By on April 15, 2013

I once owned a 2002 Mercedes G500. This was – obviously – a horrible idea that we’ll cover in detail in the ensuing review. But first, a little history about one of the most instantly recognizable vehicles on the road.

While most people think the G-Wagen (“G” for “Gelandewagen,” German for “cross-country vehicle”) was designed as a German military vehicle, that isn’t strictly true. Instead, it was suggested in the early 1970s by the Shah of Iran. And by “suggested” I probably mean “commissioned under threat of death.” Eventually, the German military did use the G-Wagen, which meant it wasn’t long before wealthy people wanted to drive it on paved roads.

While Europeans started buying G-Wagens as posh fashion statements in the 1980s, Americans didn’t have that option. Instead, a New Mexico-based company called Europa imported them primarily for wealthy Aspen residents, while Mercedes dragged its feet on getting the G-Wagen certified for sale. Finally, the four-door G-Wagen came stateside in 2002, providing an ultimate aspiration for the “bling” set.

Indeed, the G500 has found favor primarily among basketball stars and five-foot-tall women with handbags the size of sofa cushions. This is a bastardization of its original purpose, but what does Mercedes care? Virtually every unit is pure profit, since the tooling was paid off about the same time Reagan implored Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” Hell, a G-Wagen probably drove him to the speech.

Why Did I Want It?

Answering the question of why I wanted a G-Wagen is a bit of a challenge. I freely admit that part of it is because I just knew it would make me look cool. In retrospect, of course, this is rather embarrassing. Instead, I looked – as described by one former colleague – “like a total douchebag.” But it seemed awesome at the time, sort of like those kids who wore a cape to class picture day in second grade.

There were also two highly functional reasons for the G-Wagen. One was that I live in Atlanta where it snows, on average, approximately 0.1 inches per year. But one year, it snowed a lot. And because I had a Porsche (and because the city’s snowplow fleet appears to consist solely of a ’99 Silverado with a fuel leak), I couldn’t venture outside for days. So I bought the G500 in early December, vowing this year would be different.

The only possibly legitimate reason for buying the G500 was that it is, as a point of fact, the ultimate off-roader. With three locking differentials, it can un-stick itself from basically any situation – a fact owners tend to discover when they run over a parking curb at Starbucks. But I had grander plans: after off-road adventures with an old Land Cruiser I briefly owned, I wanted to enjoy the G-Wagen on some rough terrain.

On The Outside

The G-Wagen’s styling is opinion-splitting and greatly depends on how attractive you find a file cabinet. That’s because the G-Wagen’s design is based on one, sharing things like right angles and protruding door handles. Actually, given the G-Wagen’s age, the file cabinet may have come second.

There are three things I love about the G-Wagen’s design. One is the satisfying click of the doors closing – a sound that simply says “job well done,” whether it’s to German troops who just destroyed an enemy village or Beverly Hills housewives who just bought some Prada shoes.

I also love everything about the spare tire cover, which foregoes the canvas or cheap plastic used by rivals. Instead, it’s a heavy, body-colored piece of metal that spells out “Mercedes-Benz” in fine printing. This gives the peasants something to read when they’re stuck behind you in traffic. They certainly won’t see over you.

But the best exterior element is the front turn signals. They’re not integrated into the headlights; instead, they’re mounted on top of the front fenders, serving as a constant reminder that your car is so hardcore that it didn’t originally come with turn signals. On AMG models, they’re covered in tiny little brush guards, which makes about as much sense as bringing a baseball glove to an MLB game. Of course, AMG owners would probably offer similar logic as the glove wearers: you never know when you might need it.

Climbing In

Considering the G-Wagen’s militaristic exterior styling, its interior is surprisingly tame. For the most part, you’d think you were sitting in any other Mercedes – that is, once you make the steep climb to the interior. Small people must take a running start. But it’s OK, because they’re rewarded with that lovely door latch sound.

Naturally, there are a few vestigial military items inside. For example, the grab handle in the passenger-side dashboard is so firmly welded in place that it may be structural. And the turn signal stalk requires the strength of a German soldier to push. This is largely a non-issue, since it’s not like most G-Wagen drivers plan on using their turn signals anyway.

Mercedes has, however, taken a few steps to give the civilian G-Wagen’s cabin less of a “United Nations peacekeeper” look. For example: the grab handle includes a strip of fake wood. Quaint.

Driving the G-Wagen

Driving a G-Wagen is one of the single worst experiences the very rich must have to endure on a day to day basis. I’ll get to the fuel economy, the handling and the acceleration. But the worst part about the G-Wagen is the sheer terror created by its vertical side windows.

Here’s what happens. You’re driving along in the middle lane and you want to change lanes to the right. At the same time, a car is passing you on the left. No big deal, right? In a G-Wagen, it is a big deal. That’s because you see the left-passing car reflected in your passenger side window. Suddenly you have no idea where you’re being passed, or by who. All you can hope is that it will end soon without making you do anything crazy, like use a turn signal.

And it will, because you will quickly have to stop for fuel. I know this is well-covered territory in a G-Wagen review, but holy crap is this thing thirsty. There are two reasons for this: one, in addition to sharing styling and door handles with the aforementioned file cabinet, it also borrows wind resistance; and two, it weighs about as much as Honduras. Seriously: the G-Wagen’s curb weight is nearly three times that of the Lotus I had before it.

