Mercedes-Benz G500 G500 4×4 [Squared]. DRIVEN

The Mercedes-Benz G500 4×4is the most extreme off-roader from the company since the three-axled 6×6. But how does it stack up? We find out with a ‘ni’ by road’ thrash through the desert 

Engine Power Torque 0-100kph Top speed Weight Value today
V8, twin-turbo, 3982cc 416bhp 610Nm (450lb ft) 7.4secs 210kph 2996kg(104bhp/ton) $236,500

It’s as I make the crest that the whole world seems to disappear from under me.

You join crankandpiston.com at Fossil Rock, a stone’s throw from both the Hatta mountains and the Sharjah border. A hub for off-road fanatics across the region, Fossil Rock and the neighbouring Jebel Maleihah stretch for close to 15km from the main highway at its northern most point to Mount Alvaah at the south, a mix of rocky outcrop and undulating desert sand untainted by track or road. It’s ideal 4×4 terrain, offering both stunning landscape and dicey, technical climbs where a deflated tyre out of place can lead to a barrel roll with terrifying ease. Top to bottom off-piste, it’s the perfect test of any off-road machine, including the Mercedes-Benz G500 4×42 here today.

And so far, our ‘nil by road’ adventure has been going well. We’re several kilometres in, and as the sun begins to dip in the sky, the desert sands – now tinged a gentle shade of orange – are starting to stretch ever more beautifully out in front of us. Even the Mercedes 4×42 is getting into the spirit, bouncing almost effortlessly from one dune to the next without need of towrope, support car intervention, or casual swearing from yours truly. 

But one particular summit about 8km in has a surprise for me. It’s taller and considerably steeper than those we’ve traversed so far, requiring a longer run up and considerably more ‘grunt’ on the climb. And while the run itself is a one-shotter, as the three-pointed nose peaks its way over the crest, I’m met not with a gentle decline into the valley below, but a windscreen of blue sky and, from my perspective at least, a vertical drop straight into the centre of the earth. This is it. I’m going to roll…

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Strange how the mind works in such scenarios. My thoughts turn not to the loved ones, precious items or magazine subscriptions I’ll leave behind, but to the ambition of today’s shoot. Why not a quick blast on the off(ish)-road scrubland by crankandpiston GHQ, where both the horizon and police rescue are within easy reach? Why the more ambitious journey into the ominously titled Fossil Rock where the sweeping sands and only occasional landmarks can leave one quickly disorientated? It seemed a solid plan at the time: here is a production ready version of Mercedes’ most ambitious off-road weapon since the mental, three-axled AMG G 63 6×6, and the latest evolution of the company’s wildly popular G-Class SUV. Why wouldn’t we want to put Mercedes’ anointed ‘overcomer of everything’ to a real test?

Fortunately disaster is averted less by the slightly-panicked idiot at the controls, but by the 4×42’s enormous approach and descent angles, nearly half a metre of ground clearance, and some truly massive R22 tyres that – mercifully – decide against digging into the soft sand. The crawl down is torturously long, but successful: the Mercedes has barely broken sweat, but it’s a few moments before my heart – and various other body parts – stop quivering. Photographer Arun and crankandpiston colleague Tony Sidgwick, having watched the action from the supporting Jeep Wrangler, comment on the colour I’ve turned…

“The Mercedes 4×42 is getting into the spirit, bouncing effortlessly from one dune to the next without need of support car intervention or casual swearing”

Truth be told, my faith in the G500 4×42 should have been more absolute. After all, this is not the first time I’ve put this behemoth to the test (you can read about that HERE), having sampled the ‘near-series show car’ shortly before its conceptual debut in Geneva two years ago. On the road it was a Mercedes, but on the rough stuff, it was an unstoppable force of nature, and while the company was reticent about a production run, it was no surprise that, amidst a whirlwind of positive feedback, a limited production run was green lit just six months later.

Simply standing next to this goliath makes you realise how monumental a build the 4×42 truly is. At the heart lies a 2850mm wheelbase from Mercedes’ the series-production G-Class, although donations from its 1979 forebear end with the ladder-type frame, familiar boxy styling and ‘G500’ badge. The port axles have been ripped straight from the G 63 6×6, as has the all-wheel drive configuration, three differential locks, and the powertrain. More on that in a second, since the axle geometry alone deserves closer inspection.

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Unlike conventional off-roaders, the wheels are mounted not at the height of the axle centre, but much lower, near the axle heads. Consequently, on wheels 4in larger than a series-production G-Class, the ground clearance is more than double (450mm versus 210mm) as are approach and descent angles (52 and 54-degrees versus 36 and 27), and the 4×42 will ford comfortably in up to a metre of water. It’s an off-road prowess hitherto unseen from Mercedes, and the largest production premium SUV you can buy today: it positively dwarves Tony’s Wrangler, and at 2.25m tall, the 4×42 towers over a 1.8m Range Rover. There’s even an option of off-road specific 37 x 12.5 x 18 MT tyres should you really wish to make the great outdoors your biatch. 

Mercedes is adamant though that the jacked-up beast should not be considered just an off-road weapon. Two-way damping offers both ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ modes, the latter for added road holding, while the wider track – 299mm over the standard G-Class – has been incorporated for improved cornering stability. With an almost sarcastic pinch of salt on-hand, Mercedes itself suggests occupants ‘feel as though they are in a sports car rather than a cross-country vehicle’ when the 4×42 hits the asphalt. Bollocks? Yeah, pretty much.

Admittedly the 4-litre biturbo V8, lifted from the AMG GT S, can shift impressively. Featuring the same ‘hot inside V’ build for optimum engine response and a more compact engine design, said V8 punches out 416bhp and a mighty 450lb ft of torque to get the near-3000kg beast hauling. There’s a sprightliness rather than outright aggressive sprint off the line – there’s that low end torque playing its hand – accompanied by a deep, resonating yowl from the side-mounted exhaust pipes, which is undercut by the slightest higher-pitched turbocharged wail the further into the high rpms you creep. Acceleration thereafter is progressive rather than brutal, but remains mightily impressive.

“Mercedes suggests occupants ‘feel as though they are in a sports car rather than a cross-country vehicle’. Bollocks? Yeah, pretty much”

But through the corners? Sure, the sport-styled suspension offers considerably more body control than one might reasonably expect from an 7.5ft tall off-road SUV. Yes, the widened track does compensate well for the high gait, and there’s an engaging progressiveness to the handling that allows one to tackle corners with more authority than expected: even the nose will tuck in if properly motivated. And yet, performance will always be limited by the 4×42’s sheer scale and weight, plus that lofty centre of gravity, despite Merc’s best attempts. Impressive manoeuvrability, certainly, but a sports car the G500 really ain’t. Back to Fossil Rock.

Story concludes on page 2

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