Can the diesel Mercedes G400d offer something different in the ever-competitive premium SUV market?
It’s rumoured that Mercedes will preview an all-electric G-Class with an EQG concept at the upcoming Munich Motor Show, but that won’t detract from the appeal of a combustion-engined G-Class for many.
When Mercedes redesigned its icon in 2018 it launched with V8 power in range-topping G63 AMG trim. However, it’s now added another fuel choice to the line-up before it goes electric with a less glitzy and more affordable G400 d diesel model – and it’s brilliant.
It isn’t exactly a bargain version of the G63 which recently saw a price increase to $289,900 but at $233,900 before on-road costs and with a syrupy turbo straight-six diesel engine it is compelling in its own right. There’s also a 12-month waiting list on the bent eight monster to consider.
Standard equipment in the Australian G400d includes 19-inch lightweight alloy wheels, Multibeam LED headlights, adaptive dampers, a 15-speaker Burmester sound system, twin 12.3-inch screens with Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX), Nappa leather upholstery, heated front pews, three-zone climate control and a sunroof.
There is also a suite of safety technology such as AEB, adaptive cruise control (radar), lane departure warning with steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, parking assist, 360-degree cameras and more.
On top of equipment is Mercedes-Benz Australia’s standard five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Power for the G400d comes from a more heavily tuned version of the G350d’s turbocharged 3.0-litre in line six-cylinder engine (and what appears in the GLE and GLS 400d). Featuring a stepped bowl combustion process, a multi-channel exhaust gas recirculation system and variable valve lift control, it kicks out 243kW and a generous 700Nm of torque between 1200 and 3200rpm – 33kW and 100Nm more than its lesser sibling.
It’s linked to Mercedes’ in-house-produced nine-speed automatic gearbox and 4Matic four-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing and three differential locks as standard. Official performance claims point to a 0-100kph time of 6.4sec – quick for 2.4-tonnes of metal – a top speed electronically limited to 211km/h and combined fuel consumption of 9.5L/100km and CO2 emissions of 253g/km on the WLTP test, much less than the G 63’s 13.1L/100km on the combined cycle.
It towers above even conventionally large SUVs such as Range Rovers; this is a car that has masses of road presence, which is why the G-Class is loved by so many, why it sits as a halo model alongside the S-Class (and now the EQS), and why it’s such a feel-good machine.
The performance it delivers is more than adequate, with that huge torque output kicking in from just 1,200rpm, which means the big SUV lollops along effortlessly, shifting creamily up through its nine gears with a muted but muscular rumble from the engine.
It doesn’t quite have the personality of the G63, but then some might find this engine suits the G better than the V8 as you hardly have to rev it – and it’s beautifully refined.
It’s mostly relaxing as a result, with only the slight shimmying ride the main drawback. It’s a problem that afflicts the G63 too and is partly down to its size and construction, but these factors also mean that the G-Class offers incredible off-road performance, with three locking differentials to help progress away from the tarmac. That huge torque output ensures a sizeable 3,500kg towing capacity too.
Sometimes the big Mercedes feels a little obese in how it tackles bumps and turns corners, the chassis struggling to smooth out the worst lesions in the road and the slow steering meaning you have to crank more lock on than you might initially expect.
But it’s a set-up choice from the German brand that packs the car with character and, once you’re quickly used to it, becomes a defining positive trait in many ways, rather than a drawback; it certainly gives more stability at higher speed.
Quality inside is great and lives up to the price, the upright windscreen framing the imperious view out over the big, square bonnet. Along with the flared wheel arches it can therefore be a bit more difficult to park than a normal large SUV, but we’re splitting hairs here.
It uses Mercedes’ previous-generation infotainment set-up, which is still fine. Two 12.3-inch displays and the older-style control wheel offer plenty of functionality, with all of the usual high-end kit you’d expect from a car costing this much, including a brilliant Burmester stereo.
Practicality is good, with lots of passenger room once you’ve hauled yourself inside, and up to 667 litres of boot space available with the rear seats in place rising to 1,150 litres with them folded down. Just be mindful that you’ll need plenty of space behind to open the side-hinged tailgate; the spare wheel is mounted on this too, although visibility is fine, helped by a comprehensive camera set-up.
The less than slippery profile and the G400d’s weight mean that despite the new diesel engine official fuel economy stands at 13.1L/100km. With a 100-litre tank it will cost around $150 to brim, but that’s much more economic than the G63 and exclusivity isn’t cheap. The feeling you get when driving the G-Class – no matter what engine is mounted in its bluff nose – will make it seem worth it.
An all-electric EQG concept might be on the way, but this new G400d proves there’s still life in the combustion-engined G-Class yet. It’s refined, punchy and smooth, and should cost less to buy and run than the G63 AMG – although it’s still a pricey machine. However, even at this price, few can match the diesel G-Class’s personality; it’s unique in the large SUV market, and that’s almost worth the entry price alone.
|Price:||$233,900 plus on-roads|
|Engine:||3.0-litre 6cyl turbo diesel|
|Transmission:||Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive|