
So on-road it has the composure and manners that may not better a Range Rover in terms of smoothness and silence, but do at least make it a realistic alternative. And off-road it can do things that are literally unbelievable. Pressing the centre diff lock button changes the modes from road settings - Comfort, Sport, Eco (!), Individual - to G-Mode, which can be left to do its own thing, or you can pick from Sand, Trail and Rock positions, where the settings of the suspension stiffness, steering weight and engine are adapted accordingly.
But it’s what happens when you lock the rear and front differentials and select low range that’s uncanny. The G-Class becomes unstoppable, you just point it at stuff, take it slow and all that torque meters itself out in an entirely different and much more precise way. It is imperious off-road, feels ultra-durable and tough.