2015 Mercedes G500 4x4² review

Remember Mercedes' 6x6 monster off-roader? Well, this is the 4x4 version, and we've driven it.

What is it?: 

The high riding G500 4x4² is being pitched as a road-going concept but, as with the G63 AMG 6x6 at its unveiling back in 2012, it has been engineered to production maturity and is likely to go on sale later this year for "more than £200,000" in the UK.

The starting point is the standard G500, but a chassis that borrows heavily from that originally developed for the G63 AMG 6x6 and various bodywork tweaks differentiate them.

The G500 4x4² is the first publically revealed Mercedes-Benz model to receive the standard version of the German car maker’s new twin-turbocharged four-valve-per-cylinder 4.0-litre V8 direct injection petrol engine.

Drive is channeled permanently to all four wheels by a reworked version of Mercedes-Benz’s seven-speed 7G-tronic automatic gearbox, complete with a separate transfer case and the high and low ratio gearing from the standard G500. There are also three mechanical differential locks that can be operated on the move.

Key among the changes brought to the chassis of the G500 4x4² is new dual strut spring and damper units that bring adjustable damping control in two modes: comfort and sport. The real party trick, though, is the complex axle geometry. Following the example of the G63 AMG 6x6, the G500 4x4² receives a set of specially engineered portal axles in which the transverse tube is positioned above the center of the wheel hub to provide a whopping 450mm of ground clearance. This is more than double that of the standard G500, which offers some 210mm of clearance, no less.

Mercedes-Benz also says the approach and departure angles have been increased from 36 and 27 degrees to a respective 52 and 54 degrees. The crucial break over angle has also improved from 21 to 47 degrees while fording depth is up from 600mm to 1000mm and the tipping angle increases from 28 to 30 degrees. 

Further chassis changes centre around the width of the tracks. They have increased by a considerable 299mm both front and rear, going from 1475mm on the standard G500 to 1774mm on the G500 4x4².

Mercedes-Benz has also ditched the standard 18-inch wheels and 265/60 profile tyres in favour of new 22-inch rims shod with rather serious looking 325/55 rubber. Also available are off-road biased Huchinson beadlock wheels.

What's it like?: 

Once you’ve climbed up into the leather-lined cabin and settled into the supportive seats - itself no light exercise and one that takes some mastering, you discover many similarities with the standard G500. The upright pillars, steeply angled windscreen and large expanse of side glass are all distinctly old school, but are also very much at the heart of its appeal.

As with its standard sibling, the show car provides seating for up to five. The interior architecture, including the shallow dashboard and sheer door trims, is distinctly old-fashioned. However, the use of contemporary trim materials and switchgear helps to make for a pleasant enough cabin ambiance. Although the tracks have been widened, the interior retains the same dimensions. There’s loads of head room, but shoulder room is at a premium.

There is a determined blast of exhaust through the four chromed side pipes as you fire the new twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre direct-injection V8 engine. It provides the G500 4x4² with a terrifically sporting note before you’ve even turned a wheel.

Once under way, the commanding seating position affords a great view forward, allowing you to place the new Mercedes-Benz easily and without any trepidation on the road. 

Being able to see above other road users also permits a more anticipatory driving style than in the standard G500, simply because you can see so far ahead and react accordingly. However, limited rear three-quarter vision means a blind-spot monitor would come in handy, particularly on multi-lane roads.

The heavily upgraded underpinnings offer a distinctly more cossetting feel over a variety of surfaces than those of the standard suspension. Small bump absorption is particularly noteworthy at low to moderate speeds, providing the G500 4x4² with a pleasingly compliant ride with the adaptive dampers set to comfort mode. There is less high frequency vertical movement and generally less fidgeting on pitted surfaces than in the standard G500.

With a solid spread of low end torque and quick shifting qualities from the seven-speed automatic gearbox, off-the-line and in-gear performance is surprisingly strong for something so big. It might hit the scales a whisker under three tonnes, but the new Mercedes-Benz feels muscular from the off and always gives the impressive of having plenty of power in reserve should you ever require it.

The initial growl of exhaust at start-up is replaced by a more subdued soundtrack, although with the side pipes exiting below the rear doors the low rev burble at typical motorway speeds is omnipresent, even on light throttle loads.

Official performance figures are yet to be confirmed. However, those in the know at our drive of the G500 4x4² in Spain this week suggest it’ll crack 62mph from standstill in 6.5sec, run to a top speed of 130mph in combination with the optional 22-inch wheel and tyre package and 100mph with the optional off-road rubber. 

There is quite a lot of buffeting at speed, although wind noise is very well suppressed, thanks to the bank vault-like sealing of the cabin and inherent solidity of its bodyshell. This aside, it's an accomplished long-distance proposition, with a lopping gait in taller gears, good longitudinal stability and impressive ride comfort from the long-travel suspension. 

The exceptional ride height and large-profile tyres suggests the G500 4x4² would be a real handful with masses of body lean and less-than-scintillating levels of grip at anything more than moderate speeds over a winding road. Surprisingly, though, this is not the case.

With a generous 299mm of additional track width helping to compensate for its higher gait and the trick dual-strut spring and damper arrangement providing tremendous body control through its ability to firm up the damping when switched to sport mode, it can be made to track through open corners with surprising authority.

Granted, it is no sports car, but the engaging progressiveness to its handling on challenging sections of road makes even the standard G500 feel rather ordinary by comparison.

The hydraulically operated steering, which uses the old fashioned recirculating ball set-up of the standard G500, offers a nice meaty feel. But, predictably given the weight of the wheels and aspect ratio of the rubber it wears, it is rather vague in terms of response as you come off centre; it is often upset small camber changes, requiring the odd correction from time to time.

Still, the G500 4x4² proves surprisingly nimble for something so tall, allowing you to string together a series of corners with a good deal more confidence than in the larger G63 AMG 6x6.

Still, it is off-road where the new four-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz really excels, proving even more impressive than its six-wheel sibling, particularly at low speeds over rocky terrain where it feels virtually invincible.

With unparalleled levels of ground clearance, truly amazing wheel articulation, low-range gearing and a variety of differential lock combinations to aid traction when the conditions become really challenging, your progress is rarely interrupted.

With a measured approach, it nonchalantly scales the sort of grades, transverse rivers and clambers over the sort of rocky outcrops that would stop most other dedicated off-roaders dead in their tracks.

Should I buy one?: 

You can’t. Not yet, anyway, but Merc is making all the right noises and it seems only a matter of time before it announces the G500 4x4² will head into small-scale production. With a projected price above £200,000 and question marks over whether it will be produced in right-hand drive, it is destined to be a super-exclusive proposition and a rare commodity on UK roads.

Having created an intriguing new market segment for off-road supercars with the launch of the lunatic G63 6x6, signs are the German car maker intends to further stamp its authority with an even more exciting and dynamically accomplished figurehead for its iconic G-Class.

What we have here is the ultimate go-anywhere off-roader - one that feels every bit at home cruising up the motorway in high range as it does clambering over unmapped terrain in full off-road mode.

2015 Mercedes G500 4x4² review

Price £200,000+ (est); Engine 8 cyls, 3982cc, turbo, petrol; Power 416bhp at 5350; Torque 450lb ft at 2250-4700rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch auto; Kerb weight 2996kg; Top speed 130mph (est); 0-62mph 6.5sec (est); Economy TBC; CO2 rating & BIK tax band TBC