Almost forty years with only one major upgrade in 1990, Mercedes Benz has finally evolved the the G-Class or Geländewagen (all terrain vehicle). Starting as an idea of the Shah of Iran, who was once one of Daimler-Benz’s bigger shareholders, the G-Wagen — counting close to 300,000 strong and serving in 63 armies – has gone through its first serious generational change. As the W460 from 1979 to 1990 and the seriously upgraded W461 chassis from 1991 to 2001, the 2019 model W494 G-class still looks deja vu.
Boasting of of Daimler AG’s latest ladder frame chassis with a mix of new age alloys and special steels for the body, the 2019 G-wagen manages to lose 120 kilos considering that the 1979 model wouldn’t have tilted the scales against a garden-variety 2.5-ton Ford Expedition. Not only does the G look the same, it’s dimensionally almost identical apart from a slightly longer wheelbase, an increase in width – a diktat of ever stringent crash safety regulations and enhanced pedestrian crash safety (not a problem with the G’s upright face).
Built mostly in Graz, Austria by Magna-Steyr, once Steyr-Daimler-Puch, the G-wagen — besides wearing the three-pointed star – has also donned the Peugeot lion (as the P4 with a Peugeot diesel] and the Steyr-Daimler-Puch badge. The G joins the CJ Jeep (1940), Land Rover Defender (1947) and Unimog, Mercedes Benz’s own goat-like all-terrain pick-up (1950) in conspiring to look unchanged from inception.
The latest Gs can climb with more severe attack angles, ford deeper floods and rise over craggier boulders. Instead of live axles in front, a fully independent double wishbone is in place. This makes the ride more supple and absorbent and enhances steering accuracy, which remains unaffected despite the adoption of fully electronic power steering. The back retains the live axles on trailing arms beloved by off-roaders who value the articulation of solid axles. All this sophisticated hardware is under the control of even more driving aid software for controlled off-roading and safe bad weather driving.
Inside, it shows the adoption of Daimler’s wide-screen LCD TFT instrument cluster seen across MB’s model family. As the W460 borrowed dashboard bits and pieces from the W123 and VDO’s generic parts bin and the succeeding W461 borrowed from the W124, the 2019 G-wagen gets the latest air-con vent “turbo-vane” look plus the COMMAND system, Mercedes’ version of BMW’s iDrive. Conversely, the passenger’s grab handle looks like a throwback from the day the G was launched. More praiseworthy for me is the way the designers incorporated important details and yet resisted the temptation of distorting the look. Thus the headlights, despite being bi-level LED, look like headlights. The grille and bumpers look like proper grilles and bumpers. Door apertures, taillights, rocker panels and wheel arches all look like what they should be. The G-wagen stills looks like a G-wagen.
Though the more agricultural and military versions of the G are more numerous, it is the opposite end of the spectrum – the blingy, bespoke hyper-luxury variants, i.e. the AMG bi-turbo versions – that attracts the most custom here. No doubt even more esoteric materials will be made available for special customer demanding such. Appealing to both rugged and refined lifestyles, the G continues to track/retain the adventures and abilities that its consumer market takes for granted. Though far lesser in number, the G — like most off-road vehicles — attracts quite a cult just as the Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol and Mitsubishi Pajero have their loyal bands of followers.
Our rather small G-Class population mostly comprise personal imports and a small bunch of government to government environmental research projects that included Gs as part of the package. One of our country’s prime promoters of off-road driving, Beeboy Bargas, prefers G-Wagens for his own mud-plugging leisure despite his closeness to Robby Consunji, leader of the Land Rover Club of the Philippines. At the celebrity end of the spectrum, another G-wagen owner is Joey “Pepe” Smith, the rock icon of martial law era “Ang Himig Natin” fame.
I’ve never owned a G-wagen but was engagingly exposed to them, with the first encounter having occurred in 1981. I’d become friends with the then Minister of Natural Resources, Jun Leido, and weekend evenings were spent in our favorite Mercedes Benz repair shop, Alcayde Motors in Meycauayan, Bulacan. Jun was not only an epicure but also a Germanophile and a Mercedes Benz fanatic. His fellow Merc fans had contacts in Frankfurt who would scour for good condition high mileage used cars, buy them and ship them out of Hamburg, destination the port of Manila.
Jun’s first G-Wagen was a W460 three-door with that long rear window. It came in Daimler Benz original color Agave green – which I think was inspired by the Agave cactus, the source of tequila. It was a 72PS diesel 240GD with four on the floor. I do not remember if it had power steering. Post baby boomer car freaks, take note of the power-to-weight ratio: 72PS vs. 2,500kgs GVW — numbers that guaranteed leaden performance but I was no stranger to such as my Bulacan service car was a 45hp 1960 Mercedes Benz 180D.
Jun was going thru some domestic problems and looked forward to being with his imported “babies”. We’d spend long evenings chatting, hanging out at the repair shop, keeping Gil Alcayde up. Jun travelled with unobtrusive security; no visible holster bulges nor clutch bags so we were free to roam the dark and empty streets of Bulacan. As always, Jun let me try his cars. Since we would always skip dinner, we’d end up being hungry by midnight. I would bring Jun two towns away to Lolomboy in Bocaue.
To be continued
Tito F. HERMOSO is Autoindustriya’s INSIDE MAN
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