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First drive: Benz gives G-wagen another go

Go anywhere... again: Australian defence contract prompts Mercedes-Benz to bring back the G-Wagen for public sale.

Mercedes G-class returns to Australia with starting price of $161k

Mercedes-Benz logo8 Mar 2011

By MATHIEU RAUDONIKIS

G-WAGEN. It is the vehicle of choice for military forces around the globe, has been the basis of the Popemobile, has won the legendary Dakar Rally and it is coming back to Australia for another attempt.

The rugged 4x4’s selection for the Australian Defence Force fleet has prompted Mercedes-Benz to resume sales of the civilian version through its Australian dealer network, 13 years after the original vehicle was discontinued.

The G-class is the longest-running passenger car series in the history of the three-pointed star. Released in 1979, it has achieved more than 200,000 sales over more than 30 years of continuous production, but its previous sojourn in Australia was not so successful.

The G-class, G-wagen or Gelandewagen, as it was originally called, was sold in Australia between 1983 and 1988. At that time, 4WD vehicles were fairly rudimentary pieces with light-truck chassis, live axles and leaf springs being the common design base. Interiors were basic.

That agricultural 300GD Mercedes-Benz was equipped with a 65kW diesel engine and a price tag of $39,500 – considerably more than the 1983 Range Rover that cost between $25,900 and $32,774, depending on specification.

With such a high price for a basic workhorse, the G-wagen did not last long in Australia, and was discontinued in 1988 when the top-spec model sold for close to $88,000, still way more than the far better equipped Rangie.

4 center imageFrom top: G-Class in 2011, G-Class Popemobile and an Australian Defence Force G-Class.

Mercedes-Benz Australia must be hoping for a new buyer for its rugged off-roader as it brings the model back Down Under, but the modern G-class owner will again need to be well heeled.

The G arrives back in 2011 in two specifications starting with the G350 BlueTec diesel at $161,680 and on to the G55 AMG at $217,230.

This time, a buyer could have a Range Rover Sport and a Land Rover Defender for the price of the base G350 or a Rangie Vogue with the works for the price of the AMG G. Or a Mercedes Benz GL350 CDI and a Jeep Wrangler for a weekend plaything.

But the G-class has come a long way since the last time it was offered here, and the 2011 model is potentially the most off-road-capable production 4WD on the market.

Three body variants are available for the G overseas, including a soft-top and short-wheelbase model, but Australia will receive only the five-door wagon.

The five-seat body rides on a ladder chassis with coil springs and live axles both front and rear, giving plenty of wheel articulation. In this regard, it is comparable to the Defender or LandCruiser 76 wagon, both utilitarian workhorses.

The four-wheel drive system is Benz’s permanent 4ETS with electronic differential locks on both axles, as well as the centre diff.

This feature, plus low-range gearing, gives the G-class its impressive off-road credentials. 4ETS also supplies electronic traction control when the differential locks are not engaged, plus the safety of stability control.

While the body and chassis are old-school, the diesel engine in the G-class represents the latest technology from Mercedes-Benz. The G350 BlueTec is the first Benz passenger vehicle in Australia to use AdBlue to reduce emissions from the diesel engine. AdBlue is a urea solution that when injected into the hot exhaust system releases ammonia to convert up to 80 per cent of the nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the exhaust into harmless nitrogen and water when it reaches the SCR catalytic converter Only a small amount of AdBlue is required, and Mercedes Benz claims that a single tank of AdBlue is good for about 12,000km or until the next service interval.

This technology has been used in heavy trucks for some time, so should an owner ever have to top up the AdBlue, it is available from highway truckstops, as well as Mercedes dealerships. On the G-class, the tank is filled via an opening beside the fuel filler.

BlueTec has reduced the NOx emissions from the turbo-diesel engine in the G350 by around 50 per cent to 295grams per kilometre, and the engine meets Euro 5 emissions regulations.

Fuel consumption is claimed to be 11.2 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. The engine itself is the familiar 3.0-litre V6 used in other Mercedes vehicles, albeit with the BlueTec system.

In this application, it produces 155kW at 3400rpm and has 540Nm of torque between 1600rpm and 2400rpm. The diesel is backed by a seven-speed automatic transmission.

The $215,000 G55 features the hand-built by AMG supercharged 5.5-litre petrol V8. Although this engine has been superseded in other AMG vehicles by the naturally aspirated 6.3 V8, it powers on in the sports version of the G making 373kW at 6100rpm and 700Nm between 2750 and 4000rpm.

This is enough to propel the G55 from 0-100km/h in 5.5 seconds, something you will never do in a Defender or LandCruiser.

Fuel use for the G55 is quoted at 15.9L/100km – impressive for a 2.5-tonne wagon with the aerodynamics of a freight liner and the power of a locomotive. The G55 forgoes the seven-speed transmission of the diesel for a five-speed unit.

The body retains the boxy yet iconic design that has served it so well for more than 30 years, yet the modern G-class is anything but agricultural once you climb inside.

Power leather seats with memory, satellite-navigation, power sunroof and modern audio and air-conditioning systems surround the passengers in semi-luxury, even though the seating position is high and upright. There is no seven-seat option.

The Australian Defence Force has recently taken delivery of the first vehicles in an order of 1100 G-class vehicles in a variety of configurations using both 4x4 and 6x6 drive systems. This military order of vehicles spawned the public reintroduction of the G.

While the diesel-only army vehicles will not have the leather and luxury of the civilian model, they will get used to the fullest of their ability.

2011 Mercedes G-Class pricing:
G350 BlueTec (a) $161,680
G55 AMG (a) $217,230

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