More than one automaker would like to believe that its sport utility vehicle is the ultimate one. Mercedes-Benz took a bold step in that direction with its G500, which evolved from the no-compromises European Geläendewagen and debuted during the 2002 model year.
Soon after its introduction, Mercedes-Benz began to offer a high-performance G55 AMG edition that was powered by a hand-built, 349-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8 engine. The company says the limited-production G55 AMG accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. Special features include designo Charcoal Nappa leather upholstery and AMG-designed stainless-steel doorsill trim. Only about 300 G55 AMG models are available each year in the United States.
New standard equipment for 2004 includes multicontour seats, a Harman Kardon premium audio system and rear parking assist.
Mercedes-Benz focuses largely on road-going manners with its M-Class model, while the G-Class is a hard-core offroad machine. The German automaker claims that it will climb an 80-percent grade and remain stable on a 54-percent lateral slope. Handcrafted in Graz, Austria, the G500 faces such competitors as the BMW X5, Hummer H1 and Land Rover Range Rover.
A strictly utilitarian appearance is softened somewhat by body-colored bumpers, rub strips, rocker panels and a stainless-steel spare-tire cover. At 183.5 inches long overall, the G-Class is only an inch longer than the M-Class. The G500 uses 18-inch tires and stands half an inch higher than its M-Class sibling, but the G55 AMG is taller.
Rigid front and rear axles with longitudinal and transverse links to the coil springs, along with three locking differentials, are installed. In extremely low-traction situations, a little grip on one front wheel should be enough to pull drivers through a trouble spot. Four-wheel electronic traction control assists less experienced drivers.
Leather upholstery is complemented by burl walnut interior trim. Standard equipment includes power windows and locks, heated power seats, a navigation system and Mercedes-Benzs Tele Aid system that offers emergency and theft-tracking services.
Under the Hood
An all-aluminum, 5.0-liter V-8 engine produces 292 hp and 336 pounds-feet of torque. An electronically controlled five-speed-automatic transmission sends the power to a full-time four-wheel-drive system with a Low range, which offers shift-on-the-fly operation at up to 15 mph. The G55 AMGs 5.5-liter V-8 cranks out 349 hp and 387 pounds-feet of torque.
The G-Class antilock brakes have Brake Assist for automatic full-power braking in panic stops. Electronic brake-force distribution enhances stability when braking in curves. Mercedes-Benzs Electronic Stability Program is standard.
Even though it is far smaller than the Hummer H1, the G500 delivers a comparably unique experience. This SUV conveys the impression of looming height, which is emphasized by its relatively short, narrow body.
Everything about the G500 seems bolt-upright, including the seating positions. Even though vehicle height is largely an illusion, theres a tendency to keep road speed way down when rolling through curves and corners. This SUVs operation is defiantly trucklike emitting plenty of sound and accelerating with a degree of sluggishness. Not only does the G500 look ready to tackle the most demanding terrain, but it also feels ready, and that detracts from its prowess and pleasure on ordinary paved surfaces.