G-Class: Still a star 33 years on
GEE, IT'S THE NEW MERC WAGON: Four versions of the 2013 Mercedes G-Class have just been launched in Zululand - this is the R2-million+ G63 AMG. Inter-city cruiser, social statement, go-round-the-world traction and tech.
Author: Les Stephenson
VALLEY OF 1000 HILLS – Zululand is a place of history; Mercedes’ Gelandewagen (aka the G-Class/G-Wagen), however, is a part of automotive legend that just refuses to age.
Place and machine came together this week in South Africa’s Zulu heartland, the G-Wagen a refreshed and re-engined version of the now 33-year-old but still ruggedly handsome 4x4 from Austria.
The pinched-nose Merc has kept the profile and chunky looks of its forebears; the Zululand hills which hosted the media launch and ride-and-drive... let’s hope they never change, either.
“The G-Class today,” Mercedes says, “is considered the top model among luxury cross-country vehicles and has provided the gene pool for the other very successful SUV’s built under the Mercedes-Benz brand.”
Land Rover, which has been showing its 2013 Range Rover to the international news media in Morocco for a number of weeks, might not agree...
The then almost-current G-Wagen (sorry, I just prefer that name to G-Class!) actually arrived in southern Africa back in April 2011, launched at The Valley of the Moon near Swakopmund in Namibia as a side salad to a huge right-hand drive order placed by Australia for military vehicles more than 2400 of them – which caused the factory in Graz to set up a special RHD production line.
That line is still going and now South Africa is benefiting from the arrival of the face-lifted versions of the same tough off-roaders with a choice of four engines, one of them the mighty 5.5-litre G63 AMG bi-turbo V8 with an ECO stop/start ignition system, which is comfortingly green for a mill producing 400kW and 760Nm of torque.
SPEEDSHIFT FOR FIRST TIME
Permanent all-wheel drive is, of course, a given across the range and boosts the acceleration of each version; the G63, however, is exceptional with a claimed 0-100 time of 5.4sec and a top speed of 210km/h; some might regard that as slightly indecent for what looks like an ungainly bundu-basher.
The AMG engine drives through an AMG Speedshift 7G-Tronic gearbox – for the first time in a G-Wagen – hooked to a low-range transfer box, its operation handled by a stubby, flat-topped and very simple floor shifter with low range invoked by an adjacent button.
Locking front, centre and rear differentials in solid axles hanging on a rugged ladder-type chassis are also part of the package; basically, equipped with the correct tyres, the G63 will go anywhere you point it, including up 100% gradients.
Now all you need is R2 047 000 for the most expensive current production 4x4 available in South Africa – though the price of the version I drove totalled R2 129 000, thanks mostly to the installation of a rear entertainment centre (R25 000), Distronic Plus cruise control (R15 500), AMG carbon-fibre trim (R35 000!) and two wire-mesh headlight guards – a bargain at R1 500 the pair.
The awesome sound of the G63’s exhausts comes free; along with LED daytime running lights and a unique nose design that includes two giant air intakes.
The V12 G65 AMG with its 1000Nm is only available in left-hand drive. Perhaps the Aussies didn’t want such a beast in the Outback...
OLDER THAN LAND ROVER
For history buffs, the prototype of the G-Wagen antecedes the 1948 arrival of arch-rival Land Rover by 22 years; the G1 in four and six-wheel drive was produced in 1926, the G3 in 1933 and the G4 – of which 57 were actually built – arrived in 1934.
The modern G5 arrived in 1967 but the real action started in 1972 when Mercedes and Magna Steyr signed a partnership and the first G-Wagen in a way less-electronic but equally rugged build hit the world in 1979.
Mercedes describes it as “a true off-roader with ground-breaking tech that has stayed true to itself for 33 years”.
The South African launch included a visit to the High Stakes 4x4 and off-road playground near Cato Ridge in KZN to show off the G-Wagen’s prowess on 40-degree gravel climbs, greasy grass and wet clay; apart from some amusing crabbing across clay that came perilously close to a tumble, the launch units scoffed at the challenges.
Easy meat for the Graz machines.
'FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH'
Performance and handling from the G63 on the narrow KZN backroads was also outstanding – a contradiction in terms for a big 4x4!
Mercedes SA said the face-lift from the cars launched two years ago was minimal. New standard features include blind-spot warning, parking radar, Distronic Plus constant-distance cruise control and a high-definition reversing camera. The standard electronic stability system has been completely revised and now includes trailer sway control and a HOLD function.
Selvin Govender, SA’s divisional manager for Mercedes-Benz Cars, added: "Our G-Class has been a force to be reckoned with for 33 years. Its latest evolutionary stage offers powerful state-of-the-art engines and further-improved luxurious appointments with the latest safety features.
“With the evolution of the G-Class over the years, the spirit of this off-roader has remained true to its form with the many technical, comfort and safety enhancements encompassing its rich heritage.
“This is evident by the G-Class being voted Off-Roader of the Year 23 times.”
BE AN INDIVIDUAL
New cabin appointments include a large info screen, new buttons for the differential locks, the new gear-shifter, revised instrument cluster and improved seats with optional fancy stitching on the leather.
Also standard across the range is a sophisticated Comand Online infotainment system, including satnav and Internet access. Red brake callipers and 20” rims are available in SA for the first time.
Further individualisation from the Mercedes Designo range is available to order – but the automaker still refuses to say how many G-Wagens have been sold in South Africa. “Every one imported has been sold,” was the coy answer. Given that almost all are tailor-order, that’s hardly surprising.
Two other engines are available in the 2013 G-Class - a new G500 5.5-litre petrol good for 285kW/530Nm and a G350 BlueTEC quad-valve diesel displacing 2987cc and capable of 155kW at 3400rpm and 540Nm from 1600-2400rpm.
Each has Mercedes’ 7G-Tronic Plus auto transmission which, though now in its sixth generation, has been thoroughly revised to optimise consumption and comfort compared with its predecessor, according to Mercedes.
As with all Mercedes-Benz cars, a MobiloDrive 120 maintenance contract is standard (not the workhorse G-Class Professional – optional five-year or 120 000 service plan instead).
*Look out for the G-Wagen in the upcoming ‘Die Hard 4’ movie. Wheels for Willis... or meanwhile go to Mercedes-Benz SA for more detailed information.
G 300 CDI Professional - R786 900
G 350 BlueTEC - R1 335 000
G 500 - R1 494 000
G 63 AMG - R2 047 000
History of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class