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Mudfest 2013: Tom's Hardware Helps Test 23 SUVs

Mercedes Geländewagen

America has Jeep for its iconic vehicles with military origins. The Germans have Mercedes-Benz and its Geländewagen. Originally designed in 1979 for military use, the Mercedes G-Wagen evolved into an object of desire for famous rappers. Despite the toned-down models sold to civilians (such as the G550 submitted for Mudfest), the G-Wagen continues to serve militaries around the world, including the U.S. Marine Corps.

Mercedes gave the G-Wagen a couple of tweaks in 2012 to prolong its life after saving it from the chopping block back in 2005. This update added LED running lights and a plusher interior, but it’s still the same three-decade-old platform and styling beneath. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; we do appreciate the G-Wagen’s rugged and traditional boxy SUV look. There’s something appealing about a luxury SUV with military roots that doesn't take up two lanes on the highway, like the Hummer H1.

The G-Wagen we drove was a G550 with Mercedes' 5.5-liter V8 mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. A two-speed transfer case and three independent differential locks differentiate the G-Wagen from the company's crossover vehicles. It no longer has manual selection levers for the transfer case and differential locks, but rather goes the tech route with simple buttons labeled by the order you should press them.

This might appear soft to off-roaders accustomed to manual levers, but it’s easier and effective. Its plush interior aside, the G-Wagen handled the hard off-road course very well, and there's no denying this vehicles ability to handle rough terrain. Unfortunately, country clubs and shopping centers are the environments most G-Wagens will face, and it doesn't handle these as well. Driving the G550 on public roads and the autocross course disappointed us. It still drives like something from the '70s, or even a tank.

The G550 features Mercedes-Benz’s Command system with navigation. Its LCD display looks very out of place, as if Mercedes bolted it onto the dashboard. At least visually, this isn't a well-integrated solution. Regardless, it employs a control knob to get used to, as with the GL450. Blind spot assist makes an appearance on the G-Wagen, and it's about the only modern safety technology feature available on the new/old SUV.

Vehicle Specifications
Vehicle2013 Mercedes-Benz G550
Trim level-
Engine5.5 L V8
TransmissionSeven-speed automatic
DrivetrainFull-time 4WD w/ two-speed transfer caseThree independent differential locks
InfotainmentMercedes-Benz Command
Notable featuresmBrace 2 telematicsParktronicDistronic PlusBlind spot monitoring
Fuel economy12 city, 15 highway, 13 combined MPG
MSRP$118,155
  • Super_Nova
    Very slow newsweek
    Reply
  • flong777
    Interesting but with so little time per vehicle, the results are obviously suspect. I believe the Wrangler is the best off-road vehicle, not sure about the rest. But that conclusion come from more in depth reviews which actually "review" the vehicle.
    Reply
  • Johnny_C13
    Well, at least the Grand Cherokee can (literally) run (on) Crysis... but I wonder if it starts faster with an SSD?
    Reply
  • MU_Engineer
    Anybody find it funny that the vehicle largely based on WWII era technology does the best in the offroad tests while the newer, high-tech "tall wagons with AWD" get stuck in more than a couple inches of snow? Just like tablets, phones, and laptops aren't going to make desktops go away, unit-body transverse-engine four-banger cars aren't going to replace body-on-frame trucks with solid axles and leaf springs when you need to do real work. The even funnier thing is that an "ancient" carbureted pushrod V8 and manual transmission would have made the Wrangler perform *better* in the offroad tests than the 8-speed slushbox and fancy twin-cam V6 car engine.
    Reply
  • ammaross
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
    Reply
  • ammaross
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    10968917 said:
    Interesting but with so little time per vehicle, the results are obviously suspect. I believe the Wrangler is the best off-road vehicle, not sure about the rest. But that conclusion come from more in depth reviews which actually "review" the vehicle.

    Its a great offroad vehicle for the price. The other two are capable vehicles, but the buyer demographic will never take them offroad.

    10969315 said:
    Anybody find it funny that the vehicle largely based on WWII era technology does the best in the offroad tests while the newer, high-tech "tall wagons with AWD" get stuck in more than a couple inches of snow? Just like tablets, phones, and laptops aren't going to make desktops go away, unit-body transverse-engine four-banger cars aren't going to replace body-on-frame trucks with solid axles and leaf springs when you need to do real work. The even funnier thing is that an "ancient" carbureted pushrod V8 and manual transmission would have made the Wrangler perform *better* in the offroad tests than the 8-speed slushbox and fancy twin-cam V6 car engine.

    Mechanical technology has its uses but the WWII Era vehicles are awful for comfort and driving feel. Not going to lie though, the G-wagen is one sexy beast IMO. The Wrangler is only a 6-speed auto iirc, but there's a company that offers HEMI conversions :D.

    10969432 said:
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.

    Toyota didn't submit any vehicles, disappointingly. Was hoping the 5th Gen 4Runner and new RAV4 would be there :(.
    Reply
  • joe gamer
    Holy crap these are expensive vehicles, who is buying these monsters? I make $60k a year and live comfortably but there is no way I could afford any of these. The HYUNDAI clocked in at over $35k....The painfully anemic Subaru(with what has to be the worst manual I've ever used) is still over $20K and it's terrible, poor power, poor gas mileage, poor off road performance, ugly styling, shitty electronics, and only moderate interior room...but that's the only one in my price range? How poor am I exactly?

    Seriously the WRX transmission is quite nice, how the hell did all of their others end up to be so godawful?

    Guess I'm stuck with my 1999 Isuzu Rodeo until I can win the lottery...oil burning, gas guzzling eyesore it may be but hey the money I saved will buy me a decades worth of gas.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    10969918 said:
    Holy crap these are expensive vehicles, who is buying these monsters? I make $60k a year and live comfortably but there is no way I could afford any of these. The HYUNDAI clocked in at over $35k....The painfully anemic Subaru(with what has to be the worst manual I've ever used) is still over $20K and it's terrible, poor power, poor gas mileage, poor off road performance, ugly styling, shitty electronics, and only moderate interior room...but that's the only one in my price range? How poor am I exactly?

    Seriously the WRX transmission is quite nice, how the hell did all of their others end up to be so godawful?

    Guess I'm stuck with my 1999 Isuzu Rodeo until I can win the lottery...oil burning, gas guzzling eyesore it may be but hey the money I saved will buy me a decades worth of gas.

    Nothing wrong with an old Isuzu, before GM raped and pillaged them :(. Cars are so expensive nowadays, you're about as poor as I am, but add in two kids and a wife. The WRX has a nice manual because its a performance vehicle. Manuals in economy cars are usually sloppy. long throws and not very exciting, which is why I hate to say to get the auto in economy cars. But, the XV Crosstrek could probably be fixed with a short throw shifter, that usually does wonders.

    Reply
  • JPNpower
    Why are you using SUVs in the mud!!! These things belong in parking lots at the mall!
    Reply