Interestingly, this doesn’t cause a major problem on twisty roads. On the contrary, I was stunned to find the G-Wagen to be unusually maneuverable in nearly all circumstances. Going in, I expected the G-Wagen to handle like a Lake Powell houseboat, or possibly worse, like a 1990s Chrysler. But really, it steers like a big E-Class. That may not sound like a compliment, but it’s high praise for a vehicle that came out when the 17-foot Lincoln Versailles heralded “entry-level luxury.”

In fact, the weight is more of a problem when you’re driving in a straight line. The big issues start around 35 miles per hour, when the G’s perpetually increasing momentum and massive weight forces you to take an entirely new look at the personal responsibility of driving. If someone walks out in front of you, they’re dead. If someone drives out in front of you, they’re probably also dead. And the brakes aren’t up to the task of saving them.

The G-Wagen is scariest on a downhill, where it picks up speed as if you’re about mid-stab on the throttle. Actually, it’s probably worse in AMG form, since that adds sports-car acceleration to dangerous visibility, tremendous weight and limited braking power. But at least it includes brush guards for the turn signals.

Verdict

I understand the G-Wagen’s allure. It’s ready for anything. It’s unusual. And it makes you look cool. But having owned one, I can dispel each of those rumors.

For one, it’s not ready for anything. Mine came from Boston, and it had so much rust on the undercarriage that it looked like Robert Ballard had brought back my G-Wagen frame as a souvenir from the Titanic. Before I could ever do any real off-roading, I had to sell mine to CarMax, where it probably disintegrated.

Beyond the rust, G-Wagens are surprisingly fragile. Window regulators break every eleven weeks and cost about a grand to fix. The door locks work as if they were designed by Land Rover. And with every trip off road, you’ll worry that you’ve just broken something that will cost $1,800 and requires a special part from Germany. One positive remark, however: except for the rust, the above doesn’t apply to old school G-Wagens, which can really handle just about everything you can throw at them. Like the Polish terrain.

The other common misconception about the G-Wagen is that it makes you look cool. It doesn’t. In fact, I’ve never been more self-conscious driving a vehicle in my entire life. You may like the idea of everyone assuming you’re a rich asshole. You probably also fake tan and wear Ed Hardy T-shirts that depict a fire-breathing dragon riding a motorcycle and fighting with a turtle skeleton with red eyes. For me, the G-Wagen’s image didn’t match my personality.

Of course, you may not have the same problems as I did, whether it’s rust, image, or driving experience. Indeed, as with anything, your mileage may vary. Unless we’re strictly speaking about gas mileage. Then it won’t vary. It will be dismal.

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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121 Comments on “Doug’s Review: 2002 Mercedes-Benz G500...”


  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    These things really aren’t as big as their reputation might imply. All that road-hugging weight is concentrated in something about the size of an old Bronco.

    Did you trade this one in on a Unimog?

    • 0 avatar

      A Porsche actually! And not a Cayenne…

      And yes, you’re right – they’re not as big as you might think. Partially because they were designed around the time of that original Bronco.

    • 0 avatar
      Sundowner

      I want a unimog :(
      A nice diesel 406 Doka with 42″ Michelins and the PTO powered snowthowing monstrosity attached to the front. I want this if no other reason than the 3″ of snow accumulated in my 75′ long driveway needs to be transported to the adjacent zipcode in less time than it takes precooked canadian bacon to heat up in the skillet. I want the Doka so my daughter can watch how cool I am from the car seat in the back while she breathes a steady stream of nourishing diesel fume.

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        You might think yourself as cool sitting on the Unimog’s driver’s seat, but your neighbor most likely think you’re a city employee driving some kind of smaller snowplow, and perhaps ask if you can do her driveway too.

  • avatar
    Tosh

    Is that a chocolate fondue pot holder in there? Because it’s too large to be a cup holder, and the interior seems partly covered in melted chocolate…

  • avatar
    lon888

    Once when I was out and about in 2003 Honda Element, a G-wagen driver rolled down his window and yelled out “what an ugly car!” I told him that at least I had the good taste not to spend $125,000 on my ugly car. He promptly rolled up his window and huffed away.

  • avatar
    ezeolla

    Last year sometime Car and Driver did a comparison of a new G-Wagen and a 4-door Wrangler Hardtop with all the luxury options. The result – the same driving experience (other than the horsepower difference) at about a quater the price.

    It was something I found very interesting and as someone who owned a G-Wagen, would you say it is true?

    • 0 avatar

      With one exception: in a Wrangler, no one thinks you’re an asshole.

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        Most Wrangler drivers I’ve encountered are douchebags, just on a lower level than say a G500 driver.

        For example I’ve had many examples that will tailgate you in the RH lane when you’re already going 15 OVER the limit only to get caught up in traffic. Once traffic clears they can’t get the stupid thing moving because of boat anchor 3.8 that’s usually under the hood….shoulda waited for the 3.6L eh?

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Here in Australia only, wannabe’s and hairdressers drive Wranglers, mainly to the beach in the suburbs. Anyone who wants to go off roading seriously doesn’t buy a Renegade.

        By the sounds of your story, the G Wagen was still more reliable than my XJ Cherokee Sports.

        • 0 avatar
          Type57SC

          so what do people buy there for offroading?

          • 0 avatar
            Beerboy12

            Land Cruiser, I believe.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            Smugmobiles.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Type57SC
            Most of our off roading is off road touring. These are like an expedition. So the vehicle needs range, load capability and reliability, off road ability and mostly a diesel.

            All forms of Landcruisers ie 70 to 200 Series. The same for Nissan Patrols. Landrovers. Even some of our new midsizers are becoming very good. Plus Toyota Prado’s

            The only US 4×4 that we might use is the new Grand Cherokee with the VM V6 diesel. But I have yet to see one where I live in the Northern Territory off roading. Most buy them for picking up school kids and shopping.

