Home » What It Was Like Driving The New Electric Mercedes G-Wagen And Its Primitive Predecessors

What It Was Like Driving The New Electric Mercedes G-Wagen And Its Primitive Predecessors

Mercedes Benz G 580 Ev Solid Axle Ts4
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I’m deep in a muddy bath, in a Languedoc vineyard with hilltop views of the Mediterranean Sea in southern France. But what sounds like a Cialis ad has a purpose, once my brain is leached of the local Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre: Driving all three vintages of the redesigned 2025 Mercedes G-Class, to decide which pairs best with varying tastes. This being a G-Class, there’s not a two-buck-Chuck in the bunch. 

That includes the electric mouthful called the “G 580 with EQ Technology.” I cannonball this 3.5-ton SUV into 34 inches of mucky water, fast growing deeper in all-day rain. That fording limit is nearly six inches deeper than the base G 550, which trades its V-8 for Mercedes’ stronger 3.0-liter, 48-volt mild hybrid V-6 with 443 horsepower (up 27 hp); or the madcap AMG G 63 with the 48-volt torque filler, and a stand-pat 577 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of peak torque from a 4.0-liter bi-turbo V-8. 

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As Mercedes intended, the tank-turning, electric showboat G 580 wears the off-road crown, at least if a DC charger is part of your personal wilderness. To be fair, gas stations don’t sprout like wildflowers in Denali or Yellowstone, and roughly 240 miles of electric range would cover days of low-speed overlanding. (The EPA hasn’t provided an official range estimate). Yet its roly-poly handling makes the G 580 the least satisfying choice on pavement, aside from green bona fides that could make it a dream SUV for the Oscars, Met Gala or other high-profile arrivals. Even if Mercedes’ 45-year-old design icon can’t fit as many celebrities as its Sprinter van, it’s a hell of a lot better looking.

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In many ways, the source of the G-Wagen’s power has historically been the least interesting thing about it, despite today’s mystifying preference for extravagantly muscled AMG versions. Actually, it’s not that mystifying: The AMG costs the most. As an impatient Kardashian would huff to a salesman, “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?”

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As longer memories will affirm, it wasn’t always this way.

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Envisioned in 1974 prototypes as an unpretentious civilian and military workhorse, with Austrian production from Daimler Steyr Puch beginning in 1979, the G-Class has accommodated a grab bag of engines over 45 years: Four, five, six, eight or 12 cylinders, gasoline or diesel. Among vintage charmers I drive from Mercedes’ classic collection, I fall for the least powerful. A 1980 230 G with a 90-horsepower, 2.3-liter carbureted four-banger; and a wagon-bodied, 1989 300 GD softtop cabriolet with 88 horses from a five-cylinder inline diesel. Both shift their way through Montpelier streets with four-speed manuals.

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From our more-recent era of G-Class excess, the rare AMG G 65 V-12 is on hand for drives. The insane portal-axled 6×6 and 4×4 Squared models, and a one-of-99 Maybach G 650 Landaulet, are unfortunately here only as static display teases.

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Point being, G-Classes have been great with all sorts of engines, and for 2025, even with an EV in the mix, anyone considering one can plop in whichever powertrain strikes their fancy, and not feel they’ve chosen wrong. Some journalist colleagues sneezed at the G 550 (technically we drove the Euro version, called the G 500), the familiar reflexive allergy to the loss of any V-8. No matter that the six-cylinder version is stronger, faster and should deliver roughly 15-percent better fuel economy than the previous model’s sailor-swilling 14 mpg. Yet some colleagues voiced vague demerits over the engine’s lack of “character.” Translation: Its petrol-burning farts just aren’t juicy enough. 

Die Neue G Klasse Testdrive, Südfrankreich 2024 // The New G Class Test Drive, Southern France 2024

Die Neue G Klasse Testdrive, Südfrankreich 2024 // The New G Class Test Drive, Southern France 2024

I actually found the six-cylinder’s 443-hp punch well-suited to an SUV cruiser that will spend most days easing into luxury docks. Especially for roughly $35,000 to $40,000 less than the AMG or G 580 Edition One. If you’re feeling insecure about saving that much money, put a fake AMG badge on it, like everyone else, and call it a day. 

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For that G 580, four electric motors, with internal oil cooling and water jackets are paired with inverters in dual housings bolted to the chassis. The motors spin at up to 14,400 rpm. Half shafts shoot nearly 145 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque to each Falken Wildpeak-shod wheel, for a hulking 579 horsepower and 859 pound-feet. Slick silicon-carbide mosfets convert stored DC power to three-phase AC for propulsion with a claimed 99-percent efficiency. 

