Mercedes’ electric G-Class plays it safe

The first plug-in G-Wagon looks much like its combustion-era predecessor and starts at around RM727,113 


MERCEDES-BENZ Group AG unveiled its electric G-Class SUV on April 23 with the famed off-roader sticking closely to its combustion-engine sibling. 

The Mercedes-Benz G 580 with EQ Technology offers the same low-range off-road gearing system, independent front suspension and rigid rear axle of the gas-powered G-Class. Equipped with four motors, one at each wheel, the vehicle has 579hp and 293 miles of range for desert crossings or, most likely, grocery hauling. 

“We have packed as much battery into this chassis as we possibly can,” Ola Källenius, CEO of Mercedes-Benz, said during a test drive of an electric G-Wagon pre-production model in Austria last year. Under Källenius, Mercedes has sought to boost margins by shifting resources away from entry-level models such as the compact A-Class toward its most expensive vehicles. 

The G-Wagon, nicknamed after Geländewagen, or “off-road vehicle” in German, is deeply enshrined in popular culture, with Moncler collaborations, artistic homages encasing it
in resin and celebrity boosters from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Kim Kardashian. (The Austrian bodybuilder, who grew up near the factory, foreshadowed the electric G in 2018 when he publicly pressed Dieter Zetsche, then head of Mercedes-Benz, to make one.) Total sales since the G-Wagon launched in 1979 exceed 500,000, a Mercedes-Benz spokesperson confirmed. 

Pricing on the new electric SUV starts at €142,621 (RM727,113), with the limited “Edition One” version starting at €192,524. The internal-combustion G-Class starts at US$143,000 (RM729,045) with some variants reaching US$350,000 or more. 

Staying the Course 

The debut reiterates Mercedes’ commitment to spend US$47 billion to electrify its product range even as EV demand cools. Mercedes EV wholesales dropped 8% in the first quarter of 2024 (1Q24); the automaker blamed supply chain issues, the end of its ultra-compact Smart Fortwo and removal of state subsidies in Germany. 

“We do see on the customer side a little bit of uncertainty about how to move into the future,” Mercedes sales chief Britta Seeger told reporters in a roundtable interview on April 18. In February, Mercedes forecast lower returns in 2024 and pared its outlook for EV sales, noting that fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles would comprise 19% to 21% of sales this year. 

The G-Class remains so popular that Mercedes stopped taking new orders on the conventionally powered G in 2022 as waiting lists exceeded two years. By 2023 it had resumed sales, and Källenius has asserted they can handle the anticipated EV influx to the Magna Steyr plant’s 40,000 annual capacity. On the call with reporters, Seeger declined to estimate wait times for the new electric G. 

Off-Road Electrified 

While it looks almost identical to its internal-combustion-engine counterpart, the electric G-Wagon possesses distinctions like a slightly raised hood and altered flares over the rear wheel arches. It comes with a unique front to replace the conventional grille, or customers can opt to stay with the standard grille look. To optimise aerodynamics, it has new cladding along the A-pillar and a spoiler lip on the roof. An optional rectangular box on the back door will hold charging cables, or customers can opt for the familiar spare wheel with cover. 

“Customers don’t take the G-Wagon because it is the most progressive car in the market,” Michael Schiebe, CEO of Mercedes-AMG, told reporters during a roundtable on April 23. “They take it because it looks like the car from 1979.” 

New 18-inch alloy wheels with five twin- spokes in high-gloss black come standard. So do the special carbon-composite underbody shield and stone-chip protection that ensure long-lasting corrosion and impact defence as the boxy rig moves over rocks. 

The electric G-Class has 9.8 inches of ground clearance and a maximum fording depth of 33.5 inches

Inside, the new G-Class carries the second-generation MBUX system and offers Mercedes’ customary creature comforts such as ambient lighting, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, voice assist, open-pore natural walnut wood trim and leather upholstery. An AMG package offers 20-inch AMG 10-spoke alloy wheels, running boards, special brake callipers and a flattened steering wheel in leather with chrome shift paddles. 

Owners of the new G can choose between Comfort, Sport and Individual on-road driving modes plus optional Trail and Rock off-road modes. A novel G-Turn function works as a rugged party trick that spins the vehicle 360 degrees with a push of the button. An intelligent crawl function regulates speeds on steep or uneven grades. 

It has a zero-to-62-mph time of 4.7 seconds, roughly a second faster than that of the existing G-550, though the electronically limited 112-mph top speed may leave some customers wanting more. Mercedes has not yet confirmed how much it weighs. 

The electric G will charge from 10% to 80% in roughly 30 minutes when using a 200 kW DC fast-charging set-up, which is roughly standard for the industry. And the electric system is setting a precedent for more. 

Last year, Källenius said Mercedes will build a smaller, electric “Baby G” Wagon to compete with models like Ford’s Bronco. A spokesperson declined to comment on when it will debut. — Bloomberg 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition