Mercedes-Benz expands G-Class horizons with two new styling options for adventurous off roaders and fashionistas

Marque reaffirms off-road icon’s style credentials with thoughtful exterior detailing and plusher, more colourful interiors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 4:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 9:49pm

Some overlanders say the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is the most rugged four-wheel drive on the planet. Hong Kong’s many Land Rover fans might disagree, but a few might enjoy splashing some Lantau puddles in the boxy Geländewagen “cross-country vehicle”.

Since 1979, the G-Class has been a popemobile (in 1980); a Paris Dakar Rally winner (in 1983), and a military must-have. The Australian, Canadian and Swiss armies endorse its off-road resilience and reliability in the world’s toughest conditions.

“Even with 100 per cent gradients, 54 per cent tilt and up to 60cm of water, nothing stops [the G-Class],” Mercedes-Benz says. Explorers, potentates and oligarchs worldwide agree. No vehicle exudes more mystery and strength in Sai Kung than a black, and preferably bullet-proofed G-Class. Indeed, Hong Kong celebrities such as actor Shawn Yue Man-lok and singers Julian Cheung Chi-lam and Pakho Chau have all been photographed in G-Classes.

On May 2, however, Hong Kong’s offload community received a shock - that the über-butch G-Class had started to look … nice. Mercedes-Benz said its “off-road icon” has become “more exclusive and individual” with “two unique special models”. The online response was mixed. Some critics described the G-Class as “ageing” and even likened these upgrades to the “latest examples of Mercedes’ lipstick-on-a-pig”.

The marque describes its G-Class as the “the forefather of the sport utility vehicle”, however, and says its sales have “grown continually since 2009”, achieving “a new record every year since 2012”. Last year it sold “almost 20,000 units” that were built at the Magna Steyr factory in Graz, Austria. And maybe Mercedes-Benz was right to offer G-Class fans more styling options, because the luxury SUV scene could be even more competitive, next year.

Three new posh models could soon tempt the Pearl River Delta’s ultra-rich. First, look out for the exclusive Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet that rewrote off-road chic, this March, in Geneva. Then there’s the long-awaited Lamborghini Urus that might challenge bigger Porsche Cayennes on speed, and test the Maserati Levante on comfort. Then there is the boxy, “foxtrot-you”-looking Rolls-Royce “Cullinan” SUV that Autocar says this month may be due in “early 2018”.

Worse, smaller, “upper-middle-class” SUVs such as the Car of the Year I-Pace and Land Rover New Defender might challenge Audi’s bulky Q7 and Bentley’s superlative-ridden Bentayga. Add the inevitable arrival of the well-styled, hitherto well-received Range Rover Velar and the fast Jaguar E-Pace, sometime next year, and Gloucester Road’s showrooms might have to start selling posh SUVs instead of taking orders.

Mercedes-Benz also seems to be brightening the G-Class for its shopaholic fandom. The offroader has also become a style item, largely thanks to Samantha driving one in the 2010 film Sex and the City 2.

In February, the Post’s STYLE magazine reported how “fashionistas love [the G-Class] in a Beauty-and-the-Beast kind of way” with Queen Rania of Jordan, the Kardashian sisters, Abbey Clancey, Myleen Klass and Hillary Duff all linked to the classic.

As a result, the marque offers the G-Class in lots of bright colours, including an attractive metallic blue for its 300,000th model on July 19. And Hong Kong’s fashionable already see how “The G” looks very different from other posh but often bulbous SUVs.

Mercedes-Benz says its two new G-Glass specials will be in Europe from September, but won’t be in Hong Kong this year. However, a good parallel importer might ship one to order by bonus time. The basic ”designo manufaktur” range consists of the three-litre, 245hp V6 G 350 d (109,879/US$130,279) and four-litre, 422hp biturbo V8 G 500 (121,684). The more expensive Exclusive Edition range consists of the 5.5-litre, 565hp V8 AMG G63 (163,125) and the six-litre, 621hp V12 AMG G65 (from €287,658).

The G-Class’ latest “designo manufaktur” variant looks attractive in red. The SUV’s retro look seems enhanced by black side rub strips and matching 19-inch wheels, grille louvres, exterior mirrors and spare wheel cover. The design’s highlight is a two-tone steering wheel rim, red seat belts and matching seat stitching, with a “design manufacture Edition” badge on the centre console. The special models’ other interior highlights include seat climatisation, a leather dashboard, lots of piano black lacquer, and bright chrome sills, seat and loudspeaker controls.

The Exclusive Edition models have a stainless-steel underguard and a new grey (which Ford says is the in shade this year) on 21-inch wheels, along with six choices of two-tone designo quilted nappa leather. The high-end versions also have “Mercedes me connect” electronics.

The new G-Class variants could be highlights of the Frankfurt motor show, on September 14-17, and broaden the model’s appeal in a busier market. They might also encourage Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong to expand its model range beyond the current three-litre, 245hp G 350 d (HK$1.087 million) and the 5.5-litre, 571hp V8 Mercedes-AMG 63 (HK$2.45 million).

However, if you can’t afford a new G-Class, many used versions in Hong Kong are offered online, ranging from HK$148,000 for a 1988 2.8-litre 280 GE with an automatic transmission, to HK$1.08 million for a 2008-vintage 5.4-litre AMG G55 on 24-inch wheels. Most should have low mileage and require expensive parts, but one or two might be worth shipping for some real offroading overseas. However, if you are buying new or old G-Class in Hong Kong, black is out - unless you are a thug - and primary colours and grey are now in, thanks to Mercedes-Benz’s latest styling upgrades.