The 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a soldier in a business suit. This boxy SUV icon has survived volatile fuel prices and war zones for more than 40 years, but a new model is just around the corner.
For now, the G-Wagen, as it’s affectionately known, is available in G550, G550 4×4², G63, and G65 forms, all of which are way more SUV than anyone needs. And that’s just fine with us, which is why the brash 2018 G-Class scores 5.4 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
So outdated that it’s cool once again, the anachronistic G-Class is somehow menacing, charming, and opulent all at once. The G in its name stands for “Geländewagen,” German for “off-road vehicle.”
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This year, the G-Wagen lineup sees a few minor color changes before it is fully redesigned for the first time since being suggested as a military off-road vehicle by the Shah of Iran (then a major stakeholder in Mercedes-Benz) in the 1970s. If these walls—or these galvanized steel panels—could talk.
The G-Class is largely hand-assembled in Graz, Austria, and it is as loaded with luxuries as it is with off-road goodies. The few who will explore its tremendous capabilities will no doubt be wowed by its solid axles and trio of locking differentials, features you won’t find on the brand’s far more consumer-oriented GLS-Class.
The lineup starts with a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 rated at 416 horsepower in the G550, but the 563-hp Mercedes-AMG G63 is the most popular. Hedonists can keep going with either the outrageous V-12-powered G65 or the G550 4×4² with its military truck-grade portal axles and factory lift kit. No G-Wagen is for the faint of heart, so why not go all in?
All three engines are paired to a 7-speed automatic and full-time four-wheel drive. Off-road, the G-Wagen comes into its own. Of course, most owners will stick to pavement, but these inherently basic underpinnings do little to isolate the outside world. The G-Wagen can be hurtled into a corner far faster than its top-heavy looks might indicate, but it relies as much on grippy tires and heavy doses of traction and stability control as it does the driver’s enthusiasm.
Inside, the G-Wagen is softer than its boxy proportions suggest. It’s not roomy—in fact, it’s a foot and a half shorter than the GLS-Class—but it is draped in leather and wood and a smattering of modern switchgear. The driving position is close to the windshield and offers a commanding view out, but nautical ride motions and constant steering corrections mean it’s not exactly a great highway cruiser. You’ll stop often for fuel, too—especially in the 12 mpg combined G65.
The G-Wagen isn’t modern in terms of safety tech, either, although it does have the requisite suite of airbags and stability-assist features. It lacks automatic emergency braking, something the next generation will no doubt rectify.