G-Class

History of the G-Class

Off-road or on the street, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is everything you’d ever want from an SUV

Words Marcus Dehnert
February 13, 2019
Off-road or on the street, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is everything you’d ever want from an SUV
Words Marcus Dehnert February 13, 2019

Birth of a legend: Mercedes-Benz entered uncharted territory in 1979 with the G-model. The off-road vehicle was designed on the one hand as a means of transport with extreme off-road capabilities and an emphasis on leisure, and on the other for tough everyday use, for example, in the industrial or municipal sector. A continuous advancement process began shortly after its market launch. That is the key to the lasting success of the G-Class.

Mercedes-Benz G-Class from model series 463, “EDITION30” special model based on the G 500. Photograph from the press release dated 2009.

Mercedes-Benz G-Class from model series 463, “EDITION30” special model based on the G 500. Photograph from the press release dated 2009.

Genes of the G: The line of tradition is as straightforward as the design: the G-Class has always remained true to itself and its values since 1979. This is also demonstrated by the new generation of the G-Class (fuel consumption, combined: 13.1-9.6 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 299-252 g/km*), which celebrated its premiere in January 2018: It is clearly recognisable as a direct descendant of the first G model. The G-Class has always preserved this unique DNA. And you can feel it in all SUVs of the brand with the three-pointed star.

Mercedes-Benz “G” model from model series 460. Photograph from 1979. There were four engines, two wheelbases and five different body versions available at market launch.

Mercedes-Benz “G” model from model series 460. Photograph from 1979. There were four engines, two wheelbases and five different body versions available at market launch.

Clear development target: “Integrating extreme off-road capabilities with outstanding on-road characteristics in one vehicle was the main job of the Daimler-Benz development engineers when the Stuttgart-based automotive company […] made the final decision to build an off-road vehicle”. That is what Mercedes-Benz wrote in the press kit for the premiere of the G-model in February 1979.

Fruitful decisions: In 1990, the 463 model series was launched, which featured a revised and refined interior plus permanent all-wheel drive instead of the on-demand all-wheel drive used up until then. Subsequently, eight-cylinder and even twelve-cylinder engines were used in the powerful and luxurious G-Class. They were the basis for the major international market success, which the latest generation continues from 2018.

Popular world citizen: At the premiere in 1979, the planners assumed there would be no more than 10,000 vehicles of the G-model per year. Today, some 20,000 of them come off the production line in Graz each year. In its fourth decade, the G-Class is more popular than ever with customers all over the world. This all-terrain classic is ideally situated for the demands of the future with the new 463 model series G-Class, production of which begins at Magna Steyr in Graz in May 2018. To mark the start of production, Ola Källenius, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG with responsibility for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development, commented: “The new G-Class raises the bar one notch higher in all the relevant areas – with regard to performance on and off the road as well as in terms of comfort and telematics. Our ‘longest serving’ model series is thus superbly prepared to continue to perpetuate its success story. To put it in a nutshell: the new ‘G’ is still a ‘G’, only better”.

From the mine to the summit: Off the road, the G-model treads nearly every path. Scaling a mountain summit is already part of the development programme of the off-road vehicle with the legendary test track of Steyr-Daimler-Puch on the Schöckl, the local mountain of Graz. Even special versions of the G for underground mining were eventually built.

Mercedes-Benz “G” model from model series 460, open vehicle. Photograph from 1979.

Mercedes-Benz “G” model from model series 460, open vehicle. Photograph from 1979.

G factor: The Mercedes-Benz G is an icon. The design, the optimal handling in terrain and on the road, the outstanding versatility and of course the Mercedes star on the radiator grille make it unmistakable today. However, until 1999 up to ten percent of the production output was sold in certain countries under the Puch brand.

Horse power: The G-Class is available with plenty of horse power. However, during the development phase the G had the name of a horse breed as a code name: the abbreviation “H II” referred to the robust and undemanding Haflinger, the mountain horse of South Tyrol, after which Puch had already named a successful off-road vehicle before.

All-wheel icon: The capabilities of the all-wheel drive of the G-Class come to the fore in particular impressive fashion off the road. As a result, the off-road vehicle follows a long tradition, which began with the Dernburg-Wagen of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) in 1907. In the second half of the 20th century, it was the Mercedes-Benz Unimog that first set standards in off-road terrain. Thanks to portal axles, this all-wheel jack of all trades has a particularly large ground clearance. This technology also benefits a number of special models of the G-Class, namely the G 63 AMG 6×6 (2013), the G 500 4×42 (2015) and the Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet (2017).

Luxury and performance: The story of the G is also the story of a transformation from an adequately powered climbing artiste with rather austere interior into a luxuriously appointed off-road vehicle with respectable power reserves. The 500 GE as the first G-Class with an eight-cylinder engine set the tone in this regard in 1993. It was followed by the top-of-the-range models the G 500 (1998), G 55 AMG (1999) and other AMG versions of the G-Class. An absolute highlight was the premiere of the G 65 AMG in 2012. Its V12 engine had an output of 450 kW(612 hp) and produced 1000 Newton metres of torque.

Technology without compromises: From the start, the developers relied on optimal technical solutions to combine maximum off-road capabilities and refined ride quality on the road. At the same time, the technical design of the vehicle was being advanced continuously. The three differential locks became standard equipment in 1985, the 463 model series with permanent all-wheel drive was launched in 1990, and a unique combination of driving dynamics and traction system became available in 2001. The new generation of the G-Class debuted a front axle with independent suspension as a first in January 2018 – while the off-road capabilities improved once again.

Racer and rescuer: The G cuts a great figure not only in tough everyday use and as a luxurious off-road vehicle. Its magic moments also included the overall victory in the 1983 Paris–Dakar Rally, as well as many successful missions in fire brigade, rescue and police services. Especially in the early days, municipal services and users with similar needs relied on the G-Class. Today, they also have other vehicles at their disposal – such as the versatile Mercedes-Benz X-Class (combined cycle fuel consumption: 9.0–7.3 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 236–192 g/km*).

Holy Father: Among the most famous G-models in general are the Vatican’s popemobiles. The first vehicle based on the G was built in 1980 out of a 230 G. Painted white and sporting the hallmark Plexiglas dome over the rear compartment, this G went down in history as the “Papamobile”.