Mercedes Benz G500 Wagon - Finally, A U.S. Model G-Wagen

The G500 Comes To America-Officially

For years, private parties and the gray market have supplied U.S. customers with the Mercedes Gelndewagen, frequently at triple-digit prices. For 2002, Mercedes brings the vehicle to its dealerships as the G500, keeping nomenclature common with the Merc line. The company expects up to 2,500 to be sold annually, at $73,165 each.

The G500 is the only genuine four-wheel-drive vehicle sold in the U.S. What we mean is, it's got locking differentials front, center, and rear as standard equipment. So it's possible to channel positive torque to all four wheels all the time, which is not the case with other stock four-wheel-drive vehicles. The mechanical differential locks are actuated electrically by three dash switches, and engage quickly. Locking them disables most of the electronic systems (antilock brakes, brake assist, stability control), which require independent control of the wheels, and a four-wheel traction control system operates whenever the diffs are unlocked.

The G-class uses full-time four-wheel drive, and its transmission contains an Overdrive with a high-range (0.87:1) and a low-range (2.16:1) for effective axle gearing of 3.8:1 and a crawl ratio of 34:1. Low-range is engaged by a switch and is fully synchronized, so the high/low change can be done on the fly at speeds up to 15 mph. Our G500 test drive proves that four-wheel traction control is no substitute for lockers.

Underneath the G500 is a classic upmarket SUV that Mercedes claims will climb 36 degrees and offer lateral stability of 24 degrees-figures we won't dispute. Like older Land Cruisers and Range Rovers, the G500 uses a solid axle (closed-knuckle in front) at each end, located by heavy radius rods and track bars, with long coil springs and gas shocks for control. Suspension travel is given at 3.5 inches in front, 9.2 inches in back, with the notation that front travel equals back if the antiroll bar is disconnected. We think front travel is conservatively measured.

Standard rolling stock includes 18-inch alloy wheels and 60-series Yokohama Geolandar tires. These offer a decent blend of mild off-road ability and quiet highway grip, and the G500 goes down the road smoothly and predictably. Steering feel is better than average for a solid front axle, and brakes are consistently strong.

All Gs will be powered by the corporate twin-spark, 24-valve aluminum 5.0L V-8. Here it's rated at 292 horsepower, with 336 lb-ft of torque available from 2,800 through 4,000 rpm. Grunt is wholly adequate for low-range work, as is power on the highway, though with a vehicle weight of 5,400-plus pounds, expect it to be neither quick nor economical. The G's bread-van shape offers excellent front-end definition and huge amounts of room, but doesn't help wind noise or highway mileage.

An extensive standard equipment list includes leather 10-way front seats with memory, seat heat front and rear, burl walnut trim, dual-zone climate control, navigation system, six-disc changer/nine-speaker stereo, central locking, and immobilizer. If an air bag is deployed in a collision, the TeleAid system will call for help (via redundant antennae) with location, model, and color, and the same system can be used for theft tracking or remote alarm notification to your cell or home phone. The only option is an integrated Motorola Timeport voice-recognition phone.

The G500 may not have the panache of a Range Rover or Lexus LX470, but we suspect it would acquit itself well in any comparison of performance.


Vehicle model Mercedes-Benz G500
Type SOHC, 24-valve aluminum V-8
Displacement (liter/ci) 5.0L
Bore x stroke (in.) 3.81 x 3.30
Compression ratio 9.0:1
Mfg's power rating @ rpm (hp) 292 @ 5,500
Mfg's torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft) 336 @ 2,800, 4,000
First 3.59:1
Second 2.19:1
Third 1.41:1
Fourth 1.00:1
Fifth 0.83:1
Reverse 3.16:1
Axle ratio 4.38:1
Transfer case stock
High-range ratio 0.87:1
Low-range ratio 2.16:1
Type recirculating ball
Turning radius (ft.) 43.5
Front 12.3-inch disc
Rear 10.7-inch disc
ABS yes
Wheels (in.) 18x7.5 alloy
Tires 265/60R18
Weight (lbs.) 5,423
Wheelbase (in.) 112.0
Overall length (in.) 183.5
Overall width (in.) 69.3
Height (in.) 72.3
Track f/r (in.) 58.1/58.1
Seating 5
Storage bin capacity (cf) 45.0/79.5 seat up/folded