2003 G-ClassNew Car Test Drive
Mercedes-Benz has officially introduced its Gelandewagen to the U.S. The G-Class presents a utilitarian appearance with flat glass and flat body panels made of thick steel. It backs that up with its truck-based ladder-frame, permanent four-wheel drive, and a heavy-duty off-road suspension. The G prefix comes from the German word 'Gelandewagen,' which roughly translates to off-road car. The U.S. gets the top model, loaded with luxury features and the Mercedes 5.0-liter V8.
Its progenitor was born from a request by the Shah of Iran for some military vehicles. The Shah's existing military vehicles were too slow and cumbersome on normal roads, so Mercedes designed a sturdy utility vehicle that was ready for production by 1979. By then, however, the Shah had been deposed. Next, the Argentine army came to Mercedes, looking for an off-road car. Strained relations with Britain had prevented the Argentines from buying British Land Rovers, so there was pent-up demand. The current generation began production in 1989 and was revised last year, but overall, the looks haven't changed.
G-Class is available as one model: the G500 ($72,500).
The top model in Europe, it comes with leather seating, wood-and-leather steering wheel, power windows, seats, locks, heated front and rear seats, automatic climate control, navigation, six-disc CD changer, hands-free phone, and arc-discharge headlamps. It's powered by a V8 that generates 292 (DIN) horsepower and has permanent four-wheel drive, a low-range transfer gearbox, traction control and stability control. Equipment for the U.S. model is basically everything that Mercedes is currently putting on all its European top-line models, with the exception of the occasional specially built 5.5-liter hot-rod AMG-built engine. The G500 has got every power accouterment on it that the factory can add without slowing the already meandering production line.