There's nothing quite like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class sports-utility vehicle. How many vehicles can say they were designed at the request of the Shah of Iran, have served as the official transportation device for the Pope, are used as military vehicles by nearly every major country in the world and are sold brand new fully swathed in luxury from car dealerships in North America?
Only one that we can think of: the G-Class. The G has been around for more than 30 years, although only since 2002 has the G-Class been officially imported by Mercedes-Benz. Previously, North American importation was through Santa Fe, New Mexico-based grey market importer Europa International. Since 2002, the G has been available new from Mercedes-Benz dealers, despite brief hiatuses.
Once expected to be replaced officially in the consumer market by the GL-Class sports utility vehicles, fans of the G protested and Mercedes-Benz relented. Thus, despite a history dating back more than a generation, the G-Wagen is still sold new. In fact, the venerable off-roader received an update for the previous model year that includes minor exterior tweaks, a more modern cabin and a new G63 AMG performance model.
One of the most rugged vehicles ever produced, the "standard" G550 features full body-on-frame construction, solid axles front and rear, three differential locks and copious plating underneath to fend off rocks. Underhood is a 5.0 liter V8 engine that puts out 382 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 391 lb-ft. from 2,800 to 4,800 rpm. It features a seven-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift manual-style shifting.
Inside, the G550 continues to show its age thanks to an upright windshield, limited shoulder room and blocky design. Yet its exceedingly well built and now features a new instrument panel and a center stack that brings the secondary controls into the 21st century. Standard equipment includes Mercedes-Benz's latest COMAND navigation, a harman/kardon audio system, a multicontour driver's seat with pneumatic bolsters and extensive premium leather trim.
New standard safety features include DISTRONIC PLUS, Blind Spot Assist and the parking aid PARKTRONIC with reversing camera. The ESP stability control system has been revised and now includes Trailer Stability Assist.
Most G550s are special order items. All are built under contract by Magna-Steyr at an assembly plant in Graz, Austria.
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is arguably in a class of its own given its very truck-like design, but it still faces competition from the Land Rover Range Rover, the Infiniti QX80 and the Lexus LX.