The big daddy of SUVs

2012-03-16 10:11

The word geländewagen means all-terrain car in German, so it’s no surprise that Mercedes-Benz named their monster SUV a Geländewagen.

It’s square, bulky, bland, 33 years old and a tree-muncher of note. And it’s been voted the best off-road car in the world – eight times. It’s also dubbed the Popemobile as the last three Roman Catholic popes had a custom-built, drop-top version as their official vehicle when roaming outside the Vatican.

A few months ago, the manufacturer released the latest model, the G 300 Professional, which I recently tested.

It’s clunky and has no remote to unlock the doors, so you go old school and use the key manually. A warning: when you turn that key, it sounds like a round of bullets being chambered as all five doors disengage.

The G-Wagen was designed as a military vehicle back in 1979, and not much has changed since then. If you think the vehicle will feature all the necessary modern conveniences of this era’s SUV, think again.

There are no sidesteps to help you get in, so I literally had to haul myself inside by grabbing on to the steering wheel. Not the most auspicious of moves.

It looks like a prehistoric fossil – and drives like one too. It’s so high off the ground, the taxi drivers were all below eye level. The nicest thing I can say about the G-Wagen is that it can take one through the toughest environment, be it on land or through water.

Besides that, I can’t imagine who would want to buy a car like this. It’s slow with a top speed of 160km/h, has no radio or any other mod cons you would find in the latest Range Rover or the BMW X5.

What bothers me most is the fact that it disposes 307g/km of carbon emissions – that’s nearly three times the tax emission threshold of 120g/km.

Inside, the ceiling is trimmed in white and grey carpet material, and the floor is covered in rubber. At least the seats are draped in leather. There definitely was no fashion guru involved in the material selection or design process.

There’s a huge box between the front two seats that serves no purpose because it cannot open. The space could have been put to better use as a storage compartment.

As simplistic as the design is, I was amazed to find the drive options to switch between low, high or all-wheel modes were electronic rather than manual buttons.

The G-Wagen is one of the few vehicles in the world to make use of three fully locking differentials.

This is a device to make the wheels turn at different speeds and the locking diff makes one or more wheels lock to send the right amount of power to the ones that need it most in sticky situations.

I managed to climb over pavements instead of making three-point turns, took it through some ditches and succeeded with a rock climb.

There’s no doubt this vehicle can make mince meat out of any obstacle. Serious off-road enthusiasts will adore it.

» Follow me on Twitter: @SpeedQueen

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