            We do have some people who go out for a day or two off roading through national parks and some who modify 4x4s for some of the more extreme aspects.

            You will not find Toyota FJs and Wranglers and even Cherokee’s to far from a the city.

  • avatar
    Audiofyl

    Doug, you failed to mention the length of time and number of steering wheel revolutions it takes to actually get the G wagon to turn, whether to swerve around a road obstacle or make a 3 point turn.

    I love the way the trucks look, but after I drove a few and realized how horrible the driving experience is, I changed my mind from ever wanting to own one.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    FWIW, The Germans haven’t destroyed any villages in a very long time, I’m sure if you searched their filing cabinets, that pre-dated the G-Wagen by many years!

    Personally, I love these things, but I’d never own one, as I couldn’t afford to house and feed the beast.

    It sure IS cool, though, and I’d like to drive one just for the experience.

    Cruising nice ‘n’ slow is my forte’, as I don’t or no longer possess the reflexes necessary to handle anything real fast and powerful. I do, however, at times, really get a thrill stomping on the gas of my 3.6L – on a nice, straight highway with little or no traffic, of course!

  • avatar
    mattfarah

    Great piece, Doug. You pretty much summed up the awful-ness of the G-Wagon as well or better than any I’ve heard before. I just drove a $146,000 G63 AMG and I can honestly say that it was the single stupidest vehicle I’ve ever driven, making the top of a list that includes such cars as the Suzuki X-90 and a 2,000 HP Chevy Silverado monster truck. It exists not to show people how wealthy you are, but to show people you’re so wealthy that you can thoroughly WASTE $146,000. If you had took that $146,000 and set it on fire on the passenger seat of a decade-old Toyota Tacoma, after putting out the fire you’d end up with a vehicle that is about a dozen times cooler than a G63, drives better, and will get you laid ten times as often.

    But where you really had me laughing was the vertical windows. I, quite stupidly, once impulse-bought a 2001 Hummer H1 wagon, another member of the vertical window’ed family of douchemobiles. In the H1, not only were the side windows vertical and ultra-reflective (a trait made noticeably worse by the 5% limo tint those drugs made me install), but also the front and rear windscreens as well.

    This means that, late at night, sometimes, you’d see a car in your rearview mirror, approaching at a ridiculous speed. That car was actually coming at you from the front, and the lights were reflecting off the rear window and back into the mirror. Same thing the other way, a car approaching from behind would appear to be approaching from the front, as the lights would go directly through the rear window and reflect of the front windscreen. Factor in those tinted windows, and you’re left with the single scariest vehicle you can imagine for driving at night. It was literally like driving around your own personal house of douchebag mirrors. After three months, I couldn’t take it anymore and traded the H1 straight up for a JCW Mini Cooper.

    • 0 avatar

      Hah! “It was literally like driving around your own personal house of douchebag mirrors.” I can only imagine. The G-Wagen fortunately doesn’t have the front/rear issue that the Hummer does because the windshield does have some rake. But it’s CRAZY when you drive these cars and realize just what people are putting up with to look cool.

      That said: I’m embarrassed to admit, even in spite of the G-Wagen issues we seem to agree on, I keep finding myself on eBay looking to see if there are any Cabrios for sale. It’s a lot more endearing than the four-door – but I’m sure it has most of the same problems.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Where I live, the fender-flare-free soft tops are at least as common as the ones that were imported by Mercedes-Benz. They look like a return to the old money restraint of the 1980s, while the newer ones look like someone’s taking cues from rap videos. There’s a neighborhood in Coronado where people park their Pinzgauers in their driveways. Are they too tall for the garages, or is the point for your neighbors to know that you’re a Pinzgauer owner? I almost feel sorry to the guys that only have the 4x4s instead of the 6x6s.

        • 0 avatar
          Pinzgauer

          I built my new garage to the Pinz would fit. I then sold it a few months later.

        • 0 avatar
          hurls

          I’ve never seen a pinzgauer in ‘nado but now I’m going to look. Reminds me of when my wife and I were house shopping (in a less toney SD neighborhood) and the neighbor of the house we were going to look at had a unimog painted like a cow in the driveway.

          The wife had us turn around and look elsewhere.

          • 0 avatar
            Tinker

            What breed of cow? A Jersey or a Holstein? Because cows are not universally painted to the same pattern. Jerseys give richer milk, and are brown to tan, darker at the edges, while Holsteins are random black/white, like urban camouflage.

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            Well, Pinzgauer is a breed of cow, so probably that type.

      • 0 avatar
        mattfarah

        The cabrio’s I don’t have as much of a problem with. They are older, so they are more basic in most ways, they are quite rare in the US, so they still count as “exotic,” but they are cheaper and less flashy than the newer ones, so you don’t look like nearly as much of a d-bag driving them. Plus I wouldn’t feel like as much of a sucker buying one that was built before MB had finished paying off the tooling.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          I think they were all built by Steyr-Puch in Austria. Total production in 34 years shouldn’t have been enough to wear out the tooling. Shouldn’t. Does anyone know how the US Marine Corp has fared with the 157 G-wagon(sic) 290 GDT diesel 4×4 they bought to use as IFAVs?

          • 0 avatar
            Defender90

            The British army ones were/are built under licence in UK. (British equivilant of pork barrel I assume).
            The Pinzgauer is a sort of surefooted Alpine horse good for carrying loads. The Haflinger is an alpine pony.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “It was literally like driving around your own personal house of douchebag mirrors.”

      This is gold.

