It's no road rocket but the rich and famous will love the return of this legendary machine, says Fifth Gear's Tiff Needell
You may recall that I got quite carried away in the last issue reviewing the stunning new Range Rover Evoque. It's moved Britain's famous off-road marque a long way forward from its boxy origins. But the same could hardly be said about the new Mercedes G-Wagen – it looks exactly like it did when it arrived more than 30 years ago.
For many the return of a right-hand drive version of this legendary machine for the first time in over 10 years has been a moment of great joy. It's loved for looking so, well, unlovable and revered for being so rugged and reliable. Hand built – and with a jaw-dropping price tag of almost £82,000 for the G350 BlueTec model I drove – this is a car for the rich and famous who want to look different and drive anywhere they want.
The G-Wagen was developed from a purely military cross country vehicle – or Geländewagen to give it the full German. First rolled out in 1979 it gained huge kudos the following year when one was converted into a Popemobile for John Paul II's visit to Germany. Since then rock stars and footballers alike have turned to this quirky icon for four wheel-drive fun. Mind you they mostly go for the AMG version, which raises the price to £118,000 – or three Evoques.
The thing is that while the quality of the car is right up to date the accommodation is cramped by modern standards. Instead of the latest triple-split tailgate you get a huge barn door that you'd barely be able to open in the modern closed ranks of on-street parking while the four passenger doors have to be hurled shut to make their tight seals close properly.
Apart from the ever-plusher quality of the interior you can't escape the basic layout of the dashboard and seating so the only thing that is really new is the name. While the ability of the G-Class to go almost anywhere off road is not in doubt, with its choice of high- or low-gear ratios and three lockable differentials to drag you out of the deepest of quagmires, it's the car's on-road ability that gives away its age.
With an old-fashioned ladder chassis that has its body mounted on top, the G-Class has no chance of delivering the refined ride quality expected from the latest integrated chassis of the modern Range Rovers and the steering response is nowhere near as sharp. Add to that a three-litre turbo diesel that emits only 210 horsepower – taking more than nine seconds to reach 62mph with a top speed of just 108mph – and you'll realise this is no road rocket.
But to those who are going to spend the cash – and most will be spending AMG money – none of that matters. The only thing that is important is this is a G-Wagen, and if you're one of its devoted followers you won't care about ride quality or performance – you'll just love it for what it is.