Still the G-randdaddy of 4x4

2012-11-21 00:00

MERCEDES-Benz yesterday launched three face-lifted models of the G-class at the Highstakes 4x4 track in Cato Ridge, but you are not likely to see any them at the dealerships.

For despite the entry level price tag of R1,335 million for the G350, the handful of G-classes that Merc SA imported have all been sold.

Selvin Govender, divisional manager for Mercedes-Benz cars, pointed out that this new-found popularity formed part of a bigger trend which has seen the 1970s design of the G-class framed in paparazzi’s lenses in Hollywood.

For despite this being the muddiest off-roader’s choice of 4x4s; and despite the G-class having won 23 Off-roader of The Year awards over the last 33 years, the people who buy them these days are mostly celebrities.

Most of them of course choose the optional Sports Package comprising 18-inch rims, more trim and an even better sounding exhaust, on sale in SA for R35 000.

Always keen to report on how the other half lives, I took first dibs on the key to the AMG63 on the media launch. In terms celeb watchers will understand, “it is like, OMG good”.

Seen in the rear view mirror, the most visible parts of the facelift are a new grill, daytime LED running lights and a bumper with large air inlets and aluminium trimming. From the side, red brake callipers and 20-inch wheels set the G63 AMG apart from the G350 and G500.

The real wow awaits on the inside, where the seats have been stitched by blond ladies and a new centre console sports ergonomic knobs, instead of the usual array of tiny buttons that have become a Merc design feature.

In a corner, the body roll in the G-class quickly reminds one the chassis was designed to overcome slippery slopes, not G-forces. This being a Merc, there is however never any danger of running out of talent, with the EPS cutting in early to put things straight.

Range Rover drivers can therefore relax in the knowledge that the Vogue handles a lot better, thanks to Land Rover’s active suspension. But G-class drivers will always have the bigger grins when they flip the flappy paddles to make the 5 461 cc, twin-turbo V8 engine howl again and again.

At the 4x4 track, we switched to the G350, riding on 265/70R16 alloys. A week’s rain had turned the black turf at Highstakes into a test even for tractors, and I was keen to see if the million-rand Merc would be better than the cheaper Land Rover Defender or Mitsubishi Triton — the only other 4x4s in SA offering three diff-locks.

Erwin Wonisch, an official test driver who has been taking successive generations of G-classes over Germany’s fearsome Schockl pass, was my co-driver in the G350.

Keeping it low and slow, the 2 987 cc, V6 diesel easily held the speed down the steepest sections. Going uphill, the engine delivered it’s 540 Nm at a just 1 600 rpm to give traction in muddy ruts, and I could lock either the front or rear axles on the roll to push or pull.

I had to lock all three diffs at only one incline, but it is a doozie that often has even the mighty Defender slipping. The G-class went up there so smoothly, it made rank amateurs look good.

Price* and power specs

G350, R1,335 million (155kW, 540 Nm from 1 600 to 2 400 rpm)

G500 R1,494 million, (285 kW, 530 Nm from 2 800 to 4 800 rpm).

G63 AMG R2,047 million (400 kW, 760 Nm from 2 000 to 5 000 rpm.

*Prices include VAT and emission tax.

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