Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen

Top of the class - The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, also known as the G-Wagen (short for Geländewagen, "terrain vehicle") and G Model, is a mid-size four-wheel drive luxury SUV manufactured by Magna Steyr (formerly Steyr-Daimler-Puch) in Austria and sold by Mercedes-Benz. In certain markets, it has been sold under the Puch name as Puch G. The early G-Wagen was the German answer to the British Land Rover, the American Jeep and the Japanese Land Cruiser.

The G-Class is characterized by a boxy body-on-frame style. It uses three fully locking differentials, one of the few vehicles to have such a feature. The design included live axles front and back, and somewhat angular body work with flat glass fitted in all windows. The G-Wagen started out as a utilitarian vehicle, but it evolved into a luxury vehicle with special high-performance AMG versions. It is still in production and is one of the longest-produced vehicles in Daimler's history, despite the introduction of its intended replacement GL-Class in 2006. The 400,000th G-Class unit was built in December 2020.

Sometimes referred to as the "Wolf", the G-Class began as a military vehicle developed for the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces at a suggestion by the Shah of Iran (at the time a major Mercedes shareholder) to Mercedes. Development began in 1972 with a cooperative agreement between Daimler-Benz and Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Graz, Austria. Mercedes-Benz engineers in Stuttgart led the design and testing, while the team in Graz developed the production plans. After the first wooden model was presented to Daimler-Benz management in 1973, the first drivable prototype went through testing in various terrains including German coalfields, the Sahara Desert, and the Arctic Circle in 1974. Construction commenced in 1975 on a new production facility in Graz, where it would be assembled nearly entirely by hand.

Much like the military versions of the Land Rover and other popular 4×4 vehicles, the Wolf differed from the civilian vehicle in being designed to be as tough and easy to maintain as possible, with no significant thought given to passenger comfort or luxury. As ex-military examples of the Wolf began appearing for sale to outside markets, a thriving trade emerged in refitting and restoration. Enthusiast groups sprang up in Germany and elsewhere, and prices have steadily appreciated in recent years as they gained popularity. The Wolf uses the same basic chassis and body structure as the G-Wagen. They were fitted with 2.5 litre, naturally aspirated diesel engines that produce a modest 91 bhp at 4,600 rpm and 114 ft lbs of torque at 2,200 to 2,800 rpm. These engines weren’t designed for noteworthy power; they were designed for extreme reliability in a wide range of conditions from arctic winters to baking desert summers. The five-speed gearbox fitted to the Wolf featured a low first gear followed by four standard higher gears. Power is sent via three lockable differentials to the front and rear wheels, and the Wolf uses front and rear live axles on coil springs.

Mass Market

Production of the "G Model" began in 1979, the same year a civilian version was offered. The G-Wagen gained global recognition in 1980 when Mercedes-Benz built a Popemobile based on the 230 G Cabriolet during the first visit of Pope John Paul II in Germany.

Major refinements came in 1981, including automatic transmission, air conditioning, an auxiliary fuel tank, protective headlamp grills and a cable winch. Fuel injection became available in 1982, when the 230 GE was introduced in Turin, along with more comfortable and supportive front seats, auxiliary heating, wider tires and fender flares. In 1985, differential locks, central door-locking and a tachometer became standard. By 1986, over 50,000 G Models had been produced.

The Next Era

The 1990’s saw a number of modifications to the G-Model. In 1989, for the 10th anniversary of the G Model, a new model variant with permanent 4-wheel drive, a wood-trimmed interior and optional Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) debuted at the Frankfurt International Motor Show. Production began the following April. For 1992, a new sub-series for professional users began production. The mass-market model began to offer cruise control, a stainless-steel spare-tire cover, running boards and burl walnut wood interior trim. The same year, the 100,000th G Model was built in Graz.

In 1994, the model line was officially renamed from the G Model to the G-Class. Ventilated front disc brakes and a driver's air bag became standard. In 1996 the automatic transmission became an electronically controlled 5-speed unit. Headlamp washers, cruise control and a front passenger's air bag were added. In 1998, the range-topping G 500 with a 296 hp V 8 was introduced for series production. For the 1999 model year, a limited run of V 8 powered "G 500 Classic" special editions were made to mark the model's 20th anniversary. Later in the year, the new G 55 AMG debuted as the most powerful G-Class yet, with 354 hp.

Prior to 2001, Mercedes-Benz never exported the G-Wagen officially to the United States because its more utilitarian styling didn't fit the American perception of Mercedes-Benz. When it made its debut to the U.S. market in 2001, new alloy wheels, a chrome grill and body-matching bumpers plus a more luxurious cabin were introduced. New dynamic control systems included the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Brake Assist and the four-wheel Electronic Traction System (4 ETS). Upgrades to the G 55 AMG came in 2004 with a supercharged V 8 engine developing 476 hp.

