The Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is iconic. Since the 1970s, it’s defined boxy, square-edged go-anywhere 4x4 indestructability, and about the most significant attempt at modernisation came when the firm changed the name from G-Wagen to G-Class. Contemporary name but the same old beast related directly back to the 1979 original.
Codenamed W460, it originally went up against the Range Rover, although the British model had the edge on the big Merc even back then. Sales reflected this: it was simply too utilitarian to compete with a Range Rover, despite Mercedes’ insistence on charging top-end money for it.
The firm responded through the 1980s by making it posher, progressively upping kit levels and, in 1989, undertaking a huge overhaul. Fancy bits such as air con, electric windows and wood trim were bought in – changes so extensive, it even gained a new codename, W463.
The four-wheel drive system became more comprehensive as well. It was now permanent AWD, with no fewer than three electronically locking differentials. This made an already impressive off-roader pretty much unstoppable in the mud. Today, this is reflected in the used market: at the lower end, early 1990s cars are much more desirable than scruffy 1980s cars – they can cost four times as much, in fact.
Mercedes switched to the G-Class name in 1997. It also introduced a modern range of new engines, which were appealing… although less so for Brits, as the firm withdrew it from sale in the UK. It remained absent from the market right up until 2010, in fact: see a car built during this period for sale in Britain and you can guarantee it will be an unofficial left-hand drive import.
That shouldn’t completely deter you. The G320 petrol was a fine thing and the V8 G500 is sleek. By now, AMG was getting involved with the G-Class: its G55 AMG was hilarious. Pay from around £15,000 for the cheapest early models, but be wary, because secondhand prices seem to be all over the place. For every over-optimistic used example, there’s a comparable bargain waiting to be had.
Finally, the G-Class made an official return in 2010, with right-hand drive, more refinements than ever and a much-simplified model range: G350 CDI, G55 AMG and a commercial G300 CDI Professional van. These are the models that remain on sale today, but even a few years on, they’re not cheap secondhand.
You’re looking at, deep breath, at least £40,000 even for the Professional: the G350 CDI is priced from at least £55,000. The AMG had an eye-opening price even when new, which remains so secondhand: the 55 was replaced by a delicious G63 AMG in 2012, but even today, they can’t be bought for less than £80,000. Is it worth it? To the right person, absolutely so. Because there remains nothing quite like the G-Class.
Rob Adams is a writer for PistonHeads.
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