Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
You get a choice of two engines for your G-Class: a sensible 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel in the G350d or, if you really want to push the boat out, a 5.5-litre V8 with a pair of turbochargers in the AMG-fettled G63. Despite this huge SUV weighing at least two and a half tonnes, we’d argue the diesel is as much engine as most will need. It offers plenty of power from low in the rev-range, so accelerating up to motorway speed is easy.
However, while acceleration is fast in a straight line, try to use the power while turning and you’ll have the stability control light flashing away. The G-Class’s high ground clearance and soft suspension are great on the rough stuff but hurt its handling.
It's worth pointing out that the latest G-Class represents a huge step forward for ride and handling compared with its predecessor, but grip is in relatively short supply around corners, even with wide tyres and the optional adaptive suspension, and, again, the stability control is quick to intervene. The heavy body pitches in bends noticeably, and the G350d feels ever more cumbersome the harder you push. Try to thread it down a twisty road with gusto and body lean becomes even more pronounced. Plus, if you put your foot down from a standstill, there’s a long hesitation before the G-Class accelerates away as the nine-speed automatic gearbox fumbles to find the right gear. Another thing you’ll notice when you start driving is how slow and heavy the steering is, and you’ll notice how many corrections you have to apply to keep it in a straight line.
The G-Class isn't an especially smooth cruiser, either. Even with adaptive suspension fitted, the live rear axle – a setup that incorporates the car’s driveshafts and differential in a single, rigid unit – causes the car to jostle and heave around on scruffy road surfaces and your head will be thrown around on undulating country roads, even in the suspension’s comfiest setting.
Given that its mechanical basic layout is similar to the Mercedes X-Class’s, it's no surprise that the G350d feels very much like a well-sorted pick-up truck on the open road. That said, while handling isn’t great by the standards of the luxury SUV class, it'd be missing the point of the G350d somewhat to sign off here, because the G350d has always been a rugged 4x4 in the old-fashioned sense. This latest version certainly holds true to that.
Indeed, a low-range gearbox, differential locks and long suspension travel means the G-Class really is very capable in the rough stuff, aided by the freedom of movement of that live rear axle. And even if you’ve bought one with no intention of scuffing its expensive alloy wheels doing something as crazy as driving it off road, there's something rather nice in knowing that if you need to, it can.