Home away from home: Mercedes-Benz G550 in California
More than 30 years on, Mercedes-Benz’s iconic off-roader is living the high life. Our British contributor travelled to California to discover its appeal – and see if it’s still got the goods
Los Angeles, Calif. - It's a Hollywood fantasy made real. A macho, muscular émigré from Austria winds up in L.A., dreaming of making it big in California.
No, we're not talking Arnold Schwarzenegger here. We're talking about the Mercedes G-Class, a vehicle which hails from the same Austrian city as The Governator himself, and a truck so tough it's lasted over three decades without any fundamental sheetmetal changes. This vehicle, designed in the '70s as an unstoppable military runabout, is now rubbing shoulders with Maybachs, Bentleys and Maseratis.
Of all the extraordinary twists and turns in the G's story it's this most recent chapter that seems most bizarre. And it's why, if you're really keen get under the skin of Mercedes' toughest car, you need to come to California, thousands of miles away from its native Austria and the place where, like Arnie, the G-Class has found fame and fortune.
Unstoppable - in every sense of the word
When Mercedes first sold the G-Class officially in North America it was already a 22-year-old design. That was back in October 2001 and America, specifically the Hollywood set, unexpectedly fell head over heels in love with this boxy relic. Sure, the fact it was being sold with a smooth 5.0-litre V8 engine (since upgraded to a more modern and powerful 5.5-litre motor) helped. That and a pricetag guaranteed to ensure exclusivity. Boy the G-Class is expensive - the G550 4Matic you see here would set you back at least $114,400.
That's no problem for the stars of course, and nearly a decade on the G-Class is a celebrity in its own right, even claiming a role in Sex and the City 2, where the durability of its bodywork was put to the test in a way only Samantha could contrive ...
There's more to California than Hollywood though. And our journey in the G-Class starts on the sun-kissed Pacific shoreline of Laguna Beach. Here it fits right in: The allure of its big three-pointed-star grille ornament, the familiarity from its sightings on gossip pages, and the thundering side exhausts, all of which ensure plenty of head-swivelling. And immediate disappointment when it's obvious the driver is merely a pasty British motoring journalist, and not say, Britney Spears out on a shopping spree.
Showing its roots ... but everyone loves 'em anyway
At face value it's hard to see what the fuss is about with the G-Class. This is, quite clearly, a car from another age. An age when men were men and off-roaders were off-roaders, not jumped up luxury cars or fashionable wind-swept crossovers. Everything on the G is harsh angles and straight lines. If they could've gotten away with square wheels you think Benz might have done so.
Inside there's a curious mish-mash of 1970s ergonomics, thick black vinyl the likes of which you haven't seen in a Mercedes for, well, 30 years and modern fixtures and fittings like a hard-drive sat-nav and infotainment system, and an instrument binnacle swiped straight from the Mercedes parts shelf. On some level, it really makes you wonder if it's worth the six figures Benz asks for it.
Seated upright, face nearly pressed against the board-flat windscreen and with steering wheel in your chest, the G-Class is old-school 4x4 through and through. And yet, for some reason - perhaps that very reason - the G is considered cooler than a Cayenne and way more regal than a Range Rover.