REVIEW | The 2021 Mercedes-Benz G400d demands respect
What cements the iconic reputation of a vehicle? Its capability in the metrics for which it was designed to excel? Well, there are a number of examples that were critically acclaimed but went on to become commercial flops. Sales performance has some role to play – but on the other hand, one could reference many famed specimens in the motoring world produced in tiny volumes.
Or maybe, it is the aura and mystique created by fans and enthusiasts over decades? When the original Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen (terrain vehicle in German) was born in 1979, it had been intended for the demands of military application, though it was available in civilian format from the start.
The look and feel of the model revealed unmistakable kinship with the hardy warhorses from the Mercedes-Benz heavy-duty vehicles arm. Beasts like the Unimog, for instance, a far cry from the luxuriously-appointed sedans of the era. We once had a chance to ride in a 1980 representative of the breed, fully kitted for use in the Austrian fire department. It had a working siren – which we were forbidden to use – and driving it was quite a labour, but enjoyable nonetheless.
This year the Geländewagen turned 42 years old, making it one of the longest-standing nameplates to wear the three-pointed star. Except today it is called the G-Class, having adopted the naming convention of its stablemates in the passenger vehicles division of Mercedes-Benz. And today, it is far less likely to be procured for the purposes of military-related overlanding: in fact, you have better chances of seeing a G-Class milling around in Melrose Arch, than you do out in the wilderness. Especially if the model in question is the G63, that rumbling, angry square with side-exit exhausts, massive wheels and accoutrements specific to the Mercedes-AMG catalogue.
But this week we are in the G-Class with a more sensible persuasion. The G400d, which is less of a burbling bruiser and more of a vehicle you might actually want to use for the purposes of mashing terrain in the great outdoors. Mercedes-Benz used to sell the G-Class in basic Professional grade, with steel wheels, a stripped-out, barren interior and barely any creature comforts. But now the G400d is your entry point into the range and there is certainly nothing entry-level about it. Not even in the slightest.
The interior is swathed in diamond-quilted leather, like butter to the touch and just as comfortable as planting your buttocks in a bathtub of unsalted Lurpak. What never loses its empowerment factor is the seating position. Front occupants are perched high, with clear sightlines out of those rectangular windows, surveying mere mortals in regular-sized hatchbacks and sport-utility vehicles. Fellow road users – even the usually stubborn GTI drivers – move over quite swiftly for the G-Class.
Be advised that you should adjust your expectations before taking the wheel. The G-Class is comfortable, but lacks the dynamism of brethren like the GLE-Class or GLS-Class. Nor does it offer the cloud-like ride that might be experienced in one of its siblings equipped with pneumatic suspension. Remember, the G-Class uses a body-on-frame construction, with a fairly rudimentary suspension that does little to quell lateral motion. In other words, it has a propensity to jiggle. It also amplifies wind-noise, which is an unavoidable caveat, given that it has the aerodynamic properties of a small building. Performance from the 2,925cc, turbocharged-diesel, six-cylinder is generous, with 243kW and 700Nm, shunted to all four corners via a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Any shortcomings endured on tarmac are quickly forgotten after a left turn onto dirt, where the G400d confidently treks along, taking brisk gravel driving into stride. The real fun starts when the path makes way for deep, ridged ruts, jagged rocks and muddy banks. There is just about no obstacle the G-Class cannot conquer, thanks in part to its trio of differential-locks, a trump card which not many off-roaders can lay claim to. One also loves features like the exposed door hinges and the chunky door latches that clasp together with a satisfying, tactile click.
Though it has evolved for the modern age, it is admirable, endearing even that the G-Class has clung to the core ingredients that earned its progenitor a formidable reputation. At R2,633,000 before options, it commands quite a premium if you are drawing comparisons to similarly rugged alternatives like the Land Rover Defender 110 (from R1,248,500) or Jeep Wrangler four-door (from R799,900).