• The G-Class first came to market in 1979.
• In 2019, it celebrated 40 years of production, which spawned the 'Stronger Than Time' model.
• The G 400 d 'Stronger Than Time' retails for R2.8-million.
• For more motoring stories, go to www.Wheels24.co.za
It's the year 1979 and Mercedes-Benz revealed unto the world something never seen from the three-pointed star before. Called the Gelandewagen, the G-Wagon, or G-Class, saw the light for the very first time and captured imaginations - and wallets - of eager buyers. It became an immediate success, and over the next four decades, the G-Wagon grew in stature, size, and brutality. But through it all, the design remained steadfast to that of the original, with very little change brought about as it faced the years head-on.
In 2019, the G celebrated its 40th birthday, which necessitated the great German automaker to bring a special model to market. Called the 'Stronger Than Time' model, the SUV was a celebration of what made the Gelandewagen such a formidable vehicle. A tip of the hat to the vehicle that began Merc's SUV assault. It was a recognition of the insanely competent off-road capabilities the G was endowed with.
Perhaps 'was' is the wrong choice of words, because the SUV finally made its South African debut in the latter half of 2020 and spent the recent December holidays with the Wheels24 team.
Why the delay?
Until the G 400 d's local launch in 2020, the G-Wagon lineup's only option was the brutal G 63 AMG. Powered by a bi-turbo 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine, the SUV is achingly fast for its size and will demolish just about anything in its path. It really is that impressive. But the lineup lacked a diesel option, and Mercedes-Benz South Africa deliberately delayed the diesel's launch as it waited for the 'Stronger Than Time' shipment to arrive. Things were on course until Covid-19 and lockdown happened.
It threw the plans into disarray, but the local arm's team could salvage something and launched the G 400 d in late-2020.
The diesel, it is believed, will find favour with a larger portion of the buying public and having this special model will surely increase the uniqueness of what's on offer. The test team found a liking to the big G and lauded it for blending past and present in a contemporary package.
Is it all good?
If you know anything about the G-Wagon, you'll quickly point out that this could be one of the best vehicles ever made. Off-road enthusiasts praise it for its impeccable manners off the beaten track, while status-aware drivers want to be seen in nothing else. It offers something for everyone, but it's not without fault.
For starters, the doors must be shut with a bit of force, with the metal clunking as it closes. The same applies when you open the door: grab the handle, press the button, pull, and it opens with a clunk. Lock the doors - via the remote, manually from inside, or automatically when pulling away - and it sounds like a jail cell door slamming shut. It's not very calming, but you soon find yourself in serene comfort as you set about your journey. To a large extent, this comfort makes up for the rather loud entry.
The sheer opulence immediately strikes as you clamber inside the well-specified interior. The leather seats provide ample support, while the front units are offered with electric adjustment, as well as memory and massage functions. Both the front and rear seats are fitted with heaters, but the front offer cooling ventilation, too. The rear seats can be adjusted manually, but do not fold completely flat when transporting larger items. The sunroof is just big enough to allow open-air freedom to the front passengers, leaving one wondering why a panoramic unit wasn't fitted.
The test team highlighted that Mercedes-Benz used a previous generation of its multimedia system in the G 400 d. While functional, the system is not as intuitive and modern as the latest one that is fitted with 'Hey Mercedes'. Regardless, it was a breeze navigating through the various menus and their respective settings.
The big G's driving dynamics is one aspect where it's always been praised. For a vehicle weighing 2472kg, it's surprisingly sturdy and near immune to strong winds and bumpy backroads. This inspires confidence behind the wheel and leaves the driver with an ease of mind that you are well-protected - no matter the road conditions. During our more than 1200km sojourn with the G 400 d, we drove the G-Wagon over various types of terrain covering tar, gravel, and a mild off-road adventure.
On national roads, the SUV felt planted. When an overtake must be executed, lay on the throttle and the 243kW/700Nm 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine moves the big SUV will surprising ease, despite a bit of turbo-lag. Various driving modes - Sport, Comfort, Eco, Individual - allow drivers to adjust the drivetrain's mapping, with all modes allowing the G to put all its power down when the throttle is mashed into the floor. Steering is nicely weighted as well, and is there rarely the sense that you are commanding one of the heaviest and aerodynamically inapt vehicles on-sale in South Africa today.
Venturing out to the Sandveld region, some 250km North of Cape Town, we tackled a familiar gravel road that was sure to test the G's dynamics. Sadly, the loose gravel unsettled the G-Class a fair bit, which drastically reduced the confidence the SUV has been exhibiting up until that point. Days later, on a different gravel road with a sturdier surface, the G showed improved dynamics and easily ran at 120km/h. The permanent four-wheel-drive setup aided the SUV in that regard, but it showed that even a legend can sometimes buckle.
Over the month we drove the G-Class, fuel consumption has been its biggest Achilles heel. Mercedes-Benz claims an average economy of 9.6-litres/100km, allowing for a theoretical range of 1042km on its 100L fuel tank. Driving at 120km/h, the G 400 d's consumption will hover between 12.0- and 13.0-litres/100km; 14.0 if there's a headwind. At 110km/h, it drops significantly to below 10.5-litres/100km. While not encouraging, it made sense given the SUV's weight.
When the G-Class first came to market, it was a revelation. It became the standard-bearer against which all future 4x4s and off-road machines would be measured, given its credentials and legacy. For 40 years, the SUV remained at the pinnacle of engineering genius, and the G 400 d 'Stronger Than Time' is a cherry on top for that legacy.
It made us realise that the G-Class, despite the modern touches, is as timeless as they come. On the surface, it retains its heritage, while under the metal - literally - it is endowed with all the latest gadgets, technologies, and trickery befitting a modern-day Mercedes. In that regard, the G-Wagon established itself as a no-nonsense SUV providing the best possible package to those wanting an unapologetic vehicle.
Price: R2 892 840
Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder, turbo diesel
Power: 243kW @ 3600 - 4200rpm
Torque: 700Nm @ 1200 - 3200rpm
Gears: Nine-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 6.4 seconds
Top speed: 210km/h
Economy: 9.6-litres/100km (claimed)
Maintenance Plan: Five-years or 100 000km
Warranty: Two years / unlimited km