  • avatar
    threeer

    If it isn’t one that is two door, OD Green, has a plaid interior and a true manual tranny, then I’ll pass! The blinged out variants that cruise ROH-DAY-OH Drive just don’t do much for me. Then again, I’m not even remotely close to being within an acceptable tax bracket to afford one, so it doesn’t make much difference!

    • 0 avatar

      The G-Wagen market is interesting. Early examples seem to have floored in the low-$30k/high-$20k range and haven’t moved from there in years. My view was that if I bought it there and sold it there, I’d be OK. Of course, I ended up selling it sooner than I thought – but the general rule holds true.

      Of course, your FIRST point is probably the more important one…

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        Doug, it’s just a shame that we didn’t get the more fundamental variant(s) that were offered elsewhere. Of course, for the kind of cash a stripper G-model (wait, that doesn’t sound right…) would have cost, I doubt there would have been many takers over on this side of the pond…

        • 0 avatar

          True. Plus it would’ve gone against the car’s image. Mercedes would rather do the AMG model than the stripper. More profit and it enhances, rather that detracts from, the image.

          • 0 avatar
            threeer

            I rather miss when Mercedes wasn’t so much seen as “luxury” as it was with solid engineering (some would say “over” engineering) and long-lasting durability. Those days are long gone, I know…but seeing a W123 soldier by brings a smile to my face. A new C-class?? Not so much. Oh, well…guess this is seen as progress!

  • avatar
    StaysCrunchy

    Great article, very funny and fun to read. Thanks for posting it!

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I’ve always loved the G-Wagen. It looks as at home in a forest as it does in front of a swanky hotel. It’s unapologetically boxy in the way Volvos used to be, but no longer are. Mercedes even dared to give it LED headlamps and the same OEM sideview mirrors as other Mercs, and it somehow works. The brand-new model’s interior is probably my favorite among Mercs. I feel like they’ve tried to get rid of it for years, but the GL-Class is just so dire I think they know in their hearts they can’t ever pull the plug. It’s just to darned endearing and awesome.

    The two-door version was pretty awkward-looking, tough.

  • avatar

    I read the article just because I enjoy your writing very much. You sir have crazy taste in cars!

    I just don’t get this car and I think it makes the drivers look pretty stupid, but if you like it go ahead and buy it, my opinion should not matter to anyone who wants to buy one. Your review though is probably one of, if not the most honest I’ve ever read on the car. It strikes me very much as a prime example of a very common kind of car nowadays, the emperor-is-naked kind of car.

    • 0 avatar

      I used to think the people who drove them were so cool. Now that I owned one, I no longer do! The funny thing is that your opinion IS very important to the people who buy G-Wagens – that’s why they buy them! I just wish I had come to your conclusion before buying mine…

      • 0 avatar
        jeffzekas

        My exact feelings about BMW: I thought they were cool, especially back in the 60′s, when my family owned a 2002 and an 1800. Then, decades later, two of my kids bought modern 3-series Beemers, and I have nothing but disdain for the cars, the dealers, and the people who drive these pretentious, poorly constructed German vehicles.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I wanted a luxury SUV back in the day for basically the same reasons, I just couldn’t afford a G-wagen so I got a Land Rover Discovery instead.

    But I put nearly 100k on it, took it severely off roading very often, drove it on many long distance road trips, etc. Never had anything break on a trip, the windows always went up and down, the locks never broke. I got stranded once with it when the master cylinder went out but other than that it was just expensive routine maintenance and gas. Guess I am glad I didn’t buy a G.

  • avatar

    Doug, you’re like the Bizarro World version of me, living out the fantasies (?) of buying the likes of a G-Wagen, CTS-V and AMG wagon. Also, some day I’ll own a Panamera, preferably in brown.

    Can you do me a favor and buy a not-yet-restored BMW E9 3.0cs, only to have it rust out from under you? That’d save me a lot of money in the future.

    Thanks

    • 0 avatar

      Someday I’ll do a review of my Panamera, though I think it would involve cutting off all contact with anyone at my former employer. And if I don’t cut off contact BEFORE the story, they certainly will after.

      I’ve always loved the E9, but my dream car from the same era is actually a Pagoda SL. I’m sure the review would be largely the same: 1) couldn’t wait to buy it; 2) couldn’t wait to drive it; 3) crap, summer’s here and the A/C sucks; 4) who knew owning an old car could be so expensive?!

      • 0 avatar
        becauseCAR

        Please tell me you had a Panamera GTS, since that Panamera was one I actually liked, after driving it back to back with a 991 at Roadshow.

        The funny thing is that the first Porsche I ever drove was a Panamera S and I remember thinking that Porsche must not be that good because that car wasn’t really engaging. Of course, that view of Porsche was negated after test driving a 997 S, I car I will get at some point.

        The only other Panameras I’ve driven are the S Hybrid, and 4S which were all okay and I would understand why people would not like them.

        • 0 avatar

          Panamera GTS indeed, in “look at me” bright red. Had it two months and 2,000 miles before it was hit by an inattentive driver on a rainy Sunday night. I liked it a lot, but I live in the middle of a crowded urban area, and the Panamera often felt like trying to drive an aircraft carrier through Venice. After the accident the company gave me the opportunity to order another Panamera. Instead I bought a Range Rover which is actually smaller than the Panamera in every dimension except height.

          You’re clearly a Porsche guy- do you own one? As you say, a 997 S is a tremendous car if you’re considering.

          • 0 avatar
            becauseCAR

            I’m definitely a Porsche guy, which started with a Porsche 997S w/ PDK and Sport Plus. I also test drove a manual 997 GTS a couple weeks ago and I have to say I love the GTS cars more.

