Mercedes-Benz G-Class (1990-2017)

By Jonathan Crouch

Models Covered

5dr SUV (3.0 V6 diesel, 5.5 V8 petrol)


Solid as a rock, tougher than granite and impervious to the sands of time, there’s nothing quite like a Mercedes G-Class. Politically incorrect, hugely expensive and compromised on-road, it won’t satisfy those simply after a Range Rover or Mercedes GL-Class-style luxury SUV. But those in search of the most awesomely capable off roader money can buy will love the thought of owning one.

The History

You know the real thing when you see it and, when it comes to off roading 4x4s, this is the real thing, the Mercedes G-Class. The ‘G’ stands for ‘Gelandewagen’, which roughly translates as ‘go anywhere car’, ‘go anywhere’ in this case meaning just about any inhospitable part of the globe you can think of, from the Sahara desert to -53-degrees C in the Siberian Arctic. Ordinary luxury SUV buyers, in other words, need not apply. And yet they do. Over thirty years after it was originally launched for Cold War military use as well as civilian transport, the G-class these days enjoys a new lease of life as a fashion icon you’re as likely to find on the Kings Road as in the Kalahari. This hand-built off-roader is the longest serving passenger car in Mercedes-Benz’s 120-year history, with a track record that includes everything from the transportation of two Popes to an outright win in the gruelling Paris-Dakar Rally.

Three decades have seen this car successfully overcome any obstacle it has encountered – including obsolescence. Which is why it’s still going strong, offered in modernday form with a choice of six cylinder diesel or in wild AMG form with petrol V8 power. The concept behind the ‘Gelandewagen’ was first mooted to Mercedes by the Shah of Iran in 1970 and civilian versions arrived in 1979. The ‘463’-series model we look at here was first launched in 1990 and sold until 2018, when the car was thoroughly re-engineered for the modern age. It’s the pre-2018 G-Class model we look at here as a used buy.

Only a Land Rover Defender could rival this SUV off road, a utilitarian alternative with feeble diesel power that few would want to run as everyday transport. The Gelandewagen, in contrast, manages to be just as capable, yet at the same time as powerful and luxurious as any Range Rover. It is, quite simply, unique – but then uniqueness can take many forms, not all of them desirable. Let’s check this car out.

What To Look For

The G-Class is built solidly, but that doesn’t mean all models are problem-free. In our ownership survey, we can across reports of prop shaft failure, evidenced by a heavy shuddering or shaking when driving. If the G-Class you’re testing exhibits this, walk away. There are two key areas of the G-Class that are susceptible to corrosion: the tailgate and back lights are particularly known for rusting. If you hear a cracking noise coming from the sunroof on your test drive, beware. The cable that helps open and close the sunroof goes through a hose which can dismount from the motor frame, causing the noise. Finally, check for signs of over-enthusiastic off roading. There are known issues with the suspension springs breaking after heavy ‘off piste’ use. If you hear a loud thumping noise when you are driving over speed bumps or rough, it’s probably caused by faulty suspension springs.

On The Road

We can see why celebrities and the super-rich stump up supercar money for one of these. There’s nothing quite like it. The door with its fat black button opens and shuts like that of a bank vault. Inside, you sit higher up than in any other 4x4, looking down imperiously upon a sea of pretend SUVs not fit to soil this Gelandewagen’s mud flaps off the beaten track. HGV-style bonnet-mounted indicators mark the corner perimeters of a square stolid shape guaranteed to severely frighten any unfortunate supermini you bear down upon in the fast lane as at the wheel, you command both the road and your destiny. Just as a Ferrari makes you feel like Fernando Alonso, in a G-Class, you’re suddenly a UN Peacekeeper in Sarajevo or in command of an Iraqi combat unit clearing insurgents on the road to Falujah. Brilliant.

And as long as you approach the driving experience in this frame of mind rather than expecting this car to be some kind of Range Rover or a Mercedes M or GL-Class model, all will be well. It’s only when you return to the real world that you begin to notice the slow-witted steering, the wind noise from the massive door mirrors and the vague body control that makes sharp cornering something of an inexact science. Mercedes tried to do something about this by sharpening up the springs on UK models, but arguably only made matters worse by adding to this roster of faults a choppy ride liable to throw you out of your seat if you get a little over-enthusiastic through the sharpest tarmac bumps and dips. It’s difficult to park too, as whether you look back through the rear window or through the reverse parking camera, virtually all you can see is that huge rear wheel.

No matter. The military surplus feel arguably adds to the whole experience, wearing though it might become were you to have to use this G-Class for everyday commuting. But of course, this isn’t a commuting car. It is instead, the final jigsaw piece for many a millionaire’s ultimate multi-car garage, not to sit inside with the Maseratis and the Maybachs but to guard the place parked out in front, covered in muck, battered happily by wind and rain.


Whether you want to make a really big statement with your choice of large SUV or you simply want the most capable, road-sensible off roader there is, the Mercedes G-Class offers a money-no-object solution. With a design dating back to the Seventies, it may be old in concept, but it remains classily cool with an appeal remaining undimmed against the changing fads of automotive fashion.

Yes of course the high pricing is difficult to justify. And you could spend far less on a larger, more practical and better handling luxury SUV. But G-Class buyers want something more than just another luxury SUV. They want something exclusive. Something unique. And something more capable in the world’s toughest terrains than just about anything else on four wheels. It’s at home anywhere, from Afghanistan to the Amazon, from Kensington to the Kings Road. And it is quite simply, unique.