In Siberia in 2006, a documentary filmmaker became the first foreigner to reach the world's coldest region with a passenger vehicle in winter, driving a stock G 500 nearly 19,000 km without a single breakdown in temperatures that went down to −63˚F/-53 °C. In February 2009. Magna Steyr, an operating unit of Magna International, announced that it had signed an agreement with Daimler AG to extend the production of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class in Graz, Austria until 2015.

W460 (1979–1992)

The civilian version of the G Wagen, the W460, made its introduction at a press event held at the off-road proving ground in Toulon, France. W460 went on sale in September 1979 with three engine choices and five body variants. Over the next decade, the engine and transmission choices expanded or received updates along with more options such as air conditioning, automatic transmission and power windows.

During the 1980s, grey importers brought W460 to the United States and modified them to meet the US regulations. In 1988, the Motor Vehicle Safety Compliance Act closed certain loopholes and tightened regulations for grey imports, making it more difficult and more expensive for them to register W460’s in limited numbers.

The rarest W460 variants – 230 GE 2.6 Brabus, 280 GE AMG, and 560 GE. Brabus – increased the engine displacement of 2.3-litre four-cylinder inline engine to 2.6 litres, increasing the power to 114 kW (155 PS; 153 bhp). AMG modified the 2.8-litre six-cylinder inline petrol engine for more power, 134 kW (182 PS; 180 bhp). A feasibility study of just two units of 560 GE were built in 1993 which resulted in a limited series of W463 500 GE for 1993–1994 and W463 G 500 from 1998 on.

Puch G (1979–2000)

The agreement between Daimler-Benz AG and Steyr-Daimler-Puch stipulated that G-Wagen sold in Austria, Switzerland, former Yugoslavia (and its successor states: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia), Mongolia, and Eastern European COMECON countries be called Puch G and elsewhere as Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen/G-Class. This different branding capitalized on Puch's reputation for its all-terrain vehicles, Haflinger and Pinzgauer. After the agreement expired in 2000, consumers relied on retrofit kits from Magna's Puch Competence Centre to replace the Mercedes-Benz brands with Puch emblems.

W461 (1992–present)

Production of W460 ended in 1991 and was replaced by W461 after the new W463 was introduced in 1989 with extensively updated chassis and revised front end. The W461 used the same chassis as W460 with the powertrain of W463 and retained the W460 body. While W463 catered to consumers seeking more comfort and better driving dynamics, W461 was built specifically for military, public authorities, and non-governmental organizations.

During the 1990s, W461 came with 2.3-litre four inline petrol engine and 2.9-litre five inline diesel engine. From 2001 to 2014, the W461 model for military and public authorities were offered with 2.7-litre five inline turbodiesel engine and later with 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine. They were called G 270 CDI Worker (2001–2006) and G 280 CDI Worker (2007-2009) respectively.

Over the years, Mercedes-Benz had introduced a civilian version of W461, built in limited series and for a short period of time. These aimed to appeal to consumers who wanted the "stripped down" version and didn’t require the comfort. The engine choice was often limited to one type, namely diesel engine, per series. Those editions were named PUR or Professional.

In 2009, Mercedes-Benz, celebrating the 30-year anniversary of G-Class, introducing G 280 CDI EDITION.30 PUR based on five-door long wheelbase station wagon. Consumers could order them with "Off-Road Package 1" or "Off-Road Package 2". The passenger area had four seats upholstered in heavy duty fabric or vinyl, rubber floor coverings, spray-protected/water-resistant controls, drainage apertures in the footwells, and wood flooring in the load compartment with load lashing lugs and rails. The dashboard had a new instrument cluster from the W463 and dual air bags. Climate control remained manually operated as well as the window winders and locks. The exterior received the flexible wheel arch flaring, protective grills for headlamps, tail-lamps, and front turn signal indicators, a walk-on hood for easy access to the optional roof rack, a towing lug attached to the front bumper, and two-section barn doors in the rear.

The success of limited series "EDITION.30 PUR" led to G 280 CDI Professional in 2009 and its successor, G 300 CDI Professional, in 2010. Initially, G 280 CDI Professional was limited to five-door long wheelbase station wagon before the body variants were expanded to five different body variations: three-door long wheelbase panel van, five-door long wheelbase station wagon, two-door cabriolet, and two-door and four-door cab chassis truck for G 300 CDI Professional. The production of the civilian variant continued until 2014, while the military variant continues to this day.