The Shah of Iran used to be a shareholder at Mercedes Benz of Germany. Back in the seventies, he saw a need for a military 4×4 sports utility vehicle so he asked Mercedes Benz to design one. Mercedes started working with an Australian military manufacturing company known as Steyr-Daimler-Puch to design an exclusive SUV nicknamed “G Wagon” (officially known as “Geländewagen,” German for cross-country vehicle). While it was originally designed for military and civilian use, it quickly became the darling of arms dealers and oligarchs because of its military background, exclusivity, and high price tag.
A massive research and development plan started shortly after collaboration. It included many excursions to the Sahara desert, Arctic Circle, and German coalfields. The hard work paid off. The G Wagon was ready to hit the market in 1979 with a couple options to choose. Customers could select between three body styles: a two-door short wheelbase convertible, a two-door short wheelbase wagon, and a four-door long wheelbase wagon. The body sat on a ladder chassis with three locking differentials underneath. Customers could choose different gas engines or opt for diesel depending on where they lived.
Mercedes Benz faced a problem shortly after development with lower-than-expected demand. The project almost came to a halt until Range Rover invented their luxury SUV. That forced Mercedes Benz to invest more in the G Wagon and start adding luxury items to their military looking vehicle. Some upgrades began in 1989 (the tenth anniversary of the G Wagon) where they added air conditioning and shortly later, a set of more comfortable front seats. They then decided to add heating capabilities, wider tires, wood trim, ABS, automatic windows, power antenna, and a luggage cover. You could tell that Mercedes was trying to compete not only with Range Rover’s luxury vehicle but also to attract a broader audience, especially with its high price tag.
G Wagon came a long way from being a military and potentially civilian type SUV to competing with luxury SUVs. It definitely started looking better after all its upgrades, but it had a big problem. The huge wagon was not quick. Mercedes decided to involve their AMG team to fix the issue and they sure did. They put a big 5.4 liter supercharged V8 under the hood which made it much faster. These days, you have an option of a V12 with 612 horsepower and 737 lb. ft. torque, so even though Mercedes Benz hasn’t changed the exterior look of the G Wagon much, they’ve certainly upgraded the engines to give the vehicle a better pick up. They also pair the engines with a 9-speed automatic transmission, locking differential, and a full time 4WD so you can certainly take this beast off-roading by adjusting the suspension thanks to the electronic adaptable suspension. This means you can change the stiffness of the ride with the press of a button. Off-road enthusiasts may opt for the G63 model which comes with the dedicated trail, sand, and rock settings, designed to provide a lower approach angle which explains the 20″ wheels standard which can be upgraded to 22″. This is when you know your SUV is built with luxury in mind. Most off-roaders opt for the smallest wheel size and largest possible tires to achieve the same goal as well as additional traction. G63 also comes with upgraded exhaust so you can certainly hear the amazing V8 sound once you start pushing it.
The steering wheel is still very truck-like, not as precise as any super sports car around this price range which would most likely have a lower center of gravity. They’ve done a ton of improvements so you have much more road feel now. One of the biggest challenges with the higher trucks is the risk of body roll and Mercedes Benz has done a great job minimizing it, making it easier for this heavy beast to take corners.
The 2019 G Wagon has some cool features. Almost all the changes previous to this model had been tweaks to the original, so nothing major until this year. The 2019 retains the iconic square design and is still body on the frame, meaning it’s a true truck, not a crossover. The body on frame is also longer than before which translates to almost 6″ of additional leg room in the back. Mercedes upgraded the front end of the suspension with independent control arm and an electric steering system. Some people aren’t a big fan of electric steering since it takes away from the driving experience, so it will be interesting to see how Mercedes overcomes this challenge.
Mercedes Benz S class is an all-time favorite. The exterior looks great but the interior is on another level. Mercedes took a lot of those internal pieces and moved them to the G Wagon. What’s more impressive here is found under the hood. G 550 and the G 63 both get a new 4-liter twin turbo V8, 9-speed automatic transmission, full-time 4-wheel drive, locking center, rear, and front differential. G 550 makes 416 hp and 450 lb. ft. of torque. The G 63 AMG comes with a hand-built twin turbo V8, making an astonishing 577 hp and 627 lb. ft. torque.
Another piece that was moved from the successful S class was the electronic adaptive suspension. One can simply change the damp control with the click of a button, depending on their driving situation. While this is a big SUV, body roll is at a minimum and comfort maximized. The adaptive suspension is an option for the G 550 but comes standard with the G63. This is yet another reason to go to the G 63. There’s something new called G mode which is designed specifically for off-roading. It changes the default 40/60 front and rear split to 50/50. Throttle mapping and suspension damping also changes with a button. This means you can quickly switch between a great on-road luxury SUV, to an off-road luxury SUV, even though most G wagon buyers may not be planning an off-road trip with their new ride. But if they do, the G wagon can certainly handle it. Mercedes equips the G 550 with the optional all-terrain Falken Wildpeak tires.
The new 2019 G Wagon maintained much of the old characteristics of the original G Wagon but with just the proper amount of finishing touches to make it a true luxury SUV. Mercedes is going to announce the price for the U.S. market later this year but the assumption is they’ll start at around $125k for the G 550 and $140k for the G63 AMG.
The G series is like a Rolex Submariner, well built and truly timeless. The original Submariner, introduced decades ago, doesn’t look very different from the one you can buy today. This is the same case for the G Wagon since there haven’t been many external changes to it over the past 33 years, but the internal parts have been improved, providing a better overall driving experience.