We drove the Mercedes 400 G d: an icon which remains THE off-road technological benchmark…

The “G-Class” is with us since 1979, when in 1972 with a collaboration agreement between then Daimler-Benz AG and Steyr-Daimler-Puch in the Austrian city of Graz resulted in the development of an off-road vehicle which has since been honed and further developed in one of the world’s best off-road cars – ever. We drove the latest 400 G with the six cylinder in line 330 HP Diesel engine. As superb as it will ever be. Just read further!

An iconic shape…

All-wheel drive and 100-percent differential locks have also been part of the “G” since that time, as has the robust ladder-type frame. Also its external appearance has not changed significantly since 1979.

Iconic elements continue to serve very specific purposes, now as then, and to give the G-Class its unique appearance. All these are still found in the new G-Class: the distinctive door handle and the characteristic closing sound, the robust exterior protective strip, the exposed spare wheel on the rear door and the prominent indicator lights. We just loved them, as it was easy to judge were the edges of the car were.

The design of the G-Class follows the philosophy of “Sensual Purity”, as Mercedes puts it, and at the same time remains true to the character of the original. As a result, the door hinges positioned on the outside and the surface-mounted bonnet are carried over to the new generation. With the latest update, however, the faithful G body has grown quite a bit: it is now 53 mm longer and especially 121 mm wider and this results in even greater presence, on the road as well as in terrain.

All surfaces have a more taut design and are have more tension, while the surface quality has been taken to an even higher level. So the “G” is now cast even more of “one piece”, and the meticulous design results in wheel arches and bumpers now forming a more integral part of the body and thus looking less like add-on features.

Top notch exterior trims…

From 1 September 2020 onwards, the standard equipment is even more extensive. At the same time, there are also more personalization options available through the “G manufaktur” programme. New exterior colours and equipment packages as well as the widescreen cockpit, which now comes as standard, round out the offering. We will discuss the interior later.

The G 400 d is now also freely configurable…

Popular is the so-called “night package”, which was found on our test car. It comprises heat-insulating dark-tinted glass, outside mirror housings and radiator grille (including louvres with the surround of the Mercedes star) in obsidian black metallic, as well as darkened turn signal lamps, reversing lamps and headlamps.

If the G-Class is ordered with a matt magno paint finish, which was the case with our test car, the package can be configured as the Night Package magno. In this case, the corresponding add-on parts come in the colour night black magno. The Stainless Steel Package continues to be available with spare wheel cover, running boards, door sills and loading sill protection in stainless steel and adds a painted spare wheel ring and an exterior protective strip with trim insert in a pinstripe look to the Night Packages.

The new 20-inch 5-twin-spoke light-alloy wheel available exclusively for the AMG Line has a high-sheen finish and is painted in a choice of high-gloss black or himalaya grey. We liked them too…

The cabin: high-tech with a pleasant vintage touch…

Let’s start with the vintage part: the pleasant upright seating position, the magnificent visibility over this angular body. I own a vintage Suzuki Samurai Jeep, and although everything in the “G” is just much bigger, I find the same plain and flat window screen and the same straight windscreen wipers, for instance. Yes, above the glove box of my Samurai is also the big grab handle for the passenger, as found here in this G 400.

But that’s where every comparison ends. Because the digital MBUX (Mercedes Benz User Experience) has also now made its entry in the G-Class. The widescreen cockpit is now part of the standard equipment in all G-Class models. So, everything is totally familiar when you are already acquainted with this MBUX system.

The two 12.3-inch displays blend visually into a Widescreen Cockpit beneath a shared glass cover. Drivers can choose between three different styles for the displays – “Classic”, “Sport” and “Progressive” – and also select relevant information and views according to their individual needs.

The design of the iconic indicators is found again in the shape of the loudspeakers. Hallmarks of the G-Class include – as said – the grab handle in front of the front passenger and the chrome-highlighted switches for the three differential locks.

Thanks to haptic impulses and audible feedback from the on-board speakers, we could use the touchpad with controller in the centre console without taking their eyes off the road. Top notch.

The seats are of course a class of their own when it comes to creature comfort. Features include the Memory function for the driver’s seat, seat heating front and rear, as well as luxury head restraints in the front. This ride comfort can optionally be boosted still further with the Active Multicontour Seat Package. In addition to the special multicontour seats, this encompasses such features as various massage functions, climate-controlled seats, and fast seat heating. Need we say more?

Driving the G-Class on- and offroad: a driver’s dream.

The G-Class is on tarmac a supersmooth performer, with superb comfort. Thanks to the new suspension, introduced in 2018, which emerged from the collaboration between Mercedes-Benz G GmbH and Mercedes-AMG GmbH.

