Those with money and a penchant for attention have for years sought out the Mercedes G-Class models with AMG badging and powerful V8 petrol engines under their upright bonnets. And, much as we love the current Mercedes-AMG G 63 for its madness, we reckon that the new G-Class (or G-Wagen if you prefer) is so much more modern that it may even be bought by those with some sensibility in mind. Enter the first diesel variant, the rather likeable G 350 d.
In the metal
No doubt there will be some that don't like the upright lines of the Mercedes G-Class and don't understand why it looks so much like the car it replaces. They are very much not the target audience of this car. The rest of us swoon at the sight of an old 'G-Wagen' and, as the new one doesn't look all that different at first glance, it has the same effect on us. It truly is a unique-looking vehicle.
Despite the retro appearance, the 2019 G-Class is a brand-new car, though its modern lighting front and rear is probably the only dependable giveaway, where LEDs are used to good effect. Up front, the bluff radiator grille is flanked by large circular headlights and the bonnet line narrows at the front to retain the flat-topped wings with their characteristically protruding side indicators. These are much larger than they need to be, in keeping with the original, but they have a practical use, too, as they help you see the extremities of the car from the driver's seat.
To get into that, you press the wonderfully old-school door button, tug the door open and then you really have to climb up into the G-Class, reinforcing the point that this is a proper 4x4. Nobody will ever call it a crossover, that's for sure. The door closes with a distinctive clunk and, unlike the G-Wagen for time immemorial, it doesn't whack against your elbow and pin you to the centre of the car. That's because this new one is a full 121mm wider.
And while the old car is referenced in some of the design details inside (check out the upright windscreen and prominent grab handle on the passenger side, for example), the new G-Class has an interior befitting any luxury SUV. Our test car featured exquisite 'designo' leather seats and the fab MBUX infotainment system with its intuitive steering wheel mounted thumbpads and more. The centre console is unique to the G-Class though, a solid metallic looking affair with three circular air vents and buttons for the locking differentials given pride of place.
The rear of the cabin is perhaps not as spacious looking as you might expect it to be given the size of the G-Class, but the seating is quite high-set, so three adults can easily get comfortable (and it's much larger in the back than in the old car). Behind is a 667-litre boot, accessed via the side-hinged rear door holding the covered full-size spare wheel.
If you've driven, or been driven in, the previous Mercedes G-Class, and you're looking at the retro appearance of the new one with little hope for an improvement, you really need to get yourself behind the wheel of this car, as it's a revelation. The vital stats show that it's just as good off road as ever (as hinted at by the three selectable locking differentials, but not tested significantly by us in this instance), but it's the new car's on-road prowess that sets it apart from its archaic predecessor.
Things get off to a good start as the G 350 d is powered by the silky-smooth straight-six diesel engine you'll find under the bonnet of the current Mercedes S-Class. It seems a little noisier in the G-Wagen, but it's still a cultured unit and can make the heavy G-Class shift quickly when needs be. At a cruise it's quiet and unobtrusive, while its low-down torque makes slow-speed off-road manoeuvring a doddle. That's all aided by the lovely nine-speed automatic transmission. Shame the paddles behind the tactile steering wheel are made of plastic, though we doubt many will feel the need to override the gearbox's own calibration.
And while there's no doubt that the G-Class is still a big and heavy car, it can tackle a twisty road with far more composure than before. The steering is free of slack (if also feedback), the brakes are easy to modulate and the body control is really very impressive. You can sense that the brakes and suspension are working hard if you push things on, but even so, it's a polished performance.
On packed snow (and winter tyres), we had a chance to test out the stability control and anti-lock braking systems to the full and they're super-quick to act and keep things on the straight and narrow, meaning you can get on with enjoying the commanding view out in all directions, regardless of the conditions.
What you get for your money
The G-Class has never sold well in Ireland and we don't expect this one to suddenly light up the sales charts. Hence, the G-Class is a special-order model, only. Odds are that, in G 350 d guise, it'll cost well north of €100,000 once you add a few choice options. And while it'll use considerably less fuel than the G 63, it's still relatively expensive to fuel and sits in the top band for tax.
There are plenty of very good, comfortable, high-quality SUVs on the market with premium badges on their bonnets and powerful diesel engines underneath. The Mercedes G 350 d does things a little differently, keeping the upright appearance of the old G-Wagen while modernising everything else, including the fantastic straight-six diesel engine. While it may still not be the most rational and sensible purchase on the market, it's no longer only for those that dig its retro image.