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Mercedes G-Class 4×4 (1981 – ) expert review

By Martyn Collins, 15th May 2011

The verdict

The G-Class is the Mercedes that seemingly can’t be killed off, its appeal to rappers and premiership footballers signaling its return to the UK. Possibly the coolest off-roader on sale, the G-Class is unstoppable off-road, yet it’s well made and has equipment to match an S-Class.

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Expert rating:

3.6

Pros

  • Boxy styling
  • Old-school Mercedes build quality
  • Great off-road

Cons

  • Expensive list price
  • Unsettled ride
  • Footballers buy them

Full Review

1. Looks

Originally designed for the military over 30 years ago alongside the Land Rover Defender, the Mercedes G-Class has to be one of the most identifiable off-roaders on sale. The boxy, angular styling may have come before the era of aerodynamics but the overall look is Tonka-Toy tough.

Our rating: 4

2. Looks inside

From the inside, you’d be hard pressed to tell this design was over 30 years old. Okay, so the dashboard design, steering wheel and switchgear don’t look quite as modern as an M-Class but it all feels well made and the controls are simple to use. Despite the dark interior trim and leather, the upright design and big windows make the G-Class’s interior feel airy and spacious. Sadly, the controls for the air conditioning and the COMAND navigation system are too far down the dash, almost hidden behind the gearlever.

Our rating: 4

3. Practicality

You climb in the G-Class and as such it has an excellent, elevated driving position. The tall shape means there’s plenty of headroom and the seats are comfortable and supportive. Taller rear passengers might find rear legroom more of a problem, but the 480-litre boot is huge and is a practical shape despite a bit of wheel arch intrusion.  The rear seat does fold flat to increase space to 2250 litres, but it’s a heavy fiddly process. Sadly, the old design means that overall visibility is disappointing. The thick roof pillars make manoeuvres a bit of chore and whilst rear park distance control is fitted as standard, you’ll moan about the externally-mounted spare wheel and how small the rear window is.

Our rating: 3

4. Ride and handling

The mechanicals might be modern, but the G-Class feels definitely old school to drive. The combination of 18-inch alloy wheels and Panhard rod suspension make for an unsettling ride on typical UK roads. This isn’t helped by woefully imprecise power steering, which can make the G-Class feel much bigger than it is. A similarly priced, range-topping Range Rover Autobiography is much easier and more modern to drive.

Our rating: 3

5. Performance

There’s a choice of petrol and diesel power available, but there are just three engines. The range starts with the entry-level G300 CDI Professional, there’s the more sensible G350 CDi BlueTEC and the mad 500bhp, 5.4-litre V8 G55 AMG. Our car had the 207bhp, 2.9-litre turbo-diesel with the BlueTEC system that reduces harmful NOx emissions by around 50 per cent. Overall, the G350 CDi feels quick in spite of how heavy it is (3,200kg). The top speed is 108mph, with the dash to 62mph taking 9.1 seconds.

Our rating: 3

6. Running costs

The G350 CDi might be fitted with a modern BlueTEC equipped turbo-diesel, but the weight and boxy styling mean that it’s capable of just 25.2mpg on the Combined Cycle and Co2 figures of 295g/km are high too. Mercedes parts and servicing costs are not cheap either.

Our rating: 3

7. Reliability

The G-Class might be an old car, but it’s hand-built and feels far more solid than most modern Mercedes models on sale. The G-Class should prove to be both reliable and dependable.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

The G-Class comes from a time before crash tests, but it feels tougher than most rivals. All cars have electronic brakeforce distribution, stability control and front, side and curtain airbags.

Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

All G-Class models are well-equipped with alloy wheels, air conditioning, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, leather dashboard, leather trim, heating and cooling front seats, alarm, COMAND multimedia system with 4GB hard-drive, bi-xenon lights and an 11-speaker Harman Kardon stereo. Extras include rear DVD screens, a heated steering wheel and a TV tuner.

Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

The G-Class can’t really be judged alongside modern off-roaders. However, if you can afford it, there really is nothing like it and the fact it’s still on sale after 30 years is impressive.

Our rating: 4

Expert review 3.6stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality3
  • Ride and handling3
  • Performance3
  • Running costs3
  • Reliability4
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

Our recommendations

Best on a budget

G300 CDi

A posh van for wealthy builders.

Best-seller

G350CDi BlueTEC

Plenty of equipment and diesel power should cut down the running costs.

Blow the budget

G55 AMG

Giant-killing performance, but expensive to run.

The boxy, angular styling may have come before the era of aerodynamics but the overall look is Tonka-Toy tough