Graz, AUSTRIA – Contrary to the dateline, this story begins on a winding country road on a muggy afternoon on the eve of the Frankfurt Show. I was at the helm of the latest-spec G350d, the entry-level model of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, which went into production in 1979 as the Geländewagen, has undergone numerous technical updates and, relatively recently, returned in right-hand drive configuration to South Africa. In terms of the evolution of the automotive market since the early ‘80s, the G-Class is… the woolly mammoth, but it’s alive and well.
The steering feel of the G350d made me grin; its texture and “casual precision” were so that it made me wonder what that ancient pachyderm’s pelt might have felt like. Benz claims to have optimised the G’s shock absorbers for improved body control and greater on-road ride comfort, the latter of which is, subjectively, brilliant. An adapted ESP configuration, including updated ASR and ABS settings (for improved on-road traction and shorter stopping distances), is said to “enhance driving dynamics”, but the tallness of the vehicle nonetheless accentuates directional changes through gentle body roll. It’s not disconcerting, but evokes memories of a family’s beloved hound as it scurries into the house amid a squall of rain: even though his grubby paws scrabble on the slick floor tiles, Fido inexplicably stays bolt upright as he executes a sharp turn into the lounge and leaps on the couch – much to mom’s chagrin.
Less than two days after that initial driving experience, I was behind the wheel of a G350d again, but this time we were scaling the steep inclines and ragged rocky outcrops of the Schöcklberg in the postcard-pretty outskirts of Graz, where the G-Class is still built, under licence, by Magna-Steyr. In that off-road scenario, with the Benz’s middle and rear differential locks activated on the toughest sections of the course and the updated turbodiesel engine (outputs have increased by 25 kW and 60 N.m, but claimed fuel consumption is just under 10 L/100km) beavering away in the background, the G350d is a revelation: its steering setup suddenly feels malleable and forgiving, the suspension articulates with dexterity and (dare I say it?) grace and one feels little reservation about cracking on the pace (as a G-Class test driver demonstrated on a eye-widening, but nonetheless thrilling, high-speed descent down the berg).
And that reserve of outright go-anywhere ability, even though it may not often be called upon (more than 60% of the G-Class models sold worldwide are road-biased AMG derivatives), is a testament to the G-Class’ perennial appeal.
For the record, the latest specification is distinguishable by restyled bumpers and colour-coded flared wheel arches (18-inch alloys are standard on the G350d). Inside, a revised twin-tube instrument cluster with an 11,4-cm multifunction display is provided.
Deliveries of the “newcomer” are expected to begin in February.