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The two-tier, 116 kilowatt-hour battery that I’m dunking like a giant crouton in French soup is secured entirely within the G-Wagen’s steel ladder frame, attached with 50 steel screws. Side rail sections grow taller to make it fit, and to add rigidity due to the elimination of crossbars. That battery is protected against moisture, dirt or shocks by a sandwich of carbon fiber and composite that weighs 127 pounds, which Mercedes says is one-third the mass of a comparable steel skidplate. 

The armored casing is welcome when I point the G 580 up steep, bouldered slopes toward the spinning blades of a windfarm. Benz says the plug-in G can climb 45-degree grades, and tilt sideways up to 35 degrees. Because the EV’s body sits higher than ICE versions (the roof is 0.8 inches taller), approach and departure angles are also improved, through center breakover angle is a touch worse. 

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Rivian’s models also boast a four-motor layout. But Mercedes one-ups that with a world’s EV first: Each motor integrates a selectable low-range, roughly 2:1 mechanical gear reduction, multiplying torque for off-road adventure at up to 53 mph. Yes, every electric motor generates full torque at zero rpm anyway. But electric motors don’t do their best work at consistent low speeds, generating excess heat. Allowing motors to spin faster in low range, Mercedes engineers say, holds temperatures in check for better durability.  

A quick word about the G 580’s counterintuitive solid rear-axle design: A 21st-century EV whose De Dion layout dates to 1894. Or, nine years before Henry Ford and a dozen partners plunked down $28,000 to form his namesake company. Practically, the layout allows matched mounting points, so ICE and EV versions can be built on the same assembly line; and helps package the motors while meeting lofty off-road performance targets, including a 9.9-inch ground clearance. 

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To assess pros and cons, the Ed. urged me to crawl below decks and get the scoop on whether the lifespan of rear CV joints especially might be compromised by acute articulation angles. With the ground a sloppy mess, Mercedes saved my trousers by transporting a cutaway chassis, cutaway motors and engineers to explain it all. 

The rear De Dion components, including a classic Watts linkage behind the drive unit to control lateral forces, appear about as high-tech as steel porch railings. For the front double-wishbone suspension, an engineer points out sliding extension shafts inside chassis-mounted electric drive units. Those extenders are required to bridge a longer gap to the universal joint and front wheels. Yet at the rear, the dual-joint halfshafts (with no extenders) travel virtually the same distance to a relatively inboard wheel connector. The result? Front or rear, maximum CV joint articulation is essentially a wash. If anything, front CV joints face more stress by having to adjust to lateral forces via steering; rear joints only need to move vertically. My own two cents? Consider how often a typical G-Class’ wheels will be placed in extreme, off-road Twister positions. I’ll wait. 

Die Neue G Klasse Testdrive, Südfrankreich 2024 // The New G Class Test Drive, Southern France 2024
Mercedes-Benz
Die Neue G Klasse Testdrive, Südfrankreich 2024 // The New G Class Test Drive, Southern France 2024
Mercedes-Benz

Back on the trails, we sayauf Wiedersehen” to the G-Class’ familiar trio of dashboard differential locks. Those relatively dawdling diffs are replaced by “virtual differentials” that can send up to 100 percent of torque to any individual wheel in as little as 300 milliseconds. An Intelligent Crawl feature lets the Mercedes climb like a semi-autonomous mountain goat at three selectable speeds, including using brake recuperation to save wear on mechanical brakes. An Off-Road Cockpit array for the lavish dual-screen MBUX infotainment system offers the Transparent Bonnet, a camera view of terrain and front wheels beneath the bumper. It tends toward gimmickry, but does allow drivers to place wheels on obstacles without a human spotter having to jump outside. 

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The quad-motor-torque-vectoring setup also teaches this old German Shepherd a new trick: “G-Turn,” which Mercedes appropriately showed in the wilds of the Vegas Strip

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Rivian decided to not integrate this campground attention-getter, ostensibly due to the Tread Lightly ethos. Mercedes itself debated whether the ability to spin up to two full revolutions was a mere gimmick. It mostly is, but after playing “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” in a muddy field, I’m glad it’s aboard. Pop into low-range Rock mode, squeeze a paddle, hold the steering wheel dead straight (or the system shuts down), and G-Turn drives left wheels forward and right wheels in reverse (or vice-versa) for a cheap thrill. 

Die Neue G Klasse Testdrive, Südfrankreich 2024 // The New G Class Test Drive, Southern France 2024
Mercedes-Benz

The related G-Steer feature does bring practical advantage off-road. The Mercedes can decelerate an inside rear wheel and overdrive an outside wheel to pivot in tight quarters with a turning circle more akin to a Suzuki Sidekick.

