A few weeks back, I took a 2019 Mercedes-Benz G550 down to Moab for a bit of camping and off-roading. Between the 4-hour drive south and the trails I explored in and around Moab, I got to thinking about how the G-Class fits into the current American 4×4 landscape from a functionality and capability standpoint, relative to all of the other off-road-ready trucks and SUVs on sale today. Here are four different sub-categories of off-roaders that I’ve made up off the top of my head, along with my take on how the G fits into each one.
Super Premium SUVs
As the G-Wagen starts at about $130,000 and reaches around $180,000 in fully-loaded G 63 AMG guise, it’s worth first comparing it to other stratospherically-priced SUVs like the Bentley Bentayga, the Lamborghini Urus and the Rolls Royce Cullinan. These vehicles are all without any kind of off-roading pedigree and are designed primarily for on-road use though, so from the standpoint of getting dirty, the G stands alone in this bunch by a long shot.
There are really only a couple of other vehicles out there that are on the G-Class’s level with regard to off-road image. The two big ones that come to mind are the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Ford F-150 Raptor. The G is obviously more expensive, more luxurious, and more special to ride in than either of these, but it isn’t as functional or as reliable as the Land Cruiser, and it isn’t as much fun to rip around in as the Raptor. So now with "Take a G-Wagen to Moab" checked off my bucket list, I think in the long run I’d prefer either the Ford or the Toyota for my off-road exploits.
A Front Locker
One thing that sets the G-Class apart are its standard locking center, rear and front differentials. Out of all of the 4x4s on sale in the U.S. today, only five offer a front locker. These are the Rubicon trims of the Jeep Wrangler and the Jeep Gladiator, the Ram 2500 Power Wagon, the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 and the G-Wagen, with the G again being by far the most exclusive out of the bunch.
Functionality and Utility
This is the one area in which the G-Class kind of falls pitifully flat. Despite its imposing road presence, the G-Wagen really isn’t that big. As far as other body-on-frame SUVs in its size range go, you’ve got the Toyota 4Runner, the Lexus GX460, and the 4-door Jeep Wrangler. In terms of cargo room, the G is pretty tight, offering only around 40 cu ft. — just eight more than the Wrangler Unlimited, seven less than the GX and 10 less than the 4Runner (also worth noting is that the G feels even tighter in person, as its tall proportions mean that a lot of its "cargo volume" comes in the form of vertical space).
Additionally, while the 4Runner’s second row folds down in line with the rear cargo floor to create one flat plane all the way from the rear bumper to the front row seat backs, the G-Wagen’s second row folds down, but not flat, leaving an awkward 3-tiered load floor. Not very functional.
Finally, despite being supremely luxurious, the G’s interior is not designed to take a beating. While the Wrangler and the 4Runner use durable plastic throughout, the G 550 is laden with Napa leather and open-pore wood trim, which are not the kind of surfaces you want to be wiping down with whatever cleaning products you found under your sink after a weekend in the dirt.
While I won’t fault you for dreaming of building an overland-ready G-Wagen, rest assured that a 4Runner TRD Off-Road with KDSS is an objectively better choice, even at less than a third of the price. Imagine that — the one you can afford is better than the one you can’t. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
While the average person doesn’t consider a G 550 or G 63 AMG for its off-road credibility, no real car enthusiast can deny that even with its recent polishing, the G still offers bonafide off-road chops. Its looks are iconic, as are its three standard locking differentials. That said, while it offers a true low-range 4-wheel drive system and excellent geometry, making it way more capable than any of the other ultra-premium SUVs on sale today, it isn’t as durable as your every-day Wrangler, it lacks the functionality of the 4Runner, it’s not nearly as much fun to drive as the Raptor, and it’s almost certain to fall well behind the Land Cruiser in terms of reliability. Make no mistake — the new G-Wagen is special and taking one off-road in Moab was surreal, but most of that was due to the fact that using one as an off-road toy just doesn’t make sense, for reasons that extend beyond the price tag. Find a Mercedes-Benz G-Class for sale
Chris O’Neill grew up in the Rust Belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for awhile, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.
MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
Video | The 1998 Lincoln Navigator Was the First Big Luxury SUV
Video | The 2003 Audi RS6 Is Amazing and Horribly Unreliable
Autotrader Find: 1994 Porsche 911 RS America With 5,200 Miles