Mercedes-Benz G-Class [W463A] (2018 - 2020) used car review

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By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

Solid as a rock, tougher than granite and seemingly impervious to the sands of time, there's nothing quite like a Mercedes G-Class. It remains politically incorrect and hugely expensive but it's now a much more credible alternative to less unique super-luxury large SUVs, thanks to modern-era engineering adopted in a way that hasn't diluted this Gelandewagen's unique character. Here, we look at early versions of the second generation W463A design launched in 2018.

Models

5dr SUV (3.0 V6 diesel, 5.5 V8 petrol)

History

You know the real thing when you see it and, when it comes to supremely capable large SUVs, this is the real thing, the Mercedes G-Class. In this second generation 'W463A' guise, introduced in 2018, virtually everything changed: the body, the suspension, the steering, the engines - all of it was new. Even the classic ladder-framed chassis was updated. But at the same time, almost nothing about the character of this 'W463'-series model was different. And the result was as unique as this car always has been.

The 'G' stands for 'Gelandewagen', usually shortened to 'G-Wagen', the name roughly translating as 'go anywhere car', 'go anywhere' in this case meaning just about any inhospitable part of the globe you can think of, from the Sahara desert to the Siberian Arctic. Ordinary luxury SUV buyers, in other words, need not apply. And yet they do. Over forty years after it was originally launched for Cold War military use as well as civilian transport, the G-Class these days enjoys an ever-more popular fresh lease of life as a fashion icon you're as likely to find on the Kings Road as in the Kalahari. This hand-built off-roader is the longest serving passenger car that Mercedes-Benz has ever made, the only one without a production end date and a track record that includes everything from the transportation of two Popes to an outright win in the gruelling Paris-Dakar Rally.

The G-Wagen story dates back to 1972 and a suggestion by Shah of Iran (at the time a significant Mercedes shareholder) that the company should create a military 4x4. This was satisfied by a collaborative design created by Daimler-Benz and Steyr-Daimler-Puch, now Magna-Steyr, who've assembled the Gelandewagen near the Austrian city of Graz ever since. Civilian-orientated '460' and '461' series models were produced from 1979, before the original version of this more civilised '463'-series design was first launched in 1990.

The three following decades saw this car successfully overcome any obstacle it encountered - including obsolescence. Turn-of-the-century plans to kill it off in favour of more modern luxury SUV designs like the modern-era Mercedes GLS model were wisely shelved and today, the G-Wagen is more popular than it's ever been. It remains the forefather of all SUVs to wear the Three-Pointed Star, which is why all Mercedes off road models feature an upper-case G in their name. From the launch of this 'W463A' design, buyers could choose between a straight-six G 350d diesel variant or a wildly powerful G 63 AMG twin turbo petrol V8 model. Either way, you get the luxury of a Range Rover with the wilderness capability of a Land Rover Defender. The street presence of a supercar with the sense of a large SUV. The 'W463A' design was updated in late 2020 with the G350d diesel replaced by a more powerful G400d variant, plus there was a wider range of trim levels. It's the earlier 2018-2020-era G-Class models though, that we look at here.

What You Get

By anyone's reckoning, this is an unlikely fashion accessory. Yet despite a setsquare shape with the aerodynamic qualities of a semi-detached house, that's exactly what this G-Class has become. This modern-era version is still known by brand loyalists as a 'W463 series' model, but it's very different to earlier Gelandewagens that shared that classic designation, the completely redesigned body for this post-2018-era version being 53mm longer, 64 wider and 15mm taller than before and built of different grades of steel, with aluminium adopted for the wings, the bonnet and the doors. As ever though, it was still hand-crafted for Mercedes by Magna-Steyr in Graz, Austria, each G taking over 140 hours to produce.

So what's it like at the wheel? Well you'd certainly know you were in a new-era G-Wagen here, primarily because this modern model features the widescreen cockpit display we'd previously seen in all of Mercedes more conventional large models, with a 12.3-inch central COMAND infotainment screen bonded seamlessly to a digital instrument display of the same size. A more characteristic G-Wagen feature is the huge great old fashioned dash-mounted grab handle. Plus to build on the exterior theme, there are little square dash-top speakers to reference the front indicators. And circular vents to replicate the shape of the headlights. Build quality was vastly improved and the interior was a lot more spacious than a G-Wagen ever had been. As before, the driving position is satisfyingly high and commanding and there's virtually no distance at all from the dash to the upright windscreen, all of which is very much a part of the old-school feel.

Sitting in the back, you'd never know you were in an SUV that was nearly 5-metres long. But this 'W463A' model was vastly more passenger-friendly than its predecessor, with plentiful headroom and the redesigned platform freeing up a massive 150mm more legroom. Forget any thoughts of being able to have fold-out third row seating. You'd need much greater interior space efficiency than this car can provide in order to be able to accommodate that. As it is, there's just about enough space in the cargo area for a half-reasonably-sized boot. Because of the tailgate-mounted spare wheel, you've to access it via an inconvenient side-hinged arrangement, which is particular awkward for markets like ours that drive on the left. Once everything's opened up, you'll find 667-litres of space.

