The old G-wagon’s quirks masked its shortcomings. Can the new one improve?
Earlier this year, for reasons that need not delay us here, I spent a few months blundering about in the old Mercedes-Benz G-wagon. It’s called the G-class by its creators, but it’s been the G-wagon to me for 40 years, so that’s how it’s going to stay.
The old car surprised me in two distinct ways: first, it was actually even worse than I had imagined. Save going off road, which it did so well as to actually remove a lot of the challenge, I can’t think of much at which it was even adequate. It didn’t ride, it didn’t handle and it wasn’t quiet. Staggeringly for such a large car, it wasn’t even that spacious. But what surprised me even more was how little I cared. It was a car to remind me that character makes up for a lot of technical shortcomings. The G-wagon oozes character.
So that was what I was most interested to learn about this G-wagon. How affected would the all-new one’s charm to ability ratio be?
New? It may not look it, but save for a handful of small components (sun visors, the tow hook and so on) it is new from one end of its blocky shape to the other.
Yet conceptually it remains old. Here’s a new car built by the world’s largest premium manufacturer whose board thought it a good idea that it should continue to be built on a ladder chassis, like a 19th century carriage. It should also continue to have a live rear axle and possess indicators that sit proud of the car despite the fact that modern legislation means millions had to be spent engineering them to descend into the car if hit by a pedestrian.
The major changes are that its chassis is over half as stiff again as the one it replaces, there’s double wishbone front suspension, rack and pinion steering and a 4-litre turbocharged V8 to replace the 5.5-litre supercharged V8 in the old G63. The interior is completely new with a perhaps too swish TFT instrument pack (if you can keep a ladder chassis, you’d have thought it could have kept analogue dials), but it boasts far more room, especially in the rear where it needed it most.
Any fears that the engine might be some kind of poor relation evaporate at the first press of the button. It is every bit as thunderous and, with 577bhp, more powerful. It endows the G63 with preposterous performance. And now it almost handles, too: certainly the alarming float and imprecision of the old car has gone so the steering wheel no longer feels like a rudder.
Most important are the improvements to comfort and noise levels: so long as you can put up with still atrocious fuel consumption, the G63 is now a relatively accomplished long-distance tourer, yet one that retains three fully mechanical locking differentials and a low ratio transfer box.
I’m happy to say this is a car of transformed ability, but happier still to report its charm remains undiminished. I just hope that Land Rover shows a similarly pure yet enlightened approach to replacing the Defender.
Mercedes-AMG G63 factfile
Engine 4.0 litres, 8 cylinders, turbocharged
Power [email protected]
Torque 626lb [email protected]
Power to weight 225bhp per tonne
Transmission nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Top speed 137mph