The result is an independent suspension with double-wishbone front axle in combination with a rigid rear axle. When redesigning the suspension, the focus was also on even beter off-road capacities and greater rigidity. The components of the double-wishbone front axle are therefore directly mounted to the ladder-type frame without a subframe. The lower wishbone’s attachment points on the frame in Z-direction are positioned as high up as possible. So front axle ground clearance is an impressive 270 mm. The result is a sublime ride. Also thanks to the well controlled live rear axle.  In contrast to the predecessor, the new rigid axle is controlled by four trailing arms on each side and a Panhard rod. Indeed, maximum comfort on the open road.

À la carte: “Comfort”, “Sport”, “Individual” or “Eco” …and last but not least: “Desert!”

As is familiar with other cars of the brand, also the G-Class can be suited to your driving mood. The four programs “Comfort”, “Sport”, “Eco” and “Individual” , and yes, “Desert” can be set via the DYNAMIC SELECT rocker switch. Characteristics of the engine, transmission, suspension, steering and assistance systems are adapted at the driver’s behest.

The “Desert” mode makes the G-Class fit for sandy terrain with a perfect interplay of late upshifting, direct throttle response and adjusted ESP® control.

But there is more: the “G-Mode”  The G-Class changes to “G-Mode” independently of the chosen driving mode as soon as one of the three differential locks has been activated or the LOW RANGE off-road reduction gear has been engaged. When your G is equipped with adjustable damping, that is. This off-road mode adapts the adjustable damping of the chassis and the steering as well as the accelerator characteristic, avoids unnecessary gear shifts and thus ensures optimum control and maximum off-road capability.

Besides offering a superbly comfortable ride, thanks to the new front axle design, the on-road performance of the G-Class and its agility and steering precision is faultless, and it is truly in a class of its own. On the road, the “G” is as agile as it is comfortable, and genuine driving pleasure is to be had. The steering is now electronic, and provides excellent feedback and steering “feel.” Its excellent behavior on the open road is one of our biggest surprises we had when driving this “G”.

Superb mechanical refinement

This off-roader has a separate chassis, and this is already a prerequisite for nicely filtered vibrations emanating from its drivetrain. The “G” Class excels here again. The Diesel straight six is superbly smooth, inaudible even when starting from cold, only the subdued hum of a six cylinder will caress your ears. It is coupled to a 9 speed G-TRONIC automatic transmission with torque converter, which is adapted to meet the needs of this off-road icon. The developers have managed to reduce the shift and response times of the 9-speed transmission by means of a dedicated software application.

The result translates into absolutely smooth and fast changes, as said, according to the chosen driving modes.

The six cylinder diesel has output of 243 kW (330 hp) and maximum torque of 700 Nm at 1200 to 3200 rpm. Pulling power at low revs is what counts, and as you see, this “d” has plenty of it. It accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in merely 6,4 seconds and pushes you further to a top speed of 210 km/h. More than enough to satisfy most of us mortals, we would think.

This diesel, derived from the 350 G, succeeds also in bringing genuine economy to this opulent off-roader. The manufacturer quotes a combined fuel consumption of 8.9-8.7 l/100 km, with combined CO₂ emissions being 235-229 g/km.

Driving with restraint and anticipation in “Eco” mode, it was no trouble at all to reach 9 liters/100 km even in dense urban traffic conditions, which is no small feat! Of course, it took a gentle foot on the accelerator, as you can imagine.

Conclusion

The Burmeister sound system adds a dramatic backdrop to your scenic drives…

The 400 G admirably withstands the test of time. It has grown into a unique classic icon, embodying simultaneously all the possible technical refinements modern automotive technology has to offer. There is even more: it excels not only on the open road, it stands out also when… there is no road at all, and will even take you to the desert!

This is a car every traveler in history would have wished for, a car Marco Polo would have dreamt of.

It is a Mercedes in the truest form, actually. It will accompany you for decades – if need be – into your automotive life, offering room, comfort, go anywhere performance with even rather good economy in the diesel version. Superbly engineered, it will never let you down, offer you decades of dependable service.

This excellence comes at a price, but remember, a lot on this car is hand finished. If you look at its long service life, the value it will retain over the years, you will discover it is actually rather sensible. Of course, electrification lures around the corner. A plug-in hybrid version would not surprise me for the not too distant future…

Would you like to know my secret wish now? Have a drive in one of the early examples of this “G”, have a feel of its so honest ruggedness and spirit. Must be awesome too…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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