            The problem is that as a college student, I’m unable to afford a Porsche in my life My drives of Porsches consist of going to the dealer and asking for a test drive or doing Roadshow and Zentrum. I even managed to even drive a 997 GT3 RS 3.6 that way, though I was totally caught out by the gearbox. (Never thought a manual car in this day and age would require actual biceps.)

            Porsche dealers are another big reason why I’m into the cars.

      • 0 avatar

        The Panamera’s that good, huh?

        BTW, old cars are cheap if you pick the right ones.

        I’ve been daily driving a 1964 Ford Falcon since 2009…though I do have a back-up vehicle. It’s a 1969 Jeep Wagoneer.

        • 0 avatar

          Heroic! I assume you live somewhere with weather decent enough to put up with archaic climate control systems?

          My real issue with older cars is safety. That IIHS video with the new Chevy crashing into the old one really changed my outlook on them…

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            I never understood the people who thought old cars were safe because they were heavy or “solid”. That video should be instructive to more people.

            Some of the least safe vehicles on the road for a long time were pickup trucks, especially compact pickups, which were death traps back in the day.

            While they were big and “solid” and heavy duty, their structures were shitty and not designed to absorb crashes. In some rear impact crash tests, you could see damage in bizarre places on the front 1/4 of the car because their structures were so poorly designed. Now, the trucks are designed a lot better, but the old ones were not safe.

            Nonetheless, I think I will eventually end up with a R107/C107 or W126 in my stable.

          • 0 avatar
            wstarvingteacher

            @ Corntrollio

            That saying probably comes from before my time and applied to beer wagons pulled by clydesdales crashing into one horse carriages. For myself though it dates from the days when VWs and the early japanese datsuns and toyotas invaded. It was true then. Don’t forget that seat belts weren’t even required till 1966, I think.

            It became untrue when the various crash safety measures like crumple zones were required. My first car was a 47 studebaker and the suicide doors were named that for a reason. Cars were death traps but the heavier the better. Even a minor accident could kill and it almost happened to me.

            They don’t make cars like they used to. They make them lots better.

      • 0 avatar
        BadaBing373

        Doug,
        Please don’t make the Porsche people mad at you too.
        Apparently Baruth is already on their black-list:-(
        And grazzie mille for a fantastic article… as always !

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Yeah, this is how I feel about Doug’s car-buying too. I recently considered a G-Wagen among possibilities, but would have never pulled the trigger on it, and have considered the CTS-V and various AMGs. Hasn’t happened yet. The Panamera, probably not, however. If I wanted a 4-door like that, it’d probably be more likely an M or an S/RS.

      I did look at a Land Rover Discovery (well, LR3) once, but no Range Rovers.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Flat dash for ease of snorting lines: check.

    64-oz sized cup holder for a super sized energy drink: check.

    Off-road capability to access hiding places for the bodies: check.

    Room for four hookers and their toys: check.

    My client in Russia would like to buy your G-Wagon, Doug. Will you accept cash, in small bills, and can you have it delivered, in person, to the shipping dock, over behind the empty shipping containers, say at 2:00 am this Sunday?

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    In fact, the weight is more of a problem when you’re driving in a straight line. The big issues start around 35 miles per hour, when the G’s perpetually increasing momentum and massive weight forces you to take an entirely new look at the personal responsibility of driving.

    So, uh… you’ve never driven a full-size pickup or van, then?

    At 5,700 pounds (saith Wikipedia, on the G55), it’s 1,300 pounds lighter than my F-250.

    Maybe driving that Lotus skewed your perspective just a bit?

    (I personally lust more after the grey-market G270D, myself.)

    • 0 avatar

      The G-Wagen isn’t the heaviest vehicle I’ve owned. But it felt much heavier than it was. There was just so much mass packed into a rather compact body. The only car I’ve ever driven that gained momentum in the “Oh crap” way the G-Wagen did was a Bentley Arnage.

      By the way, even after my bad experience, I still lust after a grey-market diesel too.

  • avatar
    becauseCAR

    I once test drove the 2007 G55 AMG. After having driven it, I only made it about three miles down the highway.

    After 10 minutes of enduring the barn-door aerodynamics, I couldn’t deal with it anymore and told the salesman that people must buy these cars as a status symbol and nothing else.

    I will say something though. At 100 mph, I was actually scared in the G55 even though I’ve driven our family Odyssey at that speed without problem, which negates the issue of buying an AMG G-Wagen in the first place.

    Thank you for being man enough to actually buy a G500 and admit he made a mistake. I commend you, sir. Great read by the way.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    There’s always a fleet of these things in the restricted parking section in front of Sheremetevo airport in Moscow, asolutely beloved by mobsters and businessmen (often one and the same). Their ruggedness and capability is an actual practical selling point considering the roads in Russia, where less than 50 miles outside of Moscow you can find yourself mired in mud on a dirt road.

    I have to admit, I would love to have one of these, particularly an AMG variant. It’s one of the few new cars that has some sort of personality and quirks. Of course, I’d only buy one if it came with a paid-for gas card. Maybe it’s in my Russian genes to want one of these :p

  • avatar
    BeyondBelief

    “…and will get you laid ten times as often.” I cry foul, sir.

    Methinks you underestimate the shallowness of the average lady who frequents the kind of places to where these vehicles are driven for the purposes of getting laid.

