In the past 40 years, Sports Utility Vehicles have hardly changed at all in terms of their design. In the following article, we take a look at each Mercedez - Benz G Wagen model and assess its rankings.
1. 2019 - present W464
40 years since the first model, the G-Wagen got its first apprehensive makeover for the 2019 model year. Although the live rear axle is still present, the front suspension was converted to an independent setup, which significantly improves steering feel at all speeds.
The cabin was once again refreshed, finally elevating it to the same level as similarly six-figured Mercedes-Benz SUVs, and a new twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 (which has quietly taken over the brand’s line-up) was installed to offer 416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque.
Styling for the current G-Wagen is remarkably in keeping with its ancestors, although it’s both wider and longer, which has substantially improved rear seat room. Also continuing to put in an appearance is the SUV’s unique locking diffs arrangement, aided and abetted by a range of electronic driver’s aides and safety features.
Straying away from G-Wagen's utilitarian roots, the 2019 model displays a refreshing generational shift in terms of character. Arguably, this is in place of its roots which are embedded as the trade mark image.
2. 1979-1992 W460
How did Mercedes-Benz end up building something as utilitarian as the G-Wagen in the first place? It all dates back to a desire to get in on the military gravy train, spurred on by a massive order for a rough-and-tumble troop transporter by the Shah of Iran in the early 1970s. By the end of the decade, the Shah had been deposed but the first-generation W460 G-Class still arrived in both civilian and battlefield versions.
Built in partnership with Steyr in Graz, Austria (where the G-Wagen is assembled to this day), the G-Class was nothing if not versatile. Available in two-door and four-door models, as well as a soft top, the G-Wagen would feature a range of humble diesel and six-cylinder engines to go with its rugged 4×4 setup and hose-out vinyl interior.
A trio of locking diffs and solid axles front and rear helped to give the Mercedes-Benz substantial off-road capability, and while the rest of the world was happy to keep the factory in Graz churning (including Canada), Americans were left out of the G-Wagen party because Mercedes-Benz management was worried its unpolished character would reflect poorly on the brand’s prestige image.
Today, even the more basic versions of the G-Wagen are starting to sell for a pretty penny as fans of their reliability and squared-off charm snap them up. So interchangeable are the parts between the first- and second-generation trucks that it’s not uncommon to see an earlier front clip grafted on to a later model to help avoid some of the suburban stigma associated with the eventual American imports. A somewhat upgraded W460 (the W461) continued to be sold for many years alongside the W463, but only to commercial and government buyers.
3. 1990-2018 W463
Is it controversial to rank the second-generation Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen ahead of the pioneering original? Hear us out, because there’s a method to our madness.
What makes the W463 the perfect iteration of the G-Class is that it maintained the strong bones of its predecessor but went all-in on updating aspects of the truck that made it a much better daily driver. Most of these improvements took the form of interior upgrades that boosted the passenger compartment from spartan to civilized, doing wonders to improve the vehicle’s curb appeal in North America.
In fact, pressure from grey-market imports and eager luxury buyers would see this model G-Class hit Mercedes-Benz dealerships officially by the end of the decade, where it became a roaring success — if not in terms of overall sales figures, then certainly in terms of profit and prestige for the Silver Star.
Other key features offered by the W463 included anti-lock brakes, electronically-locking differentials (three in total) and somewhat revised styling. A single drivetrain – a 296-horsepower V8 – was offered on this side of the Atlantic, along with low-range four-wheel-drive, but turbodiesels and more were available on the global market (which also enjoyed a number of body style variations never sold here). Output would eventually grow to 388 ponies when the engine’s displacement expanded to 5.5 liters.
Mercedes-Benz would bless the W463 with the AMG treatment, giving us the G55 AMG which offered up to 500 horsepower from a 5.4-liter supercharged V8; as well as the G63, which featured a twin-turbo 5.5-liter eight-cylinder unit good for 544 horses. When a platform enjoys as long a period of production as this particular G-Class, there are bound to be endless special editions out there, too, and the W453 doesn’t disappoint thanks to the 4×4 Squared (which featured factory portal axles) and the absolutely bonkers G 63 6×6.