There's something deeply attractive about the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Its reputation for toughness mixed with a look that doesn't appear to honor any design conceits has a distinct appeal. It makes no apologies for its coolly brutal angles.

Those angles have helped it stand the test of time. The G-Wagen (short for Gelaende-wagen, German for "rough terrain vehicle") is Mercedes-Benz's longest-running SUV model, first introduced in 1979. And because of its apparent disdain for styling fads, the G has managed to keep looking good for all these years. A follower of Bauhaus design would admire the G-Wagen for its strict function-following form. It's also built like a brick Bauhaus. This is military-grade hardware. The G-wagen actually started life as a military vehicle, a joint project with Steyr-Puch. This Austrian company has now evolved into Magna-Steyr, and over the course of its history has made a range of products from firearms to buses, including other four-wheel-drive vehicles. The G-Wagen has always been produced at Steyr-Puch's facility, practically on a hand-assembled basis. The present-day version, much the same as the original, retains a body-on-frame construction. That steel frame is dip-primed and powder-coated.

The permanent four-wheel-drive system distributes torque 50/50 front and rear. The G is the only SUV to have three locking differentials working with a transfer case (all synchromesh) and electronic traction control. This thing can get itself into, through, and out of almost anything. Depending on the surface, the G can climb an 80 percent incline and handle a tilt angle of 54 percent. Approach angle is 36 degrees, and the departure angle is 27 degrees in the non-AMG version. Ground clearance is 8 inches and the vehicle can wade in depths of up to 23 inches.

A 280 GE model (this was before Mercedes-Benz started putting letters at the beginning of vehicle names) won the 1983 Paris-Dakar Rally, a fearsomely tough challenge of man and machine. At the other end of the thermometer, German filmmaker Thomas Junker took a stock G500 to the coldest place on Earth, an area of Siberia, in the winter of 2006. Temperatures went as low as minus 53 degrees Celsius (-63 Fahrenheit). Junker and his film crew covered more than 11,700 icy miles with no vehicular problems.

There have been versions with short or long wheelbases, plus convertible and "tropical roofed" (a double-layered arrangement) models, with choices of diesel or gasoline engines. Interiors started out as sparse yet durable, gradually becoming more luxurious and tech-rich. The G-Class only became an official U.S. import in 2002, but earlier models were brought over privately. Even gray market six-cylinder examples were commanding six-figure sums, so M-B made a U.S-spec G-Class.

These have all been long-wheelbase, four-door models; the tailgate is hinged at the side. The G500 came first, followed in 2003 by the G55 AMG version. Engine output for the G500 is 292 hp and 336 lb-ft of torque. This morphed into the G550 in 2009, good for 382 hp and 391 lb-ft. The G55 AMG first packed 349 hp and 387 lb-ft; upgraded to 493 and 516 in 2007. Resale values are strong, so a used G-Class is still pretty pricey. But owners seem to love them. Recalls have mainly featured fuel system and lighting issues. A 2006 G500 in good condition and average mileage is valued at around $40,000. A similar Range Rover Supercharged would be in the $30,000 ballpark.


2002-2009 Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Body type 4-door SUV
Drivetrain Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Driver, front passenger
Engines 5.0L/292-hp SOHC V-8; 5.5L/349-hp SOHC V-8; 5.5L/493-hp SOHC V-8 (2007 on); 5.5L/382-hp, DOHC V-8 (2009-on)
Brakes, f/r Disc/disc, ABS
Price range, whlsl/retail (KBB) $26,750/$29,755 (2002 G500 5.0L V-8), $82,225/$84,790 (2009 G55 AMG 5.5L V-8)
Recalls Too many to list; see motortrend.com
NHTSA frontal impact rating, driver/fr pass N/A