The Mercedes G-Class’s boxy SUV commands attention at every stop light and speaks volumes about the healthy state of its owner’s finances. Together with the equally symbolic S-Class, the G-Wagon displays the best of Mercedes’ technology and luxury, plus a few iconic quirks.
Ironically, today’s symbol of luxury and wealth had a more utilitarian origin. During the early 1970s, Mercedes took advice from one of its largest shareholders, the Shah of Iran. The Shah wanted the automaker to build a vehicle that could compete with the Land Rover and Toyota’s Land Cruiser. It needed to be a vehicle that could be used by both the military and the most adventurous civilians.
In collaboration with Austrian manufacturer Steyr-Daimler-Puch (now known as Magna Steyr), Mercedes carefully designed and prototyped the SUV in extreme locations such as the Sahara Desert and Arctic Circle. The G-Class (model W460) made its official debut in 1979 as one of the few publicly-driven cars available to the military. Aside from its rugged aesthetic, the G-Class was deliberately designed to be uncomplicated. As such, repairs could be done without the need for dedicated facilities.
Countries such as Germany and Argentina chose the G-Class for military use. Just a year after conception, the G-Class served as the “popemobile” during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Germany, furthering the G-Class’s worldwide recognition. The no-frills G-Wagon (the 461) was updated in 1992 as the second-generation continuation of the original rugged 1979 model and has been in production since.
US buyers first got their chance to purchase the G-Class officially in 2002, finally able to avoid the inflated prices found in the overseas grey market. In 2005, Mercedes announced its intention to stop producing the G-Class, with the GL-Class serving as its successor. The automaker received much negative pushback from car enthusiasts and retracted its plans. However, at the start of 2014, Mercedes restricted the purchase of the rugged model solely to government agencies.
The Premium Option
In 1990, Mercedes started producing a second version of the G-Class, introducing a more consumer-focused luxury version (W-463).
Capitalizing on the growing popularity of the G-Wagon, Mercedes’ designers developed the premium SUV as the direct successor to the military-grade G-Class. They made minor changes to the exterior boxy shape, smoothing it out slightly. The biggest changes were in the interior. The dashboard was replaced by that of the E-Class from that era and the interior was finished in high-quality leather and wood trim. Five years later, a high-performance AMG version was introduced, cementing the G-Class’s place in Mercedes’ high-end luxury bracket. Recently, Mercedes announced the 464, the third generation.
A Standard of Luxury
In 2018, Mercedes introduced the newest generation of the G-Class, a luxury update to the 463. While it retained the same overall looks, it shared a grand total of three parts with the previous generation.
This model features the same slew of premium technology and comforts you would expect from Mercedes’ top offering. However, the G-Class takes it a step further as one of the last hand-built vehicles. It is assembled in the same Steyr factory where it was first assembled decades ago. With the AMG version, you’ll also receive an engine famously built by a single Mercedes engineer.
Along with great attention to detail, it wouldn’t be a pinnacle of luxury if it weren’t customizable. Mercedes offers 34 exterior colors and 54 interior upholstery options. When considering the nine wheel-types and seven trims on the G550, there are over 115,000 available combinations.
The Mercedes G-Class is undoubtedly a storied vehicle, finding itself just as comfortable in the swamps of a war zone as in a Beverly Hills driveway.