Becoming an icon is no small feat. Sometimes it happens by sheer fluke, but in the case of the G-Class, it happened thanks to a solid intention from the get-go. Introduced to the world in 1979, the G-Class was built as a rugged and uber capable all-wheel-drive vehicle. The ability to tame any terrain was a key point and hence the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen, translated as cross-country vehicle was born – and remains to this day. Add to this limited availability with celebrity-ownership and you have a winner. An expensive winner.
To celebrate 40-years of production as Mercedes-Benz’ longest standing series, the G 400d was created in a commemorative Stronger Than Time edition. It’s perhaps the most apt of names. In 2020, where most car segments and products were declining in demand and sales, the G-Class bucked the trend in South Africa, with heightened demand for a pricey product. It’s a G, that’s why.
The interior is a meeting place of analogue switchgear and digital instrumentation with Merc’s dual-screen layout finding a home here too, as it is in other higher end Benz products. The operating system is from the previous-generation models but that’s not disputing that it’s still happily at home here in the G, now offered with smartphone mirroring too.
Mercedes-Benz has managed to bring luxury to the G-Class interior without messing with the purposed nature of it. Those 3 diff lock buttons remain centrally positioned in beautifully finished silver that match the air vent surrounds and the iconic hand-hold on the passenger’s dash, finished in machined ‘STRONGER THAN TIME’ lettering.
The Nappa leather seats of our test unit are packaged options on teh Stronger Than Time edition featuring the full plethora of seat functions including electric operation, dynamic bolsters and massaging function. These make any long-haul trip even sweeter. Despite sitting quite upright in position, the driving experience is now less tiring.
Aesthetics are big business in a G-Class and Mercedes Benz offers choice leather combinations, many at no extra cost, from saddle brown, classic red, yacht blue - there's a host of options. These are extended to trim materials as well as, catering to the sporty with carbon fibre weave trim as well as things like metallic brush ore open-pore woods. The carbon fibre is a R67 000 option here.
Customisation is part of the reason you fork out near R3-Million for a G-Class so you can really build a well specced, go-anywhere, cred-bearing Merc.
The G 400d represents the latest and only non-AMG G-Class available in South Africa. It sports the smart and efficient inline 6-cylinder turbodiesel unit that also does work in the GLE among others in the Merc stable. It’s mated to the silky 9G-Tronic auto transmission and of course, power is sent to all four wheels. It is a superb powertrain with all 243 kW available below 3,500rpm rendering the G 400d much more usable and easy to drive than its brawny bigger brother.
It’s a smarter, more efficient package in the same head-turning, cred-bearing suit. The new G 400d drives with a heightened sense of modernity now. The steering exudes more feel, the ride quality is vastly improved and that inline six engine is beautifully refined. Only at speeds in excess of 100 kph is the whisper silence shattered by obvious wind buffeting across the boxy frame, straight-up windscreen and wing mirrors. It is a G-Class after all. Mercedes may have added a double wishbone suspension at the front among a number of other refreshing tweaks, but the boxy frame will always be at the mercy of science.
We turned in 11.9l/100km in our combined run with the G-Wagon, and what a refreshing site that was. Ask any G63 owner what their best fuel consumption figure is - it's nowhere near 11.9l/100km I can promise you that.
Attached to the ladder frame chassis, the G-Class retains the 3-differential, low range off-roading ability as always. Not many off-road vehicles are this well-equipped when it comes to the rough stuff. It was built like near 3-decades ago and this capability remains to this day.
The Stronger Than Time edition pays homage to the now 42-year-old legend and MBSA has chosen to offer this with most of the aesthetic, tech and luxury niceties within the price. Everything from the AMG-touches, the 20-inch multi-spoke black alloys, the black protection strips and mirror caps, the tinted windows and the Driving assistance package are all inclusive in this edition.
The only options are some really standout colours that cost near R100,000; rear seat entertainment screens; mud flaps; a silver-painted underguard plate and colour-coded outer ring of the spare wheel cover.
As far as G-Class pricing goes, it’s well specified for something that should hold its value decently. The Mercedes-AMG G63 is just shy of R500,000 more.
Competition? There's no direct competition really but G-Classes are considered next to other high-end SUVs, from Cayennes to Bentaygas, and spend about the same amount of time in urban, street jungle settings. The G is so very different to all of these, for good and bad reasons - and that's what ensures it remains a sought after property.
The G-Class for all its heritage and glory has always been a flawed product. Its shape and its ride were always compromised because of the boxy design and ladder frame chassis. But the new G 400d is now much better - at everything it should be. And just as good, at everything it always was.
There are indeed plenty cars out there that are more practical, more refined, more comfortable, more luxurious and more efficient than a G-Class. But none of these will realise the immense steadfast following and reputation that the G has garnered in 4-decades. It is the epitome of cool – and so it will remain, whether you like it or not.
*Interior Images courtesy of MBSA.