    Even if Home Depot serves as an area’s primary meat market locale, it’s only twice as often. Three times tops.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    I’m stunned you could write an article about an early 2000s era Mercedes without referencing the catastrophic electronic problems. Or, maybe you got really lucky. A good friend bought one of those, nearly $55k if I remember correctly, alas in the over two years of ownership he got to drive it for a good three months. The rest of the time it sat in the Mercedes service department while one electronic gremlin after another was chased down. One time they called him after the usual nine weeks to let him know it was ready to go. He ran down, pulled out of the parking place and got a whole 35′ before it completely shut down. This time, however, everything locked up including the windows and doors, literally trapping him inside. He called the service department on his cell phone indicating his predictament, and when they asked him where he was he told them to look out their service department window and he would be the guy in the black GL waving at them. Not too long after that Mercedes recognized the looming lawsuit on the horizon and bought it back from him. I’m sure that truck is now off terrorizing some third world country after somebody realized that stripping out all the electronics was a good place to start…….

    • 0 avatar

      The only electrical issue I had was a throttle problem where it occasionally wouldn’t accelerate. Which is serious, but it only happened once or twice. I had three 2000-era Benzes: a 2001 E-Class, this, and a 2007 E-Class and electrics were fine in all. The problems were always bigger!

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        I’d love to hear about your 2001 E-Class experiences too. I always hear horror stories from all Benzes from that era.

        • 0 avatar

          Mine was an E55, and it was arguably the best of all my cars. Fodder for an upcoming review no doubt. It’s one of the few I wish I hadn’t sold.

          • 0 avatar
            becauseCAR

            I test drove a 2000 E55 AMG on Sunday that listed for $12.5K with 125,000 miles on it. It was a good car and I managed to spin the tires at a couple stoplights. The only problem is that the W210 is a huge car and doesn’t really take to winding mountain roads very well. I found it good only in the straight line.

            I would prefer a manual E39 540i, but that’s because I haven’t driven an E39 M5 before.

            I’m hoping this comment will accelerate your review of the W210 E55.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            2000 S-class with 125K… AMG or not… for 12.5K… yikes.

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            That’s expensive compared to the S-Class deal someone I know got a few years ago. It was early 2000s, he bought it in 2008 or 2009 when the used car market was at its absolute bottom, low mileage, and for under $6K. Those days were wonderful ones to buy luxury cars.

            A lot of people criticize AMG cars for only being good in a straight line, although supposedly the recent ones are better.

          • 0 avatar
            becauseCAR

            This was a well-maintained E55 AMG (The owner has the service records). It’s not some 2001 S430 which is definitely below $10K that is most certainly waiting for something to go wrong.

            When E39 M5′s go for around $19K, I don’t think $12.5K is too expensive for its competitor of the time period. The price could go down, but considering how much a well-maintained W124 500E is going for, it’s not a half-bad price.

            I am no doubt a fan of BMWs, but please give AMG Benzes a chance. Especially any AMG with the 6.2-liter motor.

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            becauseCAR, I didn’t think the price was unreasonable — just explaining to 28-Cars-Later what pricing is like for S-Classes of that vintage.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I’ve never owned an AMG, nor do I understand their value relative to as you said a 420, 12 just seems pricy (to me) for a 11-12yo car that’s going to run you thousands to work on. But that being said, perhaps if I truly understood the AMG edition this wouldn’t seem so bad.

            My favorite (ok second favorite) auction story involved an S-class AMG. In 2005, a silver 2003 S55 AMG/< 25K miles was running on Lane 1, no announcements, looked clean enough to eat off of. My friend/owners son/boss noticed there was a slight discoloration in the paint on the very front of the hood (and not bumper), it looked like someone put a bra over it and parked it frequently in the sun… he said this audibly enough that some of the other bidders heard, and now saw it. This is a 2-2.5 yo 100K+ loaded to the gills quasi-supercar, and it only bid 55K… because hey anything going into the Mercedes bodyshop would prob run at least 5K at time, right? I am certain Jason's comment probably cost somebody at least ten grand.

            My favorite story involved an as-is '00 Z3 BMW (with "BAD BRAKES" written in chalk across the windshield no less), an '86 Cressida, a near accident, and taking both cars literally off road at high speed.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    The funny thing is real military users were pretty happy with them. The Brixmis guys http://www.brixmis.co.uk/ considered them better than the Range Rovers they replaced.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Cheap(ish) parts and easily serviceable, is why I love my H1,2,3 collection, although their all fairly reliable.
    The deuce is easily the best for parts as it’s built on a 3/4 ton frame and I have all the Duramax competition parts that fit it (steering), and the SBC is an obvious duh.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I always thought these were ready for anything based off of their history, thanks for clearing that up, seems like they’ve degenerated into typical modern SUVs.

    I do like the functional styling though, somewhat.

  • avatar
    roadscholar

    Doug’s reviews never fail to make me laugh. Excellent.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Thank you Doug for crushing another one of my fantasies. How about an article about how Beyonce is really a man? Kidding. Another great read.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    The problem with these things, it sounds like, is that in making it Beverly Hills friendly, MB took away their ruggedness and utility. I will bet the old ones, like those indestructible diesel W123s, are still crawling away and will do so until the end of time.

    The rust problem is just a general carry over of Benz’s late 90s/early aughts cost cutting program. It was brand wide.

    Still though, if I wanted to go off road, I would get something like a Wrangler…. not a (once) $100K+ Benzo.

  • avatar
    glwillia

    I would totally rock a Geländewagen, although my tastes run much more towards the 230GE rather than the G55 AMG. Maybe with an OM617 swap…

  • avatar
    SayHiToYourMom

    Will you write an article some day on how you afforded all of these expensive cars on your salary at Porsche?