As a former serial Wrangler owner, I enjoy crawling over off-road obstacles as much as the next guy. The only thing better is speeding off-road. So the day’s surprise highlight was no contest: Mercedes lets us drive AMG G 63 laps on vertiginous trails at rally-esque speeds (with a pro wingman keeping us safe), including drifting through turns and catching air over a blind jump.

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The AMG’s hydraulic suspension, with interlinked dampers that eliminate mechanical anti-roll bars, makes it the most buttoned-down version. Part of the AMG Offroad Package Pro, the system can adjust roll stiffness across a vast spectrum, from a buttoned-down 6,000 newtons per degree in Sport Plus to a lolling 1,500 newtons in Off Road. Taking cues from AMG’s track-centric performers, a Trail mode lets drivers adjust traction across seven levels. AMG engineers also sweated details for Sand and Rock modes, including a Traction Pro feature that Mercedes says can help extricate a G-Class that’s stuck in sand, snow or muck. All cool stuff, I suppose, but let’s also mention “Dust,” which is what these 4×4 performance geegaws will gather in the hands of urbanite owners.

Die Neue G Klasse Testdrive, Südfrankreich 2024 // The New G Class Test Drive, Southern France 2024
Mercedes-Benz

Fortunately, any buyer will appreciate the G-Class’ opulent cabin, and modest exterior changes. For the G 580, that includes a black-capped grille with an icy LED frame. A mildly raised hood clears room for an inverter. Re-profiled A-pillars and air curtain wheel arches look to smooth cinder-block aerodynamics. Most notably, G 580 buyers can choose a squared-off Design Box hung from the rear door, or stick with a traditional spare wheel carrier. The Design Box holds a Level 2 charging cable for hookups at up to 11 kilowatts, with room for odds and ends. DC charging can hit a peak 200 kilowatts, for a 10-to-80 percent refill in 32 minutes: Not as quick as some rivals, but the G 580 is born for home charging in a multi-car garage. 

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That obsessive 4×4 focus actually comes back to bite the G 580. A bit like the Hummer EV, Mercedes engineers seem so determined to prove their point off-road, that they compromised on-road performance that will constitute 99.9-percent of the G 580’s daily life.

Despite a 6,801-pound curb-weight handicap, about 1,300 more than a G 550, the electric G dashes to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. That beats 5.3 seconds for the G 550, and isn’t far off the wicked 4.2-second sprint of the G 63. That’s accompanied (should you choose) by a pseudo-V8 song called G Roar Experience, that’s pretty good by EV Autotune standards. But the sheer mass, tall body, relatively high-mounted battery and soft tuning result in some woozy handling. Compared to either ICE version, there’s excess body roll in corners, and pitch and dive under acceleration and braking. Chuck the G 580 into a fast corner, and there’s an upsetting springboard effect. The primitive solid-axle rear suspension just can’t keep up with the sharper front, and immediately signals its distress. 

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Die Neue G Klasse Testdrive, Südfrankreich 2024 // The New G Class Test Drive, Southern France 2024
Mercedes-Benz

In its defense, G 580 buyers won’t be carving corners with Cayennes. The first electric G-Wagen remains swanky, status-y, and quieter than any predecessor. For its intended audience, the merits of electric propulsion will seal the deal. Pricing isn’t set, but expect a G 580 First Edition to hover around $185,000 when it reaches showrooms later this year, versus perhaps $190,000 for the G 63 and $145,000 for a G 550. In other words, a near-loaded G 580 First Edition will cost slightly less than a base-rate AMG model, with more-affordable G 580s to come.

Defying logic, the G-Class has become the world’s ultimate cosplaying SUV. Its outdoorsy talents will mostly be wasted on some the world’s least outdoorsy buyers. Folks for whom “off the beaten path” means strip-mall sushi in Los Angeles. Poke fun if you like, and we certainly will. But I can’t be a hypocrite. From its early gray-market years, I tried to hate the G-Class. Then I drove one, and another, and surrendered to its irresistible design, the undeniable gestalt of the G. Call me shallow. Then give me those dumb-ass refrigerator doors.

[Ed note from Matt even though he didn’t edit this article: Obviously, Lawrence Ulrich is one of the most admired automotive writers in the known universe, having formerly served as the chief auto critic for The New York Times and contributed to MotorTrend, Road & Track, and just about every other place you’ve ever read about cars. We’re excited to have him on the site for the second time. – MH]

Images: Lawrence Ulrich and Mercedes-Benz

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Davey
Davey
11 days ago

“Envisioned in 1974 prototypes as an unpretentious civilian and military workhorse”

How far they’ve fallen. Give me the Jimny.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
11 days ago

I yearn for a classic Puch G, in part to confuse people with the badge and in part because they look damn fun off-road.

