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An Early US-Market Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen Is Now Cheaper Than A New RAV4

Got your eyes on a practical compact crossover with plenty of space for your family, good road manners, a reputation for reliability and a price tag below the average cost of a new car in the U.S.?

You should probably buy a Toyota RAV4.

If not, perhaps consider a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, or Geländewagen, the rough-and-tumble off-roader initially intended for military use that evolved in the 1990s into a status symbol. The boxy Benz was imported to the U.S. for years by a small company from Santa Fe, New Mexico, before Mercedes realized that it really ought to be the one raking in profits. In 2002, Mercedes began selling a fully Americanized version of the G500 in its dealers, which greatly expanded the SUV’s reach by plopping it in showrooms from California to Maine, and every point in between.

Nearly two decades on, those early G500s are easy to find for less than $30,000. For the price of a RAV4 LE with cloth seats and front-wheel drive, you can experience the leather and wood grain-lined cabin, the upright driving position and the unmistakable door-closing clunk of the G500.

Now, a used G500 is not by any stretch of the imagination a rational buy. These 4-by-4s are tough and durable, at least in terms of their separate ladder chassis design, their trio of locking differentials and their robust 4-wheel-drive systems. However, they’re motivated by a complex Mercedes-Benz V8 — rated at 292 horsepower when new — and their basic design dates back to the 1970s. Comfort is not a G500 priority, and no amount of power-adjustable seats with massage or Bose audio can mask that.

Reasonably clean early examples run about $25,000, with slightly dodgier ones commanding a few grand less. They stand in marked contrast to the ones imported by Europa prior to Mercedes’ official introduction of the G-Wagen to the U.S. Those Europa trucks are slightly different with their untinted windows, older-design switchgear and bolt-on reflectors that helped them achieve Department of Transportation lighting compliance. They may be more basic, but they’re also rarer and more valuable.

Most official-import G-Wagens were swathed in colors from the German rainbow: silver, gray and black, though I’m partial to the dark blue on this first-year example, offered for about $24,000 in New Jersey. Its gray interior is light and airy, too.

Bear in mind that running costs will be much, much (dare I say much) higher on the G55 AMG, with its 349-hp hand-built V8, but this gray one in Connecticut has covered a hefty 260,000 miles, so it must at least be durable. Find a Mercedes-Benz G-Class for sale

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz is an author specializing in helping in-market consumers get the most bang for their buck -- and the best car, while they're at it. When not virtually shopping for new and used cars, Andrew can probably be found under the hood of a vintage classic that's rapidly losing fluids.

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