What You Pay

Prices for a typical G350d 'AMG Line' on a '19-plate are about £91,000 for a clean car (around £100,250 retail). Prices for a typical G350d 'AMG Line' on a '20-plate are about £92,900 for a clean car (around £102,500 retail). Prices for a typical G63 petrol variant on a '19-plate are about £139,600 for a clean car (around £152,500 retail). Prices for a typical G63 petrol variant on a '20-plate are about £143,100 for a clean car (around £156,000 retail). All quoted values are sourced through industry experts cap hpi. Click here for a free valuation.

What to Look For

Old G-Wagens never die - they're too valuable to be allowed to do so. The G-Class is built solidly, but that doesn't mean all models are problem-free. Most of the main issues with the W463 series had been sorted by the time this W463A design was launched in 2018 but you'll need to check that all the smart instrument screens work as they should. Finally, check for signs of over-enthusiastic off roading. There are known issues with the suspension springs breaking after heavy 'off piste' use. If you hear a loud thumping noise when you are driving over speed bumps or rough, it's probably caused by faulty suspension springs.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2019 G350 CDI - Ex Vat) An air filter is around £63-£123. An oil filter costs in the £17 bracket. A fuel filter costs around £125. Front brake pads sit in the £77 bracket for a set, while rear brake pads cost around £33 for a set. Rear brake discs can cost around £99. A wiper blade is in the £3-£26 bracket. A pollen filter is around £16.

On the Road

The Mercedes objective with this 'W463A'-era post-2018 G-Class was to make it viable as an only car, something the older model never was. You'd think this one might still struggle in that regard too. After all, conceptually, it remains pretty old hat, built on a solid ladder-framed chassis and featuring an old fashioned live rear axle and a prodigious 2.5-tonne kerb weight. And yet what we've got is something quite different - for a G-Wagen anyway - thanks to the fact that the front suspension, the steering system, the gearbox and the engines were all completely redesigned for this model. So, you might be surprised to learn, was all the familiar-looking bodywork, fashioned in post-2018 form with copious amounts of aluminium, which accounted for much of the 170kg reduction in kerb weight. It was all enough to transform the way this Gelandewagen tackles the only kind of terrain it previously struggled to conquer: tarmac.

If you happen to remember the way that the MK1 version of this car lumbered and lurched about, you'll find the accurate rack-and-pinion electromechanical steering of this revitalised version to be a revelation. It still doesn't handle like a Range Rover, but it's no longer embarrassed by one either. In the 2018-2020 period, there were two engines on offer, the 585hp 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 of the top Mercedes-AMG G 63 petrol version and the 286hp 2.9-litre straight six diesel of the alternative G 350d. The latter variant manages 29.4mpg on the combined cycle and 252g/km of CO2 (both NEDC figures). Both derivatives use a freshly installed 9G-TRONIC auto gearbox and feature a DYNAMIC SELECT driving modes system that offers an extra 'Slippery' setting for greasy tarmac use. There are also specific G-Mode settings for the off road use that remains this Gelandewagen's true comfort zone. This was - and is - still the only series production car with three fully-locking differentials - for the rear, the centre and the front. Plus there's a proper low range gearbox and up to 241mm of ground clearance. As a result, almost nothing you could attempt will defeat it.

Overall

Here's the car that tops our guilty pleasures list. Whether you want to make a really big statement with your choice of SUV or you simply want the most capable, road-sensible off roader there is, the Mercedes G-Class offers a money-no-object solution. With a design dating back to the Seventies, it may be old in concept, but it remains classily cool with an appeal remaining undimmed against the changing fads of automotive fashion. Judging this car by the usual criteria just doesn't work. As ever with a Gelandewagen, the normal rules resolutely don't apply. What changed in 2018 was the way that with this new-era model, that appeal was very cleverly updated. It became thoroughly modern, but all the things that make a G-Class special and unique remained intact. We could have been served up a lifestyle-orientated copy of the original. But this remains the real thing.

Which is no mean achievement, given the fact that for the first time in nearly half a century of production, the G-Wagen is an SUV you could reasonably live with as an only car. Provided of course, you don't mind its ostentatious gangster swagger, its military demeanour and its prodigious running costs. What you get in return is something that in comparison is missing from obvious rivals: character. If all you want to do is impress other oligarchs, the wild G 63 variant would be ideal. But if you really want to experience everything a G-Wagen can do, the G 350d version is the only choice to make. Yes of course the high pricing in both cases is difficult to justify. And you could spend far less on a larger, more practical and better handling luxury SUV. But G-Class buyers want something more than just another luxury SUV. They want something exclusive. And something more capable in the world's toughest terrains than just about anything else on four wheels. It's at home anywhere, from Afghanistan to the Amazon, from Kensington to the Kings Road. And it is, quite simply, unique.

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