When it comes to SUVs, the modern car dealership is stacked with countless models from every manufacturer that ever has been. There are more new SUVs being sold in Australia every year than any other type of car.
Nonetheless, there are only two icons that can claim they have been around long before SUVs were the mainstay of pop culture and the primary choice of everyone from families to social elites – the Land Rover Defender and the Mercedes-Benz G-Class (or G-Wagen as the Germans call it).
While Land Rover has brought a new Defender to life, which brings the robust and capable model into the modern age, the car remains a cheaper alternative for those that are happy to stay more in the mainstream.
The Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen on the other hand, is the equivalent of a Birkin bag on wheels. It exists because its a visual representation of its owner’s desire to be different.
It doesn’t matter how capable or excellent it is at doing the things it’s designed to do, what matters is that it’s a G-Wagen and all you have to do is open and close the door to realise how silly it is, and why it’s so easy to fall in love with it.
If you’re wondering why the G-Wagen is an icon, it’s important to look a little deeper into the model’s history. In the same way that the much loved Volkswagen Beetle was the creation of a German dictator (you know the one) and Ferdinand Porsche, the G-Wagen also came about first and foremost in the thoughts of another dictator.
Long ago before the religious revolution in Iran, the Shah (king) of the middle-eastern nation owned about 25 per cent of Daimler-Benz, the then parent company of Mercedes-Benz. As you would imagine for a king, he was not exactly enjoying getting around in a Jeep, which led him to ask the German company to make a military-style vehicle befitting a king, and the board of Daimler agreed.
The project was envisioned and approved by the Shah of Iran and Mercedes-Benz handed manufacturing over to Austrian company ‘Steyr-Daimler-Puch’ – now known as Magna-Steyr since its acquisition by Magna international in 2001 – where it is still manufactured today.
The first-generation launched in 1979, the same year as the Iranian revolution which saw the King become a little less alive, meaning he never got to enjoy his G Wagon. Thankfully for the rest of us, the G Wagon has become the modern day anti-hero of SUVs. It’s the ultimate ‘bad-ass’ SUV.
Optioned in black, with super dark tinted windows and a red leather interior, there are not many more iconic vehicles to step out of. No matter how you look at it, since its inception in the 70s, there is an undeniable level of excellence and allure about this Austrian-made, German-owned and Iranian-inspired vehicle that nearly 40 years on, remains the envy of all SUV manufacturers.
Let’s be real though, that envy and that allure is really for the fire-breathing twin-turbo V8 Mercedes-AMG G63. Does the diesel G400d possess the same appeal and if not, does it provide appeal in different ways to justify its existence?
The G400d is the more sensible choice for those that would perhaps want to do long distance driving and appreciate the incredible torque, reliability and durability of the Mercedes-Benz diesel engine. Unlike its more in your face city-dwelling G63 brother, the G400d should appeal to those who’d consider taking their very expensive G Wagon off-road and frequent rough and unsurfaced roads.
The 2022 Mercedes-Benz G400d retails for $233,900 before on-road costs, and is on sale now. That puts it $56,000 below the the bi-turbo V8-powered Mercedes-AMG G63 which is priced from $289,900 plus on-roads.
Realistically, the G400d will be around $250-260k on the road if you don’t go too crazy with options, while the AMG G63 (if you can even get one) is now well and truly into the $320-330k bracket.
That might seem expensive – and it is – but if you look at it a little closer, there is $17,799 of GST and $37,990 of LCT in the G400d, while the G63 gets $22,351 of GST and $53,013 of LCT added in.
The pricing doesn’t include stamp duty which on a G63 is another $26,000 in a State like Victoria.
Apart from the prestige of owning a G-Wagen, the G400d comes with a whole list of standard features, including:
- 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster
- 12.3-inch infotainment system
- Satellite navigation
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wired)
- DAB+ digital radio
- 15-speaker Burmester surround sound system
- Power-adjustable, heated front seats
- Leather upholstery
- Tri-zone climate control
- Nappa leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Semi-autonomous parking assist
- Matrix LED headlights
- Single-pane sunroof
- Tyre pressure monitoring
- 19-inch alloy wheels
However, it does miss out on some features that we found would be super useful in a G-Wagen, like a head-up display and keyless entry.
Now if you’ve never opened the door of a G-Wagen you would perhaps find it useful to know its not like a regular modern car door. It’s an old school push-button door handle meaning you have to push a button in and grab the handle to open it – this should, however, not limit the ability for it to proximity unlock, which would be super useful.
If you have young kids, they will likely struggle to open or close the big, heavy doors. The force required to properly slam the door shut is rather resounding, but car enthusiasts the world over can recognise the sound of a G-Wagen door being slammed shut as one of the most satisfying automotive noises in existence.
