The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is one of those SUVs that manages to turn heads every time one drives by because it looks so different from everything else on the road. Mercedes has left the design of its luxury off-roader largely unchanged since it was first introduced in 1979, but as the years have passed, the G-Class has been forced to pretend more and more that it’s a vehicle meant for the streets.
That’s no longer the case. With this version, Mercedes has dropped all pretenses that this is a vehicle to drive to the shopping mall and has outfitted it with all of the best equipment that’s available on the even more extreme, six-wheeled G63 AMG 6×6 and created the Mercedes-Benz G500 4×4².
The first thing that you notice about the G500 4×4² is that it sits high off the ground. Compared to the regular G550, there is more than twice the ground clearance. That’s nearly 18 inches of ride height, thanks partly to the use of Mercedes’s advanced portal axles. In a normal car or truck, the axle lines up with the center of the wheel, but with a portal axle, a set of gears allows the axle to sit above the center line of the wheel. That means the vehicle sits significantly higher.
Not only can an SUV with portal axles conquer more challenging obstacles, but it can also drive through deeper water. Mercedes claims that the G500 4×4² can safely be driven through 39 inches, or more than three feet of water. Part of that increased ride height is achieved with larger tires: Mercedes offers 37-inch off-road tires, as well as less extreme on-road tires for those who don’t need the maximum adventure every day.
Normally, larger tires would require a number of changes to the suspension, speedometer, steering column, and transmission to compensate for the larger wheel circumference and higher ride height. The portal axles, however, simplify that by allowing those to remain the same. The set of gears that allow the axle to sit above the wheel hub work a bit like a single-speed transmission, sending the necessary extra torque to the wheels without requiring major changes to anything else.
Mercedes hasn’t forgotten about ride quality, though, and it’s introduced an adaptive damper system to allow drivers to switch between comfort and sport modes. The system uses two struts per wheel, with one working like a regular damper; the other is electronically adjustable. Compared to a single-strut system, this allows for more significant changes to the ride characteristics. Don’t expect it to turn into a canyon carver at the push of a button, but it should at least be drivable on the road.
Things have been updated under the hood, as well. Mercedes has included a brand new twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 that makes 416 horsepower and 450 pounds-feet of torque. Letting the engine breathe are a set of quad side-exhaust pipes that Mercedes claims offer improved off-road ability over a rear exhaust setup. Whether that’s true or not, the side pipes definitely look awesome.
With a luxury car interior, twin-turbo V8, advanced suspension, portal axles, big tires, and a Mercedes badge on the hood, it should come as no surprise that this luxury off-roader doesn’t come cheap. The expected price tag is right around $200,000. That’s expensive even when you compare it to a top-of-the-line Range Rover.
Sure, it’s even more capable than the already-capable G550, and being able to ford a three-foot-deep river is awesome, but wouldn’t a Jeep Wrangler be just as effective? You could put $50,000 in modifications on a Wrangler, have perhaps an even more capable off-roader, and still save more than $100,000.
The thing is that buying a $200,000 vehicle isn’t a rational choice. People don’t save up money to buy a car like that, whether it’s a Porsche 911 GT3, Bentley Continental Flying Spur, or even a Mercedes-Benz G500 4×4². This is an SUV for customers who want something exclusive. A modified Jeep Wrangler makes more rational sense, but at the same time, a Jeep Wrangler is still far too common.
If you have the money to buy a $200,000 SUV, you want something that not just any 16-year-old might park at his high school, and you want something that not all of your friends already have. For that, the Mercedes-Benz G500 4×4² will do quite well.
If you ever see one, it will likely be on the street, but like the Jeep Wrangler, the G500 4×4² is a vehicle that was built to go off the road, on adventures that lesser vehicles could never attempt. Keeping either vehicle just for daily driving would be a shame. Hopefully, if you do see one on the street, there are a few dings, some scratches, and enough dirt to let you know that the owner uses it for its intended purpose: heading into the wild and going somewhere awesome.
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