I went to an unusually wet and foggy Kwazulu-Natal to find out whether there is any real evidence to substantiate the
G-Class’ claim as the world’s best, and report back as a newly invigorated fan of the Geländewagen! The newest editions to the G-Class family are the G500 and G63 AMG petrol models. On appearance they look virtually the same, except that the G63 AMG model comes with 20” low-profile tyres. The G500 comes with 18” standard allterrain tyres and both models come with the stainless steel package (which includes left and right running boards, spare wheel cover and three-dimensional Mercedes-Benz Star) which is an optional extra for the G350 BlueTEC diesel model at R14,000.
However, the G-Class has never been about stream-lined good looks or keeping up with the Jones’. That all seems to
have changed with it becoming the new ‘it-car’ in Hollywood, which unfortunately (and to my complete and utter disgust) retracts from my liking in the exterior’s hard-edged appeal. Luckily in South Africa, we are less exposed to fashion trends and paparazzi fuelled ‘it-couples’ for the G-Class to become an everyday item, making it a head-turner for those in the know. Social cues apart, the new G-Class has LED daytime driving lights which aside from looking good, improves visibility and consequently, safety. As an optional extra, a stainless steel bull bar with protective grilles for the headlamps can be added at R11,000 and can alter the exterior looks depending on your preference.
* Prices as at date of publishing
As we drove into Inanda through the muddy heritage route, the G-Class was presented with its first challenge. The steep-sloped mountain roads were drenched and the G63 AMG with its low-profiles struggled more than its little brothers to gain traction, but made for an exciting drive nevertheless.
The G-Class Mercedes-Benz comes with three different engine configurations. The G350 BlueTEC has a 2987cc V6 diesel engine which produces 155kW and 540Nm of torque, whereas the G500 and G65 AMG models both come with a 5461cc V8 monster providing 285kW/530Nm and 400kW/760Nm of torque respectively. All three engines had more than enough power to handle the slippery-slide upslopes en-route, but the real test was to be the High-Stakes off-road course we would be taking on.
Upon arrival at High-Stakes, my fellow drivers and I quickly made our way to the 4X4 course, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous after seeing the course laid out in front of me. The central part of the course looked more like a bog than anything else, and the hills steep and unforgiving. This was the test I was dreading, but also looking forward too.
Rearing to go, I jumped in the first G500, and made my way down the course. The first obstacle was a steady hump of rock and gravel which the G500 chewed up and spat out without breaking into an oily sweat. Driving to the next obstacle, I switched to the D3 gear setting (which is still low-range, but
the gear ratios aren’t as short) which improved comfort on the less-harsh parts of the terrain. Moving down and into the bog, D1 was engaged (full low-range). The 21cm ground clearance as well as the three fully lockable differential locks located at an easily accessible spot in the middle of the centre console would come in handy. But alas, by only engaging the rear difflock, the G-Class made mincemeat of this part of the course, but would the incline ahead pose the greatest challenge? The answer–well, without engaging any of the diff-locks, the G500 strolled up the near 75 degree slope with ease, making this novice off-road driver look like a pro!
The course completed, it was time to set off back to the airport via the freeway. As I get into the G63 AMG, I once again notice and appreciate the plush interior. We
are creatures of comfort, and the die-hards would say that the less fancy electronics there are, the fewer things will go wrong, but the interior of the G-Class is right up there with other Mercedes-Benz interiors, and I feel that there is no reason to drive uncomfortably for the sake of avoiding possible problems.
As I put my foot down on the accelerator, the V8 AMG roars into life. Let’s face it, the G-Class is probably the least aero-dynamic vehicle on the road (except perhaps for a stray iron-ore truck), so for it to have a 0-100km/h time of 5.4 seconds is quite astonishing. It does have considerable power, but it handles like a vending machine on roller skates, with a lot of body roll. With it being an AMG, it will also burn a hole in your pocket because of its fuel consumption. A combined cycle of 13.8 l/100km is said to be achievable, but as far as I am concerned, the actual figure should be more towards the 17 l/100km mark. It is a comfortable drive though when just cruising, and by the time I got to King Shaka International Airport, I was sad to see the G-Class go.
Overall, I rate the G500 the highest of the three models. The G-Class has gained a Cult-like following because of its functional exploits, but the G63 AMG with its no-grip low profiles kind of makes you question why anyone would buy it then. If it is to be used as a road car, there are many different other options to choose from with much better consumption, handling etc. Whilst the G63 AMG might only be a status vehicle, the G350 BlueTEC and G500 can get down to serious business, but also provide the driver with comfort and luxury. The prices are excessive, but it is sure to keep the G-class in the ‘privileged’ bracket, and that’s exactly where prospective buyers want it to stay.