Do you even overland, bro? In case you haven’t gone down this vehicular rabbit hole on Instagram, we can tell you that overlanding—going point-to-point, off-road— is where it’s at right now with the well-healed amateur-adventurer set. Of course, pictures or it didn’t happen, right? As trends go, you’ll rack up likes the more retro and less aerodynamic your rig looks.
With that in mind, consider Mercedes-Benz’s new G-Class: It captures the zeitgeist by looking much the same that it did when it was first released, in 1979. It is still defiantly boxy. Like Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk and the Clash’s London Calling—two other 1979 releases—the G-Class still resonates. In its 2019 incarnation, the visual hallmarks are all there: marker lights that pop from the front fenders; a spare wheel asymmetrically mounted in back; enough flat planes and right angles to make you think the G-Class came out of an Atari game.
But much has changed actually. Aside from the standard 4-liter, twin-turbo V8 engine, almost every damn thing is new. Almost. The German engineers we talked to couldn’t agree if the headlamp-washer nozzles were one of the three or four carryover parts.
Thankfully, the rectilinear sport-ute’s most charming character trait remains unchanged: Shut the door and the thwack is resounding and immediate. Likewise, the chrrrrup of its automatic locks is still the most militaristic sound you will find on a passenger vehicle.
A new double-wishbone independent front suspension helps control the towering vehicle’s body roll. Ever seen the subtle sway of one of these things turning at a red light? The new model mitigates that tippiness. You might be stunned, as we were, by its newfound agility as the vehicle proved sure-footed on a rain-soaked sprint through the Pyrenees in southern France: It behaves as if it were a highly refined unibody luxury SUV, and less like the automotive oddball that it is. With the new model, on-road performance seems to have leaped forward decades.
The cabin shows a similar evolution: Two screens make for a nearly 25-inch-wide panoramic digital dash. There’s plenty of room (an increase over the old models), and from massaging seats to leather-wrapped grab handles, there’s a richness to most surfaces.
But of course, if you’re doing it right, you’ll get that interior muddy. Nine and a half inches of ground clearance and three locking differentials provide a billy-goat-like ability to pick apart alpine terrain. In the valley, you can drive through nearly 28 inches of water.
These are capabilities you might need on a safari into Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flat. But the toughest trek that many of these Mercedes SUVs will take will be over shopping mall parking lot berms. Some G-Wagons will be lucky enough to live their lives in the wild, and damned if those fancy leather seats won’t feel good in two feet of water way out in the middle of lord knows where.