Mercedes-Benz G500 4×4 [Squared]. DRIVEN

January 09, 2017

The Mercedes-Benz G500 4×4is the most extreme off-roader from the company since the three-axled 6×6. But how does it stack up? James finds out with a ‘nil’ by road’ thrash through the desert.

  • Check out the original post on HERE and pdf coverage from evo Middle East HERE

EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightBasic Price
V8, twin-turbo, 3982cc416bhp @ 2,250 - 4,700rpm450lb ft @ 2,250 - 4,700rpm7.4 secs210kph2,996kg (139bhp/ton)$236,500

It’s as I make the crest that the whole world seems to disappear from under me.

You join evo at Fossil Rock, a stone’s throw from both the Hatta mountains and the Sharjah border. A hub for off-road fanatics across the region, Fossil Rock and the neighbouring Jebel Maleihah stretch for close to 15km from the main highway at its northern most point to Mount Alvaah at the south, a mix of rocky outcrop and undulating desert sand untainted by track or road. It’s ideal 4×4 terrain, offering both stunning landscape and dicey, technical climbs where a deflated tyre out of place can lead to a barrel roll with terrifying ease. Top to bottom off-piste, it’s the perfect test of any off-road machine, including the Mercedes-Benz G500 4×42 here today.

And so far, our ‘nil by road’ adventure has been going well. We’re several kilometres in, and as the sun begins to dip in the sky, the desert sands – now tinged a gentle shade of orange – are starting to stretch ever more beautifully out in front of us. Even the Mercedes 4×42 is getting into the spirit, bouncing almost effortlessly from one dune to the next without need of towrope, support car intervention, or casual swearing from yours truly.

But one particular summit about 8km in has a surprise for me. It’s taller and considerably steeper than those we’ve traversed so far, requiring a longer run up and considerably more ‘grunt’ on the climb. And while the run itself is a one-shotter, as the three-pointed nose peaks its way over the crest, I’m met not with a gentle decline into the valley below, but a windscreen of blue sky and, from my perspective at least, a vertical drop straight into the centre of the earth. This is it. I’m going to roll…

Strange how the mind works in such scenarios. My thoughts turn not to the loved ones, precious items or magazine subscriptions I’ll leave behind, but to the ambition of today’s shoot. Why not a quick blast on the off(ish)-road scrubland by evo GHQ, where both the horizon and police rescue are within easy reach? Why the more ambitious journey into the ominously titled Fossil Rock where the sweeping sands and only occasional landmarks can leave one quickly disorientated? It seemed a solid plan at the time: here is a production ready version of Mercedes’ most ambitious off-road weapon since the mental, three-axled AMG G 63 6×6, and the latest evolution of the company’s wildly popular G-Class SUV. Why wouldn’t we want to put Mercedes’ anointed ‘overcomer of everything’ to a real test?

Fortunately disaster is averted less by the slightly-panicked idiot at the controls, but by the 4×42’s enormous approach and descent angles, nearly half a metre of ground clearance, and some truly massive R22 tyres that – mercifully – decide against digging into the soft sand. The crawl down is torturously long, but successful: the Mercedes has barely broken sweat, but it’s a few moments before my heart – and various other body parts – stop quivering. Photographer Arun and evo colleague Tony Sidgwick, having watched the action from the supporting Jeep Wrangler, comment on the colour I’ve turned…

“The Mercedes 4×42 is getting into the spirit, bouncing effortlessly from one dune to the next without need of support car intervention or casual swearing”

Truth be told, my faith in the G500 4×42 should have been more absolute. After all, this is not the first time I’ve put this behemoth to the test, having sampled the ‘near-series show car’ shortly before its conceptual debut in Geneva two years ago. On the road it was a Mercedes, but on the rough stuff, it was an unstoppable force of nature, and while the company was reticent about a production run, it was no surprise that, amidst a whirlwind of positive feedback, a limited production run was green lit just six months later.

Simply standing next to this goliath makes you realise how monumental a build the 4×42 truly is. At the heart lies a 2850mm wheelbase from Mercedes’ the series-production G-Class, although donations from its 1979 forebear end with the ladder-type frame, familiar boxy styling and ‘G500’ badge. The port axles have been ripped straight from the G 63 6×6, as has the all-wheel drive configuration, three differential locks, and the powertrain. More on that in a second, since the axle geometry alone deserves closer inspection.