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on testing conducted by Euro NCAP in 2019.
It received score of 90 per cent for adult occupant protection, 85 per cent for child occupant protection, 78 per cent for vulnerable road user protection and 73 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety equipment on the G-Class includes:
- Autonomous emergency braking
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Lane-keep assist
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Driver attention monitoring
- Traffic sign recognition
- Adaptive cruise control
- Surround-view cameras
- Front and rear parking sensors
To be fair, our G-Wagen had a rather plain and somewhat bland interior package.
We would never spec a black-on-black G-Wagen, specially given the option for a nappa leather two-tone classic red scheme, or if you’re a little more conservative, the nut brown leather and macchiato beige options are stunning.
Basically anything but black for the cabin.
In saying that, if a black interior can look this good, you know you have an amazing base to work with.
The G-Wagen isn’t up-to-date with the latest in Mercedes-Benz’s interior technology and the older COMAND infotainment system does feel a little dated compared to the MBUX interface available even in the entry-level A-Class. Not having things like wireless Apple CarPlay is a bit of a bummer, but the 590W Burmester audio system makes up for it.
We found the front seats to be super cushy and ideal for the type of car that the G400d is. It’s an ideal place to be for long distance drives and given this car might find itself off the bitumen, it makes sense.
The second row is equally as comfortable as the front but not if you have three up. Ideally this is a four-seater unless it’s for short drives.
The boot isn’t exactly huge either, measuring only 454L (VDA). It will fit things including large prams or a month’s worth of groceries before you start to feel cramped, though.
Unlike the latest Land Rover Defender, you can’t option a third row of seats, either.
The Mercedes-Benz G400d is powered by a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel inline-six producing 243kW of power and 700Nm of torque, channelled through a nine-speed automatic transmission.
The G400d uses a claimed 9.5L of diesel per 100km, which may sound like a lot but when you consider the car weighs a hefty 2489kg (kerb). During our test we managed around 10.6L/100km, but we weren’t exactly driving it economically either.
It’s easy to dismiss the G400d as a ‘poor man’s G-Wagen’, but the 3.0-litre ‘OM656’ diesel engine is actually the most powerful diesel engine the German company has ever made this side of Daimler Trucks.
As such it offers pretty decent acceleration, hitting 0-100km/h in just 6.4 seconds which is about as quick, if not quicker, than most modern hot-hatches.
It’s rather soft compared to the G63 but that’s the point.
By that we mean it tends to lean a fair bit into corners if pushed too hard and really doesn’t possess the sporty personality (or sound) of its AMG sibling.
The G400d is designed to go off-road and invade neighbouring countries. If you are coming out of a previous-generation G-Wagen, the new model is miles ahead in that it drives like a car rather than a military truck (even though it still has some of that in its DNA).
We found it to be super cushy on the road, gliding over speed bumps without any complaints.
This would make it the ideal car to drive on poorly-surfaced country roads or for those that venture out to rural properties but want a luxury dual-purpose vehicle for both city and country driving.
It has three differential locks (front, centre and rear) making it rather capable off-road, further aided by its 283mm ground clearance. You’d really have to love your off-roading to take a nearly $300,000 handmade SUV into the bush, though.
The 3.0-litre diesel is super smooth and its 700Nm of torque is always on tap thanks to the nine-speed automatic.
There is occasional turbo lag from when the accelerator is fully pressed to when the party starts, but it’s a typical characteristic of a turbo-diesel, even one as good as this.
Interestingly, it costs a little more to service the G400d than the V8 petrol AMG G63 due to the additional maintenance requirements of a diesel engine.
Service intervals for the G400d are yearly or 20,000km and cost $3350 for a three-year service plan. Mercedes-Benz also offers four- and five-year plans for $4950 and $5700 respectively.
That compares to $2600 (3 years), $4350 (4 years), and $4950 (5 years) for the AMG G63 with the same service intervals.
Mercedes-Benz also covers its line-up with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre factory warranty.
Unless you really love the idea of long distance commutes and need the off-road capability, it’s really hard to recommend the Mercedes-Benz G400d over the AMG G63 even with the $56,000 saving.
The G63 not only gets the much better engine, but also scores a standard Nappa leather interior, AMG exhaust and suspension, plus those gorgeous 21-inch wheels. Not to mention the AMG body kit that really makes the G-Wagen a G-Wagen.
The problem is, you probably can’t get a G63 for over a year if you were to order one now, if not much longer. So if you can’t wait, the G400d is a good second choice.
The G400d is actually, by far, the more logical choice between the two as the G63 is a brute and a totally ridiculous SUV, but who has ever bought a G-Wagen for logical reasons?
Click the images for the full gallery