When the Carthaginian army crossed the Alps into Italy, taking the fight to the Romans on their own turf, it would become one of the ancient world’s most famous military achievements. Hannibal’s use of armoured elephants as shock troops to send the well-disciplined Roman forces into disarray should have been a masterstroke, but the charismatic general forgot one important thing.
Heated leather seats.
Happily, here we are twenty-two centuries later and Mercedes has got everything nicely sorted out. Care for a pachyderm-sized machine capable of crossing a snow-capped mountain without freezing its trunk off? That’ll be the Geländewagen then.
The G-wagen is, it has to be said, a slightly embarrassing vehicle to drive at first. The elephant analogy works here too – any normal person would buy a dog or a cat, but if you’re keeping an unnecessarily huge heffalump at home as a pet, then you’re making a statement through conspicuous consumption. “Look at me!” says the G-wagen, “I can not only afford to buy one of these things, I can afford to keep it fuelled!”
The AMG versions are particularly grotesque, especially the G 65 with its twin-turbocharged V12. How much? Somewhere north of a quarter-million dollars. Yeesh.
And that, my friends, is completely ridiculous. It’s an erosion of the go-anywhere ideals that created the G-wagen in the first place. I can see why Mercedes-Benz does it, of course: if loons are willing to throw fat stacks of money at you, you don’t build a wall, you run and fetch your biggest butterfly net. M-B doesn’t even bother putting up a proper online configurator for the G; this thing sells itself.
So, rumbling around in a thirty-seven-year-old garden shed with an MSRP starting at $127,200 requires a bit of a mental readjustment. If ostentation isn’t your thing, then buy something less showy, like a Ford Raptor or a decommissioned main-line battle tank. However, if you like your vehicles big, boxy and Ge-landular, then here’s the first rung on the ladder towards your eventual membership in some kind of European crime syndicate.
Mercedes updates the G-wagen with extreme care, making sure not to gloss over the beast’s quasi-military feel with too much luxury content. Thus, we’ve got light LED stripping out front and a few very mild tweaks to the exterior shapes, as well as light improvements to the interior. The infotainment screen looks modern; the grab bar in front of the passenger does not.
On the one hand, there’s something likeable about just how goofy this thing is. The huge doors clack open like the hatch on a Panzer; the rear door is absurdly heavy to move with that tire bolted onto it. All the seats require a bit of climb to get into, and the rear seats are reasonably cramped.
Form and function: The (Real) History of the Mercedes Geländewagen
The front windscreen is nearly completely vertical, and visibility is pretty good for all passengers. The view out the back isn’t so good, what with that giant rear tire, but at least you get a backup camera. However, the glare from the stainless steel casing of the tire surround washed out the camera a bit. I had to just hope people would hear the rumbling of the mountain and move out of the way.