Unlike conventional off-roaders, the wheels are mounted not at the height of the axle centre, but much lower, near the axle heads. Consequently, on wheels 4in larger than a series-production G-Class, the ground clearance is more than double (450mm versus 210mm) as are approach and descent angles (52 and 54-degrees versus 36 and 27), and the 4×42 will ford comfortably in up to a metre of water. It’s an off-road prowess hitherto unseen from Mercedes, and the largest production premium SUV you can buy today: it positively dwarves Tony’s Wrangler, and at 2.25m tall, the 4×42 towers over a 1.8m Range Rover. There’s even an option of off-road specific 37 x 12.5 x 18 MT tyres should you really wish to make the great outdoors your biatch.

Mercedes is adamant though that the jacked-up beast should not be considered just an off-road weapon. Two-way damping offers both ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ modes, the latter for added road holding, while the wider track – 299mm over the standard G-Class – has been incorporated for improved cornering stability. With an almost sarcastic pinch of salt on-hand, Mercedes itself suggests occupants ‘feel as though they are in a sports car rather than a cross-country vehicle’ when the 4×42 hits the asphalt.

Bollocks? Yeah, pretty much.

“Mercedes suggests occupants ‘feel as though they are in a sports car rather than a cross-country vehicle. Bollocks? Yeah, pretty much”

Admittedly the 4-litre biturbo V8, lifted from the AMG GT S, can shift impressively. Featuring the same ‘hot inside V’ build for optimum engine response and a more compact engine design, said V8 punches out 416bhp and a mighty 450lb ft of torque to get the near-3000kg beast hauling. There’s a sprightliness rather than outright aggressive sprint off the line – there’s that low end torque playing its hand – accompanied by a deep, resonating yowl from the side-mounted exhaust pipes, which is undercut by the slightest higher-pitched turbocharged wail the further into the high rpms you creep. Acceleration thereafter is progressive rather than brutal, but remains mightily impressive.

But through the corners? Sure, the sport-styled suspension offers considerably more body control than one might reasonably expect from an 7.5ft tall off-road SUV. Yes, the widened track does compensate well for the high gait, and there’s an engaging progressiveness to the handling that allows one to tackle corners with more authority than expected: even the nose will tuck in if properly motivated. And yet, performance will always be limited by the 4×42’s sheer scale and weight, plus that lofty centre of gravity, despite Merc’s best attempts. Impressive manoeuvrability, certainly, but a sports car the G500 really ain’t. Back to Fossil Rock.

EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightBasic Price
V8, twin-turbo, 3982cc416bhp @ 2,250 - 4,700rpm450lb ft @ 2,250 - 4,700rpm7.4 secs210kph2,996kg (139bhp/ton)$236,500

Breathing reasonably back to normal, we mount up again for the remaining 7km stretch towards Mount Alvaah, where the height and difficulty of the dunes increases. As the more experienced 4×4-smith of our group, Tony volunteers to take the lead in the Wrangler, and I graciously accept. I’m not overly keen to repeat my cliff-dive – the gentlemen at the nearby Al Batayeh military camp may have a few things to say should my attempts go awry – and while I’ve little reason to doubt the Wrangler’s fortitude on the rough stuff, I doubt even it could tow the near-three ton 4×42 out of the sand, should its axles somehow get beached.

My mind now slightly further at ease gives me the opportunity to soak in the cabin’s surroundings. And quite honestly, I’m not that impressed. Compared with its beefy, carbon fibre detailed exterior, the 4×42’s cabin is almost comically tight, and distinctly old-world in its design. The G500 base offers plenty of headroom, certainly, but little leeway for either shoulders or legs. With the admittedly supportive seat as far back on its runners as it will go, I still feel uncomfortably close to the steering wheel: I should be grateful the elegantly slim dashboard isn’t any larger, or I’d be in real trouble. A mesh net between the rear seats and cavernous boot space makes rear visibility difficult, as does the limited rear three-quarter view over both shoulders. There’s one foldaway cup holder in the passenger footwell, so dispose of coffee mugs before you embark. Even the button-heavy centre console – I’d assumed lost with the previous generation C-Class – makes an appearance.

“I’m not overly keen to repeat my cliff-dive: the gentlemen at the nearby Al Batayeh military camp may have a few things to say should my attempts go awry”

There is a degree of added refinement though courtesy of the Designo leather trim, cut to tailored perfection around the dashboard and diamond-edged seating. There’s just – JUST – enough carbon fibre detailing around the transmission tunnel to add a dash of sportiness without going over the top. Overall comfort then is compromised: excessive wind noise and a too-jostling ride through those knobbly tyres dent the on-road comfort too. Granted there’s only so much polish the cumbersome G-Wagen cabin can take, but considering that the $236,500 4×42 costs $126K more than a standard G500, it’s a big sticking point.

My Designo musings take a backseat when, up front, the Wrangler digs in on a hefty incline, and rather than turn Tony’s hair white by barrelling in after him, I take a detour over a crest. And immediately encounter another sharp decline.

