When Mercedes-Benz loaned me a 2019 G550 earlier this month, I knew I wanted to evaluate it not based on the comfort of its seats (they’re great), its acceleration (it feels even faster than it is) or its crazy luxury features (active seat bolsters, configurable multicolor LED lighting, etc.), but rather on its capabilities and functionality as an overlanding vehicle.
To do that, I needed to evaluate this thing just like I would a G-Wagen from the 1970s: by taking it out to the desert of Moab and living out of it for 24 hours. In addition to testing out the suspension and all three locking differentials, somehow, someway, I was determined to sleep in this thing overnight.
Before diving in further, let’s get one thing straight about the G-Wagen: Despite its upright, boxy proportions, it isn’t a large vehicle. In fact, the G-Class is about as long as a 4Runner, but offers only 40 cu ft. of cargo room behind the second row to the 4Runner’s 50 cu ft. With interior dimensions barely larger than those of the new RAV4, it’s a stretch to even call this a midsize SUV.
When crashing in an SUV for a night, most people’s first thought would be to fold down the second row of seats and sleep in the rear cargo area. But the G-Wagen’s tiered floor design makes this difficult. When you fold the seats down, instead of being left with a smooth, flat, cavernous load floor, the G leaves three different levels, kind of like terraces. The main cargo area is perfectly flat, but just behind the second-row seat is a roughly 4-in tall by 4-in deep step up, and then the folded seat back leaves yet a third tier. Without even trying to lay down back there, I knew that this wasn’t a viable option.
My next thought was to try out the rear seat. While it isn’t notably cramped to ride in, the G-Wagen is a narrow vehicle, and you really feel this when you lay down across the second row bench. With next to no room to stretch out, I decided to give the driver’s seat a try.
The G-Wagen’s front seats are quite inviting … when you aren’t trying to treat them as a hotel bed. To see just how comfortable I could get them for sleeping, I extended the thigh supports all the way out, moved the seat bottom all the way back, reclined the seat back as far as it would go and relaxed the adjustable side bolsters to their widest setting. Ultimately, though, the tall bolsters made things untenable, and I laid here for about half an hour before I just couldn’t take the lack of room any longer. Maybe I should’ve given the passenger seat a go, since the lack of a steering wheel would’ve allowed for a little more space. But, getting impatient, I gave up on the front seat and decided that the also-cramped back seat was, in fact, the best option.
To make the back as homey as possible, I first wedged a fleece blanket between the second-row seat bottom and seat back. This served as a liner on the cold Nappa leather seat and acted as a buffer between my torso and the protruding seat belt buckles that otherwise would’ve been jammed into my side all night. Next I folded a comforter — longways — and laid it across the back seat, bunching the excess up around the door panels for added padding. Then I laid in between the folds and did my best to go to sleep.
It was probably the worst night’s sleep I’ve had in recent memory. Between being relegated to the fetal position all night and waking up freezing cold at 4 a.m., I was relieved when I finally saw the sun coming up over the La Sal mountains as a signal that this experiment had come to an end. Altogether, while an amazing luxury car and a capable off-roader, and despite its boxy proportions, a hotel room on wheels the G-Wagen is not. I’ll bring a tent next time. 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 a while, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.