How to show the neighbors a couple acres away in the next McMansion that you're hot stuff?
Maybe a Mercedes-Benz G500 is your answer.
The G stands for Galaende-wagen. That's German for ''cross country vehicle.''
Originally designed for use by the German army to patrol borders, its boxy shape dates to sometime after the first energy crisis.
Built in Graz, Austria, by Steyr-Daimler-Puch, the G500 is finally being imported by Mercedes-Benz after years of gray market imports. Two-thousand a year will enter this country at a starting price of $72,500. That's a bargain compared to the $135,000-plus tariff asked by some importers.
Still, is this four-wheel-drive automotive brick really worth it?
Depends on how insecure you are.
The G500 driver sits high in the saddle, with a roof so high, even the Kaiser's pointed helmet could fit without brushing the headliner. It has the Mercedes bank vault feel when you slam the doors, giving the impression that this vehicle could outlast the next war, not to mention the next battle over a parking space at Wal-Mart.
The G500's imposing slab sides and tall stance provide an incredible feeling of space inside the vehicle that belies its relatively short 183.5 inch length. This also means slowing down for corners, as rollovers are a hazard for such high-profile vehicles. However, the Electronic Stability Program helps keep things on an even keel.
Power is quite strong. The 5-liter V-8 is rated at 292 horsepower, fed through a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. Four-wheel-drive is constantly engaged, with a high and low gear as well as front, center and rear locking differentials.
The ride off-road is firm, but quite good. Most owners will never take it any farther off-road than the bush at the end of the driveway. Still, this off-road alacrity is tempered by a highway ride with a jiggle. It has loads of ground clearance and a very tight turning radius.
Inside, Mercedes-Benz has tried to endow the G500 with luxury accoutrements. That means the usual dose of wood and leather. It certainly helps. But there's too much hard plastic and squared-off edges to fully hide its military past. There's an industrial feel to the interior.
The gauges and controls come straight from the C-Class, the Mercedes-Benz least-expensive line. The instrument cluster's half-moon shape is every bit as easy to understand in the G-Class as it is in the lesser C-Class. Ditto the simple automatic climate controls.
But the Mercedes-Benz ''COMMAND'' center can be just as daunting to figure out as it is elsewhere. ''COMMAND'' combines controls for the navigation system, cell phone and stereo in one unit. While the audio controls are simple enough, the rest of it can be tough to figure out without instructions. Without a manual, I couldn't figure out how to map a course to State College, necessitating a call via Mercedes-Benz's Tele-Aid. I was then informed that it would cost $2.95 plus airtime to answer one simple question.
Well, at least it was cheaper than filling the tank.
Normally, I accept an SUV's lousy gas mileage as part of the equation. These vehicles are built for tough tasks, not fuel efficiency. But the 9 mpg in the city, 14.5 mpg on the highway and overall average of 13 mpg was a bit eye-opening. Keep in mind my final stint in the G500 returned a mere 7 mpg on premium fuel.
But this vehicle is all about standing apart, uh, make that above the crowd. The Mercedes-Benz G500 is for those who find conformity uncomfortable and subtlety unsavory.