By on August 23, 2017


Let’s say you had around $50,000 to spend on a vehicle purely as an indulgence. In this indulgence, you desire a somewhat rare SUV that’s basic, yet carries substantial prestige. In the same way, your SUV of choice would be very capable off-road, but you’d never take it there (as it’s simply too valuable). This vehicle would be for around-town jaunts on sunny days only.

A tough and specific decision for you, as imaginary well-heeled buyer of this used SUV. But never fear, as we’ve narrowed the choices down to two for today’s QOTD.

So, between the Land Rover Defender and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon, which do you choose to lighten your wallet?

This isn’t the first time we’ve presented the B&B with a Pick Your Poison Question of the Day. The inaugural honors go to the Lincoln versus Cadillac QOTD. But before we cover the two options, let’s go over the very simple rules of this engagement — there are only two this time.

  1. The Defender or G-Wagon are your only two choices today, and you must choose one of them.
  2. Suggestions of “neither,” or of any vehicles outside the two outlined below are invalid. Consider yourself warned.

Option One: 1994 Land Rover Defender 90

Image: 1994 Land Rover Defender, via eBay

This short wheelbase Defender has around 78,000 miles, and is for sale right now for roughly $56,000.

Image: 1994 Land Rover Defender, via eBay

As we detailed previously, the Defender was on sale in the US for just a handful of years — 1993 to 1997. It has a 3.9-liter V-8 engine hooked to a manual transmission, seats two on cloth buckets, and is in excellent condition.

Image: 1994 Land Rover Defender, via eBay

Used Defender prices have increased ever since its cancellation, and the asking price for this clean example is not outside reality.

Option two: 1990 Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon

Image: 1991 Mercedes G-Class, via eBay

The two-door G-Wagon you see here has travelled 38,000 miles in its lifetime, and is on offer for just under $55,000.

Image: 1991 Mercedes G-Class, via eBay

It has a small four-cylinder gasoline engine, a manual transmission, and seats five on simple cloth seats. This G-Class was never actually on sale through Mercedes dealers in the United States. It was a popular grey import vehicle, however, brought over in limited numbers in the 1980s and 1990s through importers via legislation loopholes. On these shores, customers were eager to pay top dollar (think six figures) for these rare vehicles. Prices started out high and have stayed there ever since.

Image: 1991 Mercedes G-Class, via eBay

This two-door model was never officially sold in North America at all. Mercedes, keen to put the grey guys out of business, began selling the G500 version of the G-Class in North America starting in 2002, but it always had four doors and a luxurious interior. The example above harkens back to a simpler time for the SUV.

Same color(ish), same concept, different execution. Which is your poncy poison SUV of choice?

[Images via eBay]

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60 Comments on “QOTD: Land Rover Defender vs. Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon – Pick Your Poison...”

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I think in this case you have to go with the Defender. I see many of them here in CO and know of one who uses his regularly off-road.

    My only concern with the LR would be the motor which is the old SB Buick design. Same one that was in my Plus 8. Aluminum block, so it is light but really does not hold up very well and is quite prone to leaking. Everywhere.

    A 5.3 swap is almost a must at some point.

    • 0 avatar

      This is my choice as well. Defender, with the possibility of an LS-swap somewhere down the line.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve spent some time on the LR message boards (former owner of a ’95 Range Rover and an ’01 Discovery) and my understanding is that the transmissions in all of these vehicles are too weak to handle the power of most any V8 swap. Seems a number of folks with classic Rangies looking to do swaps go for Isuzu diesels.

        • 0 avatar

          Depending if we’re talking automatic or manual, 9/10 times if you wanted an automatic you would use a GM 4L60/65/80 or 6LXX with the LS engine since the controller is usually readily available with the other swap parts. As for a manual just snag a T56 or TR-6060.

  • avatar

    On one hand, the G-wagen is much more rare in this format (I’ve seen maybe ONE in my area, ever). On the other hand, the latter 4-door models are the ride-du-jour of the nouveau riche and wanna-be gangstas, so it loses some uniqueness by association. I see those a couple times a week.

    Then the Defender…I have neither a trust fund nor a pair of Birkenstocks, but I would rock the hell out of it as a daily driver. It’s just too rare, cool, and classic to pass up here.

    Of course, my real answer would be a used Lexus GX AND a used Mercedes GL, but you didn’t exactly give me that choice.

  • avatar

    ….annnddd…stand by for the “neither, I would prefer (X) over either of these” answers.

    I’m sure the V-8 in the Defender is more capable than the 4-banger in the G, but I prefer the more “tied together” execution (especially the interior) of the G.

  • avatar

    I would pick the G-wagon, but if you’re going for a grey market import, it has to be one with the OM602 turbo diesel. You also have to take it off road. On road these are miserable vehicles. I never understood paying well into the 6 figures for a vehicle that’s unbearable to drive and has the interior of the previous generation C Class. Especially if it has low profile tires. Put some meaty tires on one, and it will go anywhere.

