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Expert Reviews 3 of 3
By Tom Strongman
October 12, 2002
With a pug nose and a boxy body, the Mercedes-Benz G500 looks like a German Hummer. What we have here is a vehicular paradox. Its 1970s military roots and off-road prowess are thinly veiled by a cozy cabin swathed in leather and a 292-horsepower V-8
that howls like a race car when you step on its throttle. Slab-sided and tall, the G500 looks like a four-wheeled definition of the word stout. Its styling is more industrial than automotive, owing to the fact that this vehicle began life some time ago as
a military vehicle capable of climbing cliffs, pulling stumps and conquering off-road obstacles that would leave other vehicles gasping for breath. It is about 4 inches longer than the M-class SUV. Called the Gelaendewagen in Europe and the G-class
here, it has been reconfigured to suit an American market that seems to have an almost endless appetite for luxury SUVs. Mercedes says G-class buyers are likely to be people who can afford to buy a vehicle purely for recreation. If the sticker price of
$73,165 doesnÕt limit the number of buyers, availability will: The company plans to sell about 1,000 to 2,000 per year. The G500's forte is off-roading, and while I did not find a suitable place to sample its mud-plugging, rock-crawling capabilities,
the specifications suggest that this vehicle is second only to a mountain goat when it comes to scrambling about the terra firma. The full-time four-wheel-drive system has three locking differentials: one in front, one in back and one in the center.
Diehard off-roaders know that locking differentials are one of the best ways for the tires to get a grip when the going is questionable. Electronic traction control and ESP vehicle stability control are added tools that help the driver maintain control of
the vehicle. Low range can be selected while rolling at speeds up to 15 miles per hour. The G500 rides on huge, 18-inch wheels shod with fat tires that provide traction in all but the slipperiest of off-road conditions. Plus, they enhance the
vehicle's already macho look. The 5.0-liter, all-aluminum V-8 is basically the same one that is used in the SL roadster and S-class sedan, and it flexes its muscles at the slightest prodding. A dual-path intake system helps provide the kind of torque
that is so useful in low-speed maneuvers. Yet when you want to flydown the road, this engine rises to the occasion with a soulful howl as it yanks its 5,423 pounds up to 60 miles per hour in a tick over 10 seconds. At highway speeds, the G500 is
surprisingly quiet considering it has the aerodynamics of a brick and is as tall as a full-size pickup. The standard five-speed automatic transmission can also be shifted manually, which is very handy for off-road use. Fuel economy is rated at 12
miles per gallon in the city and 14 on the highway. While the G500's exterior fit and finish is not what one would expect from a Mercedes-Benz passenger car (door locks are visible through the door gaps, for example)
, the interior has been fitted with burl walnut, leather seats and a full complement of electronics such as automatic climate control and heated seats front and rear. Not only does the GPS navigation system require different CDs for various sections of
the country, but its interface is overly complex. If you need to haul a large object, folding down the back seat is not as easy as it should be. Rear-seat legroom is not overly generous, either. Access to the cargo hold is easy because the rear door
opens from the side. The spare tire is mounted on the door. The G500 is a special-use vehicle, yet I suspect its cachet will be its macho looks and exclusivity. Price The list price of the G500 is $72,500. With destination and delivery, the
sticker price is $73,165. Warranty Four years or 50,000 miles. Point: If you're into boulder crawling and rock hopping, the G500 is capable of taking you to places you won't believe, thanks to three
locking differentials and electronic stability control. This is basically a military vehicle that has been civilized with creature comforts and a 292-horsepower V-8 engine. Counterpoint: Despite its capabilities, I suspect few buyers will subject
their $73,165 SUV to off-road abuse. The engine is thirsty, the ride is stiff and the test vehicle had a few rattles. SPECIFICATIONS: Engine: 5.0-liter, 292-hp V-8 Transmission: automatic Four-wheel drive Wheelbase: 112 inches
Curb weight: 5,423 lbs. Base price: $73,165 As driven: $73,165 Mpg rating: 12 city, 14 hwy. > >