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Car Review

Mercedes-Benz G580 review

810
Published: 13 May 2024
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Mercedes takes the 45 years of G-Wagen and succeeds in making a vehicle that feels like an electric G-Wagen, if not a light-footed EV

Good stuff

Faintly ridiculous off-road ability, quiet, refined and useful on-road

Bad stuff

Expensive, enormously heavy, not hugely spacious, anachronistic

Overview

What is it?

The electric G-Wagen. So a ‘normal’-looking G with a 124kWh (116kWh useable) battery double stacked in the ladder-frame chassis, independent front suspension and a solid rear axle.

Oh, and the small matter of four independently controllable electric motors and a reduction (low-range) gearset attached to each one. So it’s got a motor and gearbox for each wheel…

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What are you actually getting?

Something that’s more nuanced than the headlines, and takes a little time to get your head around. Here’s a car with 45 years of iconography to pillage and you need to make it electric, but it still has to be a G-Wagen through and through. That’s not an easy task.

So Mercedes has both thrown everything at it, and yet kept the soul of a G-Wagen, which is mightily impressive. As mentioned, the G580 weighs in with quad electric motors and all of its cells packed into the resolutely ladder-framed chassis and punting out about 280-miles of WLTP range; not that much for such a huge battery.

Said battery gets several inches of underbody protection - both composite and aluminium - strong enough to use as a giant rockslider off-road. Four motors and reduction gears for each unit enable both millimetric control and earthmover levels of torque, the need for traditional differential locks rendered obsolete by torque vectoring so fast it never spins a wheel. Unless it wants to. But more of that in a bit.

The interior has been refreshed along with the more traditional G line-up, and there’s also some aero kit to try and help, like new airflow tweaking mini-spoilers around the A-pillar and top of the windscreen, as well as a new slot in the rear wheelarch. They probably do make a measurable difference, but it’ll be marginal, given that the G has the aerodynamic profile of the blunt side of a house.

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The good stuff is both in the tech and the ambient cleverness; the inside of the G580 is pretty much exactly as spacious as the ICE versions (bar what looks like a 10mm rise in the boot floor), the outside looks like a normal G bar an (optional) grille and slightly raised bonnet line. It’s not an ‘EQ’ car (which look different to other models), just an electrified G-Wagen. Hence the rather cumbersome name.

Interesting stuff.  What else is new?

Tricks. You’ve probably seen it on the internet, but we’re starting to see manufacturers play with what electric can offer. The G580 features G-Turn, where the motors on one side drive in the opposite direction to the motors on the other, allowing for a surprisingly graceful on-the-spot pirouette. Illegal to use on a public highway, likely not that useful on a tight trail, but fun nonetheless. Expect YouTube accidents.

The other - and far more useful - is G-Steer. That’s when the G reverses an inside rear wheel in the direction you want to turn at slow speeds (and also off-road), leading to a very neat pivot around a back wheel. Instead of spinning around a central point, you drive around the back wheel. Brilliant at getting through super-tight trails off-road.

There’s also a myriad of off-road modes, the ability to wade comfortably up to the rear wheelarches (which feels deep enough) and the complete negation of years of off-road driver training. Seriously, the electric G-Wagen is so clever, so poised and so calm off-road, you can get around with the absolute minimum of fuss. Your nan could complete a gnarly off-road course and still be knitting. That’s four-motor electric control for you. 

But does it drive like a G-Wagen on the road?

Better. But let’s face it, G-Wagens have never really been paragons of on-road dynamics. Better since the big refresh in 2018, granted, but they still felt cumbersome. The electric G absolutely feels like a G-Wagen: heavy, slow steering, languid body control. It’s not a sportscar and doesn’t try to be; a weighty, long throttle needing plenty of intent to get the car to hustle. But hustle it can: it’ll hit 62mph in under five seconds.

Thing is, when you get to a corner or heavily on the brakes, you’re definitely aware of that super-three-tonne kerbweight. Nimble, this is not. It is, however, quite lovely. It feels dense and solid, impenetrable. The artificial ‘G-Roar’ produced by a soundbar under the bonnet (which you can turn off, if you want), sounds utterly appropriate, like a digital burble of V8. TG wanted to hate it, but it’s comforting and lovely.

There are some modes, too, but it’s best sampled in Comfort and a few extra seconds of travel time: there’s a general feeling of quiet competence, and swanning around is definitely the best version of this G. Interestingly, the G-Wagen doesn’t feature an ‘Eco’ mode in the settings. Mercedes thought it was just… silly. How refreshing.

What's the verdict?

It’s a largely pointless exercise, very heavy, inefficient, and a bit mad

If ever there was a car more anachronistic and less in-tune with the idea of a ‘green’ electric vehicle, it’s the G580 with EQ Technology. It’s a largely pointless exercise, very heavy, inefficient, and a bit mad. But it also had to stand up the pillars of ‘G-ness’ and some incredibly talented and interesting brains have made sure of that. It’s ridiculously capable off-road, quiet, competent and relaxing on it.

But more than that, Mercedes has achieved what it set out to do: create a ‘proper’ G-Wagen that just happens to be powered by electricity, rather than an electric car shaped like a G. Any owner of a traditional G will recognise the driving experience, marvel at this new-fangled motivation. In its very narrow niche, it is brilliant. California is going to lap this thing up.

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