  • avatar

    Give me the G-Wagen, I ridicule them all the time for being the housewife-mobile they are, but they have great proportions and a step above in reliability over an LR.

    • 0 avatar

      More like 10 steps…..Just like home built billy carts…..

      G Wagons also drive and handle decently for what they are on road, even above 50mph. Again, something Defenders and billycarts struggle with.

      Defenders make some sense in parts of Africa, where there is more experience with them than with G wagons. As well as perhaps for more technical offloading. But for driving around American towns on a sunny day, G wagons are so much less likely to present constant irritants.

  • avatar
    Cole Trickle

    Gotta go with the Defender. It would be much easier to sell off when you inevitably get tired it. Those center-facing jump seats are pretty cool though. I went to high school with a girl who got a brand new green one for her 16th birthday and she let me drive it. I drove a 1991 Sunbird and her Defender even felt slow to me.

    Try to ignore that Wrangler in the parking lot humming “Anything you can do I can do better” for 1/3 of the price. (locking diffs be damned)

  • avatar

    If forced to choose between these two particular examples, I’d reluctantly take the LR for its better looks (2 door G doesn’t look right to me) and V8 engine. Hoping the Defender is at least somewhat better than the average Range Rover reliability wise…

    If I can spend the $50k on any version of these two SUVs, a much newer G500 would be the obvious choice. The utilitarian 4 cyl/5 speed/cloth interior isn’t a plus for me if the vehicle is only used on road on sunny days.

  • avatar

    G-Wagen all the way, for one important reason: the immensely satisfying way the doors slam.

  • avatar

    I’ll take the Defender. So veddy British.

  • avatar

    This would be the perfect time for Cammy to return and defend the honour of British steel.

  • avatar

    I’d take the G-Wagen, and the first thing I’d do is take off that ill-fitting and idiotic brush guard.

  • avatar

    Land Rover because when it sets itself on fire I can buy something else.

  • avatar

    Forced to choose between the two, I’m going Defender because it’s not tainted by as much of a rich wanker image (although the small wheel/black bumper/cloth seat G-wagens are charming).

    That said, apparently rich guy old offroaders are the one segment Canadians don’t get hosed in. The linked Defender would be my choice, but one of our local dealers has a mid-90s 2-door G320 for sale as well, at a similar price (with the exchange rate, either are worth about half either of our given choices).

  • avatar

    The Defender just because in the contest of two easily breakable luxo-wheelers, the British one is probably easier to fix.

    • 0 avatar

      “two easily breakable”

      Define easily breakable? Lack of durability or unreliability? They’re both plenty sturdy trucks, I’d argue the Merc is particularly overbuilt.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m using breakable in the reliability sense, both trucks are hardy enough to survive the pits and falls of four-wheeling. But in the US the Land Rover would be the more popular/easier to fix when you need parts since it was legitimately sold here for several years versus gray market importing. Plus, the Defender has an absolutely monstrous aftermarket globally.

        I’m betting the calculus on which one to pick depends heavily on which part of the world you’re in, though.

  • avatar

    I would pick the Mercedes. It wins based on the interior alone, But I also like the exterior styling better too. It looks much more civilized and refined than the primitive Land Rover.

    • 0 avatar

      I too would pick the G-Wagon. I think it’s more usable in everyday situations with the hard rear shell, and seating for five. The interior as you mention is far superior.

      And I definitely see more Defenders than I do 2-door G-Wagons.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Defender of these two, but in the real world give me the one where I can take the doors off, the Wrangler. Saves me about $20k, too, or enough to spend a summer on Nantucket with it.

  • avatar

    If it would be my only vehicle or best vehicle then the g-wagon. Much more civilized looking for everyday. If it’s my second, well, maybe third vehicle :) then the Defender. I really like the defender but I see it as a tool for a specific purpose. Off roading or farm use with the ability to run down the road as needed to get to and from what you are really using it for. The g-wagon gives you much more comfort for the road where it would spend most of its time.

  • avatar

    I’ll go with the defender. I’ve seen demilitarized G’s go for much less than what they’re looking for here.

  • avatar

    I think I might come down on the side of the G, owing to the higher build quality and reliability, and presence of the trifecta of slectably-locking front, center, and rear differentials (versus just center lock on the Defender). 4cyl gas motor in the Benz leaves my scratching my head, why not a diesel here of all places?

    The Defender does look quite fetching though, and I’m sure is more satisfying to drive both on-road and off owing to the smooth V8 torque.

  • avatar

    One more thing: I don’t understand how the transfer case knob, of all things, could have acquired so much visible wear in so few miles. Quite puzzling.

  • avatar

    This is a hard one, since usually I’d prefer the uniqueness of the G, but I’d take the Defender simply since I like the look better, and prefer British to German. Wouldn’t want to own either particularly though.

