The two ends of Mercedes’ top-end SUV range are a galaxy apart. At the sharp tip is the EQE SUV, a sleek, high-tech, all-electric SUV that prioritises efficiency, technology and aerodynamics. And at the blunt end is the G-Class, a boxy, analogue and old-fashioned icon that has defiantly stood against the winds of change. It’s not too different from the original G-Wagen (for Geländewagen) as it was known when it was launched in the 1970s for military use. Exposed door hinges and push-button door handles are all still there, and so is the basic central locking system, which makes a ‘clak-clak’ sound, like an AK-47 being cocked every time you press the key fob.
Solid, tough and armed with military-grade mechanicals that include three locking differentials, the go-absolutely-anywhere G-Class feels indestructible, and the car you’d want to escape in when Armageddon strikes. In fact, during the first lockdown after the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the planet, I was stuck in Mahabaleshwar with a G 350d, and though I couldn’t drive it anywhere for six weeks, it felt reassuring to have it in the driveway in what was then an apocalyptic world.
Mercedes-Benz G 400d performance
So it’s with a sense of déjà vu that I’m driving to Mahabaleshwar in the G-Class, but this time I’m in the G 400d, which has replaced the G 350d. Though it uses the same 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, it has been upgraded to produce 330hp, a substantial 44hp bump up in power.
330hp diesel engine is silky smooth.
There’s nothing like a great diesel engine, which is sadly a dying breed, and this Merc diesel is the best of that breed. It’s responsive, powerful and incredibly refined, and at highway speeds the sound of the wind swooshing off the flat windscreen and tall body is, in fact, louder than the quiet engine. This lusty diesel is a real workhorse and a perfect fit for this iconic SUV that’s strong enough to move mountains. In fact, this diesel makes so much more sense than the mental twin-turbo V8 in the AMG G 63, which easily overwhelms this body-on-frame SUV’s rudimentary dynamics. The 400d’s maximum torque, which is a colossal 700Nm, arrives thick and fast from as low as 1,200rpm and doesn’t tail off till 3,200rpm, giving the diesel G-Class the pulling power of a locomotive. The 9-speed torque-converter ensures there are no gaps in ratios, which results in smooth and progressive power delivery. In fact, the power delivery is too linear, and diesel lovers will miss the lack of mid-range surge or that spikey thrust that characterised previous BS4 diesels when they swung into the meat of the powerband. BS6 calibration has made diesel engines smoother in general, with a more progressive power delivery, but this has taken away a bit of the character too.
That’s not to say the G 400d isn’t quick. It will leap from a standstill to 100kph in just 6.4 seconds, a whole second faster than the previous G 350d. Overtaking on the single-lane section of the unfinished NH66 or lunging through gaps in traffic is something the G 400d does with confidence, forcing other cars to give it a wide berth as it lumbers past.
Mercedes-Benz G 400d ride and handling, fuel-efficiency
The way the G 400d shrugs off the worst possible roads gives it an air of invincibility. Nothing fazes the G-Class, which ploughs through everything, even if a touch crudely. The ride is bumpy, it rocks from side to side on bad roads and there’s quite a bit of body roll through corners. The big, tall and heavy G is, unsurprisingly, quite a handful to push hard on a twisty road, but it cruises on any surface with crushing authority.
Efficiency? It’s not great, but what can you expect from a car which has the aerodynamics of a brick? Some brisk driving, including a charge up the steep Ambenali ghat with gravity acting against the near 2.5-tonne kerb weight, gave 5.8kpl. But a gentler cruise on the way back improved efficiency to 7.8kpl, which honestly, is not too bad for what the G-Class is. The 100-litre tank equates to a comfortable 600km+ range, which is very useful when you’re exploring places where fuel stations are few and far between.
Mercedes-Benz G 400d interior, features
Interior mixes traditional upright layout with modern Mercedes tech.
It’s quite a hike up to the high driver’s seat (there’s no footrest to help), but once you’re perched there, you feel on the top of the world. Want to sit even higher? The Adventure Edition of the G 400d I am driving comes with a sturdy roof rack that’s big enough for a tent, but blocks a part of the must-have sunroof. How will sunroof-loving Indian car owners react to that?
Functional roof rack can take up to 100kg but obscures half the sunroof.
The cabin is properly modern, with Merc’s trademark twin-screen setup. It’s not the latest MBUX system, but that’s not a bad thing, because the steering-mounted controls are still proper buttons and not the fiddly touchpads the newer system has.
The rear seats have a nice upright seating position too with decent under-thigh support, but aren’t particularly plush. The boot, which is accessed by a side-hinged tailgate, has a low parcel shelf to align with the window line. This limits useable boot space, and the full-size spare wheel mounted on the tailgate blocks visibility too.
Spacious rear bench and low window line gives great visibility out.
Mercedes-Benz G 400d price, verdict
Priced at Rs 2.55 crore (ex-showroom, India), it is ridiculously expensive for what is an old-school, body-on-frame SUV. But this isn’t just an SUV, it’s a statement. It’s a symbol of charisma and capability that stands tall in an ocean of generic luxury SUVs, giving it a unique appeal that makes it hard to resist.