I hate the EV’s light-up grille, though. Hatehatehate.

Interesting to see a De Dion axle in the mix, though. The Smart Fortwo EV had one, too!

John Patson
John Patson
11 days ago

6,801 pounds or 3,084 kg. That means with five fat fuckers inside, you will need an HGV drivers licence — 3.5 tonnes is the limit for an ordinary licence,
And you will not be able to pull any sort of trailer without and HGV rating.
And that in a body which used to be an adequate drive with 90HP or so…
The world has gone crazy.

Reasonable Pushrod
Reasonable Pushrod
11 days ago

My wife will love this for her trips to Starbucks and Target. I prefer the sound of the predecessor.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
11 days ago

Thanks for putting the space between letter and number in the model nomenclature. (Well, being the visual communication designer, it irks me a lot when the writers and commentators don’t do that.)

G 65 AMG wasn’t the first G-Class with V12 engine. That distinction went to G 63 AMG with only thirteen units built in 2002: it had 6.3-litre 444-bhp M137 V12 engine, proving the V12 could fit in the G-Class and leading to the official AMG versions a couple of years later.

Roofless
Roofless
11 days ago

> Each motor integrates a selectable low-range, roughly 2:1 mechanical gear reduction, multiplying torque for off-road adventure at up to 53 mph. Yes, every electric motor generates full torque at zero rpm anyway. But electric motors don’t do their best work at consistent low speeds, generating excess heat. Allowing motors to spin faster in low range, Mercedes engineers say, holds temperatures in check for better durability.

This is interesting, and the kind of thing I’m hoping we see more of as the EVing continues – a complaint with EVs right now is they all drive the same, but I’m not convinced they need to. I’m hoping as manufacturers get more experience with electric drivetrains we start to see some more differentiation (and, with all respect to Hyundai and Dodge, not just things that try to impersonate ICE cars).

Last edited 11 days ago by Roofless
Brian Ash
Brian Ash
11 days ago

The Grand Loop is about 150 miles and there’s 5 gas stations, plenty of opportunities to get fuel in Yellowstone. Unless your talking off road but your not allowed to off road anywhere in Yellowstone so…. Plus it’s rare to see a G wagen outside a mall parking lot.

Davey
Davey
11 days ago

“Envisioned in 1974 prototypes as an unpretentious civilian and military workhorse”

How far they’ve fallen. Give me the Jimny

Robn
Robn
12 days ago

You’ve come a long way, baby. (as I sit here with fond memories of the red 1980 230G that I used to have that is an EXACT twin of the one mentioned in the article.)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/teamkitty/4522597592/

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
12 days ago

“Those relatively dawdling diffs are replaced by “virtual differentials” that can send up to 100 percent of torque to any individual wheel in as little as 300 milliseconds.”

Just to clarify: It can send 100% of the available single motor torque to the wheel that commands it. I cannot, like those dawdling diffs in the ICE powered vehicle, move up to 100% of ALL available torque to a single wheel.

I don’t know what the motors final drive ratio is, it seems a lot of EV’s are 10:1, so call it 2150 lbs-ft at the wheel (minus wheel lever). Call is 4300 for low range. and x4 for total system output for 17,200 lbs-ft at the hub. Sounds like a lot, but is it?

I guess that the crawl ratio of the G550 is around 64:1 (5.35 1st, 4.11 final, 2.93 low range). 413 peak lbs-ft x 64 is 26,432 lbs-ft divided by 4 wheels, or 6608 lbs-ft at the hubs. That’s assuming open diffs. Once you lock all 3 diffs, almost all that 26,432 can be routed to a single wheel if needed.

Of course that also doesn’t take into account that a locked diff doesn’t need a reaction feedback loop to control that torque. It just gives the tires whatever they ask for.

Not saying the G580 with EQ technology (good lord that gets old) isn’t good off-road, but I do ask that people who review EV off-roaders not get sucked into the hype of 4 motors, etc as being better somehow that the old school stuff.

EDIT: I see on another site the torque for the g580 is 3319 lbs-ft at the hub, so even less.

Last edited 12 days ago by Pat Rich
PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
12 days ago
Reply to  Pat Rich

I mention this every time one of these articles comes up. Separate motors are AWFUL for off roading (relative to anything with low range and diff locks, or even just good traction control). Dual motor vehicles with locking diffs are better but still not as good as a vehicle where the front and rear are also tied together.