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Great review. Funny and comments on aspects of ownership you don’t often read about in reviews. Anyone can spew cliches about how a car rides, but the description of mass, momentum, and the vertical glass really paints a vivid picture of how awful this thing must be.

    Keep the used car reviews coming!

  • avatar
    VenomV12

    Ha Ha, two of my buddies in Chicago had these things and they both sold them in less than a year, utter junk. I remember I asked the one who sold his after three months what kind of gas mileage it got and his response was “it doesn’t”. He got a Range Rover which he was happy with and the other guy got a CL600 which he was happy with also.

    I probably see about 40 Range Rovers, GLs or LXs to every one of these I see. I have pro-athlete friends and neighbors and they won’t even buy these things. They stick to Range Rovers, Escalades and even Infiniti QXs. How Mercedes sells any of these is a miracle. Like driving a block of cheese into the wind.

    I sometimes wondered if their disdain was rare and most people probably liked their G Wagens but from your review I can see it is probably the norm.

    • 0 avatar

      I think in general, EVERYONE agrees they’re difficult to deal with, but some people are willing to put up with it for the “cool” image. So the question is: can you tolerate driving a block of cheese into the wind to look cool?

      • 0 avatar
        VenomV12

        No, I cannot, this thing drives awful. lol
        On another note, my neighbor’s friend owns a bright yellow Hummer H2, that literally looks like a rolling block of cheese. Why would anyone pick that color for that thing?

        • 0 avatar

          I guess the mentality is: go big or go home. Based on the number of H2s I see these days, it looks like everyone is going home!

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Seriously – where have all the Hummers gone? There were EVERYWHERE for a while, then *poof* gone.

            Not saying I am not thankful, but I am curious.

          • 0 avatar

            Once they were no longer fashionable, people ditched them. I’ve had this conversation with friends and we think they were exported somewhere where they remain in fashion (Middle East?).

            No other explanation other than they bounce from Manheim auction to Manheim auction, never meeting reserve.

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            There were only about 150K fake Hummers (aka H2s) sold in the US during the whole run, almost 100K of which were from 2003-2005. In 2008, there were only about 6,000 sold, and in 2009 only 600. I’m sure very few of them went offroad, considering the price and the typical buyer.

            It’s probably like any car that’s that old and served largely as a status symbol for many of the owners/leasors — the tacky second owners probably didn’t do a good job keeping them up after the tacky first owners dumped them. Some of them were turned into tacky limos. I still see a few here or there, even in the Bay Area, but it’s rare. They’re probably more common in LA still. Also, I’m sure many were dumped when gas prices went up and the second/third owners couldn’t deal. As Mr. DeMuro said, a lot of them probably got exported too.

            I never saw very many of the re-badged Colorados (aka H3s), but saw one in the last 3 weeks once.

            I did see a parked civilian real Hummer (aka H1) several blocks away from several military ones that were at a gas station on Sunday.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            They’re still on the road in San Diego. There are 18 of them for sale on our local craigslist right now. Asking prices seem quite high, and most have over 100,000 miles. I don’t know if any actually sell, but the Blue Book values are even higher than the asking prices. $23,500 for a ten year old vehicle with over 100K miles? The big German cars change hands for half that here. http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/cto/3721716098.html

  • avatar

    The local MB dealer here keeps the AMG Models on the sales floor. The V8 Twin Turbo is a scant $180G, and that is American money. For another $100G, you can have the V12 TT. It will get you to 100kph 1/100 of a second quicker.

    It also costs more than the pre-owned McLaren Gullwing they have on the floor.

  • avatar
    lowsodium

    A mercedes mechanic told me the G-wagon is the worst mercedes to work on.

    • 0 avatar
      VenomV12

      I have an S class and the mechanics have always told me to stay away from the V12s, BMW or Mercedes. My personal advice is to stay away from the S Class too unless it is in warranty.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Would you mind elaborating on your S-Class experience thus far? What issues have gone wrong, and which model? What makes you not want to own one out of warranty?

        I’m always curious on this. People are paying plenty (ahead of time) when they buy an S-Class in warranty. Is it really cheaper to buy a new S-Class than to continue repairing an out-of-warranty one? I doubt it.

        I think what people mean is that the typical used car buyer isn’t prepared to spend what it takes to keep an S-Class on the road.

  • avatar
    crtfour

    Awesome article as usual ! How does driving your Range Rover compare to this? Easier to manage I assume?

    • 0 avatar

      Absolutely, completely, 100 percent night and day. The Range Rover is actually larger in all dimensions, but the driving feel is so far superior in the sense that the Range Rover actually drives like a modern luxury car, not a converted militaristic relic.

  • avatar
    RobAllen

    I was so excited reading this review! I was going to forward it to my 5’6″ tall wife who loves the look of filing cabinets and demands the commanding “high seating position” from which to wreck havoc on traffic patterns through eastern PA. The extra space will be well used by her couch-cushion-sized purse. Her Scion xB is looking dated and plebeian so this would have been an excellent upgrade.

    Then I got to the second half of the review and it all went down hill too quickly to stop.

  • avatar
    fasn8n

    Another excellent review as usual.
    I did have fun watching a G55 at the GA 1/2 mile event give multiple supercars a challenge though.

  • avatar
    StatisticalDolphin

    Why be so concerned about other people’s opinions?

    Life is too short. Drive what you like and enjoy it.