  • avatar

    As attractive to me and as cool as both of them are, both are poison to me:

    One is expensive and British with lack of reliability to match, and one is German, which is also expensive and probably needlessly complicated.

    Both are expensive to own and maintain.

    I still like them, just the same!

    I’ll take a Wrangler, please.

    • 0 avatar

      I honestly think the G wouldn’t be too bad, aside from having a few comfort accessories like heated seats, these are really quite overbuilt rigs and nowhere close to the overcomplicated module-encrusted mess of a modern luxury Mercedes sedan. The 4cyl chain driven motor should be durable and easy to service, the BOF/longitudinal layout likewise speaks to durability and ease of maintenance.

      The Rover has the cooling system and headgaskets on the 3.9L to worry about, and leaks of every possible fluid from every possible seal (normal Land Rover) and what little creature comforts/electrical systems it does have might not be the most reliable, but shouldn’t be that hard to diagnose or repair. It too is built quite simply, with simple mechanical components (gear box, transfer case, etc).

  • avatar

    I have to push both of your “invalid” buttons, because I really have no desire for either of these vehicles. Both are cool in their own way but both have been spoiled by their descendants. The Defender is just a way to show off how much you can spend on toys and the G is now the Kardashian Kar.

    My $50,000 for an offroading toy is going to go toward buying the best FJ80 Lexus LX 450 out there, making it perfect, and then keeping $20,000 for gas.

  • avatar

    Sorry Corey….I’d have to say neither. For $50 K I’d find a nice restomodded ’66-’77 Bronco….lightyears cooler than either of those. And I’d stand out amid the sea of D90s in Nantucket ;)!

    I know that you had mentioned “luxury” but neither of those are really luxurious apart from the badge/name.

  • avatar

    Ooh if we’re playing “piss Corey off with irrelevant answers” game I want to play!

  • avatar

    Unless it’s a cheap ex-militay surplus opentop version I could not ever imagine seeing myself pay my own money for something so incredibly awful looking, uncomfortable and overengineered as a G-wagen. Land Rover any day for me. Luckily here in Norway you get about a dozen old LR’s for the price of one G-wagen, so I’d have loads of money left over for modifications.

  • avatar

    I’ll choose the Chelsea Tractor. I have wanted one since the D90s were first offered in the mid-90s. I’ll just have to wait a bit longer since I really want an SW with a Tdi and won’t pay today’s prices.

  • avatar

    The Defender is cool and on looks and name alone would be my first choice but I honestly don’t recall ever seeing one. I’ve seen G-Wagons and since the Canadian military uses them, I’d say that parts are probably more plentiful. I have a neighbour that has an older G-Wagon. It looks pretty cool but I’d rather have my nieghbour’s diesel Toyota Land Cruiser. That rig would not cost me an arm and a leg to keep on the road for another 20 years.

  • avatar

    G-Wagen for sure. Way more unique in that configuration.

  • avatar

    I’ll wait for bollinger b1…

  • avatar

    The Defender has the uber reliable Buick V8 so I won’t worry about reliability. It’s also the best off-roader of the two and better than a Wrangler which gives me bragging rights when I take it off road….

    • 0 avatar

      Why on earth do you think the Buick-Rover V8 is reliable? Head on over to a Land Rover forum and read the build threads started by people who have given up on them. They have head gasket issues, and the people capable of successfully replacing a head gasket on one are too busy engineering formula 1 cars instead of patching garbage back together. I was trying to research this issue for a customer with a Discovery driveway ornament and I learned that the best course of action for a Land Rover sufferer is to replace everything from the axles to the computers with parts from a donor Silverado. You know what would be even better? An intact Silverado. Do you know what is better than driving a Silverado? Driving a Corolla. You’re more likely to survive the zombie apocalypse Landie drivers think they’re preparing for if your car actually starts.

  • avatar

    Easy choice; the Mercedes.

    Though I am not a fan of gas engines in workhorses like these; a diesel would be better suited for the task (at least for how I would use them). Early G-Wagons were underpowered (230GE, 240GD and so forth). I think the 4-cylinder in this SWB G-Wagon should be ok, but I think the real sweet spot would be the G300D Turbodiesel.

  • avatar

    I’ll just leave this here:

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    G-Wagon on the account that I have more Merc dealers around town. G500 as the diesels moved on from the reliable CDI to these funny blueTEC motors.

  • avatar

    50.000$ for a defender??!!
    why don’t you buy 10 defenders here in europe?

    G class no doubt

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The USDM Defenders cost $50,000 because they were only imported in low numbers for a few years. Euro-market ones have to be 25 years old before they can be imported into the US, and most of those have been used up or exported to Africa already. There are some good-quality survivors, but you’re not getting those for $5,000 out-the-door.

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