As we got nearer to Mercedes-Benz’s proving grounds at Schöckl Mountain outside Graz, Austria, in the G500, I could sense my driver, Gunter, getting excited. The G500 runs the same engine as the G550 offered in the States, namely a 4-liter twin-turbo V8. We turned off the pavement and onto a gravel road traveling at what I would consider to be a moderate speed. Suddenly, Gunter floored the gas and jerked the steering wheel to the left, entering a rocky and rutted trail, carrying enough speed to make me grab the oh-shit bar in front of me.
It only got faster from there.
With 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, the least powerful G-class in the States still has enough oomph to get up and over nearly anything in its path. In fact, it’s not necessarily the capabilities of the G-class that make it impressive. After all, it’s got solid front and rear axles, the locking differentials and plenty of ground clearance. You’d have to seriously work to get this thing stuck. No, it was the speed at which it performed on the Schöckl that astounded me.
Apparently, Gunter had never heard the old off-roading adage, “As fast as necessary, as slow as possible.” Instead, we hurled up the steep track, bouncing over rocks and scampering over obstacles at speeds that seemed enthusiastic to say the least.
When it came my turn to drive, I started by locking the center differential, ensuring the front and rear wheels would always be turning at the same speed. I shifted into low gear and started climbing the same route Gunter had done, albeit much, much slower. As the G500 let me select low gear at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour, I shifted from high to low and then back to high again as the terrain warranted.
When I arrived at a particularly rocky section, I didn’t even have to stop the car to lock the rear differential. I just pushed the button and scrambled over the obstacle.
Midway through my drive I realized why Gunter was such a speed demon. The G500 makes it very easy to drive fast over the rough stuff. It’s got 8-inches of wheel travel, which isn’t close to the over 11-inches that the independent suspension set up gets on the Ford Raptor, but it’s nothing to sniff at, either. You can lock the front, rear and center differentials with just a touch of a button and those lockers engage within a half a wheelspin. The solid front and rear axles provide all kinds of articulation and you can put the thing sideways up to 54 degrees and it won’t tip over. Trust me, we did it.
Mr. Austrian’s Wild Ride continued after lunch as we went down the mountain. I’m not saying I was scared, but I will say I held on for dear life and possibly closed my eyes a few times.
This must be what driving in the Dakar Rally feels like, I thought as Gunter accelerated through a turn, sliding the G500 a bit sideways. I have plenty of off-road racing experience, but in purpose-built race vehicles. It makes sense that a trophy truck could blast through the dirt at what seems like a million miles an hour, but a pavement queen like a G-class? If anything this trip taught me that G500 owners should find their way off the tarmac occasionally.