  • avatar
    mvoss

    “The best part about the G-Wagen is all the verticle space for groceries in the back!” – My favorite line to use for customers. Nobody really came to buy a G-Wagen, unless they were Nigerian. I loved it when a Nigerian came and said the same exact thing every Nigerian says at an MB dealership: “Do you have… any G550s black/black? How much is it?” “$108,000.” “How much… cash?” “$108,000.”

    Also, you messed up the German! It’s Geländewagen mit einem Umlaut.

  • avatar
    burakvtec

    kım kardashian favourite;g63

  • avatar
    Whip

    Doug I really have to say I like your review a lot! I don’t necessarily agree with the content per se but I do enjoy your use of adjectives and analogies. I got a good laugh especially when you referred to the styling as that of a filing cabinet. Haha! I have to say though Mercedes-Benz hasn’t produced this vehicle since 1979 for the style – they produce it for the capability. Its not necessarily comparable to a Porsche of any kind accept in price for a new G-Wagen but I digress. I just wanted to say also that I have driven many a G and I have nothing to complain about except the windows but for a different reason. Its built tough, solid, and true with attention to detail in the right spots like the engine and all the dirty stuff that most people who own and drive this often don’t experience. Also, not many people care what you look like in it as again its not really a fashion statement or a personality statement per se. Though it ends up being so for folks like Nicole Richie or the fashionistas, doctors, lawyers, and other celebrities in my city of NYC but again I digress. The AMG is amazing for sure but its hard for most to tell the difference anymore except by the sounds. Any properly maintained Mercedes-Benz whether G or 220S new or 75 years old will be free of rust or any other defects its just the way they’re built. The fact yours had this tells me it wasn’t taken care of in its previous life which is a crying shame. Fact of the matter is the G is one of the most capable vehicles out there and built for the long run, see a story from Mercedes of the old man who bought his in 79 and drove it everywhere literally without fault, and to my knowledge is still driving it, not really meant for the city although it can deal with it and the highway but its more so meant for places like the Grand Canyon areas, or muddy swamps of Florida, or the snowy peaks of Switzerland… not really much for Atlanta or more so NYC. I think that, based on what I read of your review you had such an issue with it because you hopped from a Porsche to a G-Wagen. I also think I will write a comparison review from my perspective. Concluding though I really did enjoy your review it gave me a chuckle and also a realtime perspective of someone else’s experience behind the wheel of this marvelous tank.

  • avatar
    i6v8v10

    I can’t believe the small minded/judgmental people in here. Doug picks up a poorly maintained example of a w463 and has unfavorable experience with it, and suddenly everyone who drives one is a douche? Anyone of you ever been on a w463 forum before? This is definitely not one of the cars you buy bc you can barely afford the cheapest one on the market cars. Do your research beyond this “truth” and see if its right for you.

    Granted some issues discussed wouldn’t be resolved even if the g500 was in great condition. But here’s my take

    The truck does reflect off of the vertical windows, but that’s quickly adapted to. They average 13 mpg in real world driving but so did my lr3, titan, tundra, landcruiser, and my 7.3l f250. The parts are cheap and the community has a great base for diy’ers. The ride is solid and the brakes are more than sufficient(I’m guessing Doug’s had a pepboys brake special, given the neglected condition). Cross country trips are amazing in the seats and your not tired when you get to your destination. Although narrow the cabin height makes the truck feel very airy and you never feel claustrophobic. Though I wouldn’t recommend the car for families that are heavy set…..the great allure for this truck for me is the resale value and the ability to pack up and go explore right off the dealer lot, save the amg models. In order to prep my landcruiser 80 or 100 to g500 status it would take full suspension, front and rear protection and front and rear lockers. The vehicles not for everyone, and the mall cruiser crowd should get weary of it quickly, that is unless they find more value in their identity that’s tied to the vehicle image. And it seems that most expeditioners become life long w460/3 owners, while the rest, complain about how it didn’t elevate their image as they expected.

    Yes I do own a w463, along with a few other vehicles, and I’m not even sure how a google search of Mercedes’s paint led me to this article.

    Carry on

  • avatar
    hgrunt

    I’m really fond of the Gwagens. Then again, I’ve never driven one, and only ridden in them. Maybe one day if they depreciate enough, I’d pick one up and see how it goes.

    My ex’s parents used to have a pair, one for dad and one for mom. The dad’s G500 saw a lot of off road duty. He discovered the cooling fans were never connected from the factory while ambling up a trail off the 395 in the Eastern sierras one day. It also seemed to have surface corrosion, the kind you would see in cars in snowy places, The mom’s was in fantastic super-clean shape, and usually did grocery duty, though the alternator did fail on her once. Not sure how many regulators they all had to replace though.

  • avatar
    Defender90

    As a Defender driver I would LOVE a G Wagen – it’s the same but with Germanic build quality and axle diff locks!
    Unfortunately that build quality also equates to HEAVY, (Mercedes-Benz had heard rumours of this “lightweight” idea in the 1970s but dismissed it as some Anglo-Saxon fad).
    Such a hefty beast demands a diesel for the low down torque with a manual for engine braking. Although most of them are a bit lacking in top speed I’ve heard, but there was a diesel V8 version in the ’90s…. that sounds like having your cake and eating it!
    I’ve heard the military models are much lighter, nimbler and designed to more field servicable.
    A friend of mine had an early ’80s Wagen wagon with the unkillable 240D and 4 speed combo from the W123 (+ part time 4×4) that had to be driven pretty much flat out in order to make anything you might recognise as progress. Dust poured in through plentiful rust holes due to the fact it had spent 15 years trundling around a wet forest full of German lumberjacks and was the body was corroded as fuck. IT WOULD NOT DIE. And he was French and drove like it.


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