The G-Class is available through the Mercedes- Benz dealer network for the first time in 2002. But being hard to get before made it a major object of desire for discriminating off-roaders. But now that this boulder-hopper is more accessible, has it been worth the wait?
Well, if your idea of a real SUV is one that combines the heft and solidity of a bank vault with the prowess of a mountain goat, and then tops it off with the refinement of an $80,000 luxury sedan, then the 2002 Mercedes-Benz G500 is what you’ve been waiting for.
Its boxy shape and flat windscreen, reminiscent of late 60s, early 70s era Toyota Land Cruisers, looks right at home parked in front of a Frank Gehry-designed building, or camp-side in the Australian outback. Its rugged body-on-frame construction and solid axles at front and rear have long been a staple of serious off-road vehicles.
But leave it to Mercedes to take it to the extreme. Because the G500 is also outfitted with three locking differentials at the front, center, and rear. And it’s the only SUV sold in the U.S. so equipped. Activated by three dash-mounted controls, locking the center differential splits the torque 50/50 front to rear. Locking the front or rear differentials splits that torque again evenly from side to side. This gives the G500 those mountain goat characteristics we spoke of earlier. Mercedes claims the G500 is capable of climbing 80% grades. And can handle lateral slopes up to 54 percent. For handling situations not quite so extreme, the G500 has electronic traction control, and ESP stability control.
But the G500 is more than just a serious off-road stump jumper. Swing open its heavy, vault-like doors and you’ll discover the interior is stuffed full of trimmings taken directly from the posh S-class. That includes heated 10-way power adjustable leather seats, facing a wood and leather wrapped power adjustable steering wheel. A Bose 9-speaker Premium audio system with 6-disc CD changer and GPS navigation system are also standard. And so are the dual-zone automatic climate controls and 5-speed automatic transmission with Touchshift for manual shifting. In the back, your passengers will also enjoy heated seats, which fold and flip to give you a total of 79.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Surprisingly, this upper crust civility carries over to the G500’s highway manners as well. Holding the rigid axles in place are longitudinal and transverse links with coil springs and gas shocks at the corners to even out the ride. And while we wouldn’t call it car-like, the somewhat bouncy ride quality is comparable to the most popular domestic truck-framed SUVs.
At the track, the G500 behaved as expected, with a fair amount of push on turn ins and a moderate amount of body roll. But the G500 feels so rooted to the pavement, you don’t feel as though you’re being tossed around. What you do feel are tired forearms and a cramped calf muscle in your right leg. As in keeping with its serious off-road nature, the recirculating-ball power steering and accelerator pedal are heavy and stiff.
Mash that pedal to the German metal floor, and 60 MPH comes up in 10.2 seconds. Not too shabby for a nearly 5,500 pound truck. Supplying the go is Mercedes’ aluminum 5.0 liter, SOHC, 24-valve V-8 that produces 292 horsepower and 336 pound-feet of torque. It’s a variation of the same engine found in the S500 sedan and the new ML500 SUV.
Bringing the G500 to a stop is up to Mercedes’ standard 4-wheel disc braking system that includes ABS, Brake Assist, and electronic proportioning. We averaged stops from 60 in 129 feet.
So now the million dollar question. How much will it cost to put Mercedes’ ultimate off- roader in your garage? Well it won’t be quite that expensive, but base price is still a hefty $73,165. Our tester, with the optional and way pricey $1,800 chrome brush guard, rang up to $74,965.
But despite its nearly unparalleled off-road capabilities, don’t expect to see the 2002 Mercedes-Benz G500 at your local mud bog or rock hop. This thing is about livin’ large and being seen. And should you live in a neighborhood full of Hummers and Range Rovers, the G- Wagon can put you over the top. Literally!
Engine: 5.0 Liter, Sohc, 24-valve V-8
Torque: 336 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 10.2 Seconds
60-0 MPH: 129 Feet
EPA Mileage: 13 MPG City 15 MPG Highway