There are countless videos of EVs going off road and just stalling out at full throttle because they don’t have enough torque to move.

The 2:1 reduction automatically makes this probably the most capable off road (quad motor) EV.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
11 days ago
Reply to  Pat Rich

It’s true, a four motor EV cannot send as much torque to a single wheel as a gas car with lockers can. But it’s not a problem. I went really deep into the math on the Rivian, and although it has less wheel torque, it still has enough wheel torque to spin any(or all) wheel on dry pavement, meaning it will be traction limited in all off-road situations. Besides, 1/4 of total torque is what you get in a vehicle with 3 open diffs like a Subaru or Land Cruiser. Even a vehicle with locked 4×4 can only send 1/2 of total power to any wheel if it has open diffs like a Jeep.

Yes, some EVs have issues with motive power, but I think that’s for the same reason some gas cars do: overzealous traction control disallowing wheelspin.

Last edited 11 days ago by Rust Buckets
Pat Rich
Pat Rich
11 days ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Based on what I’ve seen over the years, EV’s with traditional mechanical lockers are better performing off-road than ones with more motors and “virtual” lockers, even if it means giving up a lot of power potential. Part of the issue is hub torque and part of the issue is the reaction loop. Its very difficult to control traction on an electric motor because you can’t store wheel torque like you can with a brake based system, you have to apply exactly the right amount. So even if it could supply sufficient torque, the computer has to correctly guess what that value is continuously. It’s a problem that no one has solved sufficient to compete with the instantaneous torque transfer of removing the differential from the equation. Also, one thing that people seem to ignore with electric motors is that “full torque at zero rpm” doesn’t mean forward progress. Motor stall and cogging is a real problem for EV off-roaders. Even if it had a bazillion lbs-ft at 0 rpm, it would also have 0 HP at those speeds.

As for Land Cruisers, there aren’t any 3 open diff cruisers, or haven’t been since the early 90s since the center differential is always at least limited slip with mechanical locking. For 5 brief model years you could get triple locked.

Last edited 11 days ago by Pat Rich
PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
11 days ago
Reply to  Pat Rich

I watched a video with the 2024 3 motor Hummers and the rear “virtual locker” was actually pretty impressive. Unfortunately they still lacked the outright torque and the motors were stalling.

Also very true on the instant torque transfer. Every video I have seen has the car lurching instead of walking up. Every time a wheel loses traction it stops and has to figure out what wheels need torque.

Last edited 11 days ago by PL71 Enthusiast
American Locomotive
American Locomotive
11 days ago
Reply to  Pat Rich

Something you need to keep in mind is that no tire off-road could ever actually transfer 26,432 lb-ft of torque.

Play around with this calculator: https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/tractive-effort-d_1783.html

For something like this G-Wagen, a tire off road would be lucky to be able to transmit 900 pounds of tractive effort before spinning. On a 31″ off-road tire, that translates to 2,300 lb-ft of wheel torque.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
11 days ago

This is true for a car in a flat position on a flat surface. In reality articulation, surface texture, surface shape, and vehicle position can probably change that by a factor of multiple. EX: being flexed out on a Moab uphill will load one rear tire immensely, plus have pavementlike traction.

Also, if that were realistic it would be physically impossible for a vehicle to climb a ledge.

Last edited 11 days ago by PL71 Enthusiast
Kaiserserserser
Kaiserserserser
12 days ago

Riddle me this, which will get less use? All those cameras, artificial differentials and other off-road focused goodies on this G-wagen or the turn signals on a BMW?

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
10 days ago

Hey! I’ve seen plenty of Bimmers use turn signals. Usually while making a 3 lane exit dive at 20 over the speed limit.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
12 days ago

So it’s a de dion, not really a solid axle? Like a SMART, Rear suspension on older AWD Chrysler minivans, etc..?

Pretty good idea actually, and a very similar setup that GM was supposed to use on a smaller Hummer variant before GM went bankrupt in 2009.

There actually another EV product that uses a similar rear axle idea (although with leaf springs and dual rear wheels) the new EV cabover trucks from RIZON, which is part of Daimler trucks, and is really a Mitsubishi/FUSO cabover that’s electrified… which is confusing enough.

Last edited 12 days ago by Bizness Comma Nunya
David Tracy
David Tracy
12 days ago

It’s a de dion. Not a typical “live axle,” but a type of axle.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
11 days ago

It’s a solid axle, the wheels are rigidly connected to each other and one cannot move without the other moving. Just like the non-driven solid front axle you’ll find under any heavy truck, or any car old enough.

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