The affect it has on me though is very different. Once again I’m met with that stunningly luminous surface rising up towards the windscreen, and once again, the 4×42 barely bats a restyled eyelid. The tyre grip makes me wonder why the off-road equivalents are required at all, the wheels pulling with almost nonchalant disinterest across the softest of surfaces and steepest of inclinations. And the confidence they imbue is beyond astonishing. Once of twice, Tony gets his approach angle askew, the wheels spinning before he can adjust accordingly. In the 4×42, those voluminous tyres continue to dig almost impatiently, the all-wheel drive feeding power and traction to them like an intravenous drip. At no point do the axles come anywhere close to scrubbing the surface, nor do I have to lock the diffs. It’s sensational, the sense of unstoppable momentum that comes with every climb, and the comparative ease with which each can be accomplished. This Mercedes is starting to feel unstoppable.

“Some anticipatory driving is also needed: hit a tree and Mother Nature will come off worse”

It’s a confidence encouraged by the steering feel. Bizarrely, alongside anchorage ports for the axles and gear ratios, the steering connection has not been modified over the existing G500, meaning there’s plenty of (hydraulically operated) weight at the helm and more than enough poise to place the front end easily and without trepidation, even on the loose stuff. Admittedly on the road the feel is slightly less confidence-inspiring, the response somewhat lacking and feel through the column pretty much dead at the centre. It’s a rate of response though that allows you to tuck the nose in with relative ease, even if some anticipatory driving is also needed: hit a tree and Mother Nature will come off worse.

There are though a few instances where my confidence in the 4×42 begins to sink. The seven-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, but with less vigour than expected when connected to a biturbo V8. Its lethargic nature means you’ll need to wait a beat between a pull of the surprisingly heavy paddle shifter and the gear being selected. Mistime it, and there’s a graunch that rocks the cabin as the system attempts to prevent the revs from red-lining, which in turn automatically switching the traction control back on, rather annoyingly. Keep the revs around their 5000rpm bubble though and the V8 will not disappoint. Even despite the near-three ton kerb weight, the 4×42 feels muscular from the off, refusing to run out of breath. There’s plenty left in reserve, but such is the strength of that power and solid spread of that low-end torque, it really won’t be required. Once again, it all feels so easy.

The sun has dipped yet further as the highway begins to hove into view (just as well, since we can’t find the switch for the roof-mounted high beams). There’s only a couple of dunes to cross before we’re back on the road, but since they offer no challenge – my confidence knocking hubris squarely in the mouth – we take a quick five while Arun sets up his final money shot. Behind us stretches 15km of open desert and occasionally rocky terrain, the last dying shades of sunlight casting an almost dramatic pall over the landscape. Were mechanical sentience possible, I swear the Mercedes would be shrugging sarcastically right now.

Part of the reasoning behind today’s route was the drama that would unfold, throwing a $226K premium 4×4 into some of the most technical off-road terrain our region has to offer. Terrain that the Mercedes has blitzed. There’s been no buried axles, no dug in wheels, no real occasion where the 4×42 has been other than flawless on the sand, despite several heart-palpitating instances. Everything, from the deep reservoir of torque and power, nimble manoeuvrability, lunatic amounts levels of ground clearance, and wrecking ball-like momentum, has built my confidence so high that I genuinely wonder what terrain could blight the 4×42, nannying traction control or otherwise.

“Were mechanical sentience possible, I swear the 4×42 would be shrugging sarcastically right now”

Such are the compromises when it comes to performance SUVs of course that, regardless of terrain, civility can often suffer, the Merc proving no exception. Yes, the more lavish leather and carbon fibre trim are a premium touch, though there’s only so much praise to be heaped on the cabin: too tight, to cluttered, too out-dated and inundated with excessive wind noise and choppy ride comfort, the 4×42 deserved better. Even with that massive $226K asking price, it is truly astonishing.

Admittedly we still have half a click to complete before we’re back on the road. But in possibly the greatest Mercedes 4×4 ever created, I doubt we’ll have much trouble.


*My thanks to Arun M. Nair and Awesome Group for the images


Technical specifications

Engine: V8, twin-turbo, 3982cc

Power: 416bhp @ 2,250 – 4,700rpm

Torque: 450lb ft @ 2,250 – 4,700rpm

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, four-wheel drive

Wheels: 9.5 J x 22 (front and rear)

Tyres: 325/55 R 22 (front and rear)

Weight: 2,996kg

Power-to-weight: 139bhp/ton

0-100kph: 7.4 secs

Top speed: 210kph

Basic price: $236,500