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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