2011 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

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2002 Mercedes G500

This 2002 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2014.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Mercedes-Benz adds a second SUV to its lineup in 2002. The new G500 is a pricey, exclusive model whose boxy, old-style looks belie a rugged, capable SUV with modern V8 and today's luxury features.
Pros:
  • Exclusivity
  • Powerful V8
  • Attention-getting style
Cons:
  • Truckish ride
  • Pitiful fuel economy
  • Smallish cargo space

Move over, Hummer. SUV buyers who want something out of the ordinary—and can afford a price tag of more than $72,000—now can order the Mercedes-Benz G500 at dealerships around the country.

Known as the Gelaendewagen in Germany, where it was launched more than 20 years ago as a utilitarian, military-style SUV, the G500 looks like a classic with its slab sides, nearly vertical windshield and tall roof.

But inside, there are modern touches like heated leather seats, navigation system, Tele Aid emergency notification and other upscale civilian features.

The power is modern, too. The G500 shares the same V8 that's used in Mercedes' S-Class large sedan.

Limited model
Buyers will need that power to get away from all the attention they're bound to attract driving this limited-production SUV. Only 2,000 to 2,500 G500s are due in the States in the first year.

The 292-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8 is up to the task, helping the G500 leave other drivers in the dust. This gasoline engine produces a maximum 336 lb-ft of torque as low as 2800 rpm.

During the test drive, power came on amazingly quickly for a full-time four-wheel-drive vehicle that weighs more than 5,400 pounds. But I did need to give the accelerator more than just a nudge to get the vehicle rushing forward.

On highways where I often had pedal to the metal, the V8 worked eagerly, getting me past slower vehicles in an expeditious manner.

Note that there is a lot of wind noise and some engine noise during these maneuvers. The G500 seems like a big, decidedly unaerodynamic box that has to punch a big hole in the air. But the engine sounds confident and modern compared with the mind-numbing raucousness found in a diesel-powered, 195-horsepower 6.5-liter V8-powered Hummer H1.

The 2003 Range Rover's 4.4-liter V8 produces 282-horsepower and 324 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm.

The G500 doesn't have a dead pedal for the driver to brace himself or herself during driving.

But the G500's V8 comes mated to a five-speed automatic transmission that includes Touchshift control that lets a driver shift from gear to gear sans clutch pedal. It's a feature I enjoyed in city traffic to help me modulate how quickly the G500 came up on other cars' rear bumpers.

Too bad the fuel economy is so very poor, estimated at just 13 miles a gallon in the city and 15 mpg on the highway. This vehicles uses premium, too.

Easy to be nosy
My trouble was the high-riding G500 gave me such an expansive view over other vehicles in front of me I found myself driving a bit aggressively. Behind the wheel, I monitored not just the vehicle right in front of me but cars that were five and six vehicles ahead. I literally could see over cars as well as many pickup trucks. I even could see the roofs of Ford Explorers.

The views out the sides of the G500 were good, too, as side windows are tall. In fact, I nicknamed the G500 the "nosy neighbor's vehicle" since I found I could drive past my neighbors' places and see new landscaping and home projects going on that I had never noticed before. The high view was that good.

But the combination of a middle-person head restraint in the back seat and the G500's hard-cover spare tire carrier at the rear obstructed some views out the back.

Truckish bounces
The ride can be bouncy over road bumps—on and off road. I felt jostled even going over some manhole covers at city speeds, and the vehicle bobbed up and down on some road expansion cracks on the freeway.

But there's also a rigidity felt in the G500, a sense that despite the tall, gangly looks, the G500's body is more tightly controlled than you'd expect. It's enough to make you push the vehicle a bit through corners and come away with a grin.

Mercedes boasts that the G500 can climb grades up to 36 degrees and is stable on lateral slopes of up to 24 degrees.

Note the G500 is the only production vehicle sold in the United States that has three mechanical differential locks—for the front, center and rear differentials—available during rigorous off-road going.

The G500 suspension is old-school, rigid axles with longitudinal and transverse control arms. There are gas pressure shocks and sizable, 18-inch wheels at each corner.

Four-wheel disc brakes with an antilock system and brake assist and brake proportioning work stably. But the G500's power-assisted recirculating ball steering can feel slow and require effort.

Seats for five only
Many of today's luxury-appointed SUVs are full-size models capable of carrying at least eight passengers. But the G500 is a compact SUV that can carry five at most. All get head restraints and three-point safety belts. There are frontal airbags for the front seats, too—a feature that the Hummer H1 doesn't have.

It's a hefty climb up to get inside the G500. At 5 feet 4, standing next to the G500, the floor inside the vehicle was above my knees. Thank goodness a running board is standard on this vehicle.

Still, rear-seat occupants won't find a lot of foot space at the doorways. And three adults back there sit closely.

Odds and ends
Be sure to look for the illuminated Mercedes-Benz badge at the front door sills of the G500. It's a pretty, ice-blue color.

I didn't care much for the large gaps between the sheet metal pieces on the G500. They were so large, I could see labels that were attached to the metal at the door jams without even opening the doors.

The old-style door handles, each with a button you have to push, aren't real ergonomic, and the clickity-clack door locks are loud.

Seats in the G500 are nicely cushioned but aren't necessarily wide like the ones you'd find in a Cadillac Escalade.

The G500 cargo space also is smaller than what many might expect—45 cubic feet with the rear seats in use and 79.5 cubic feet with the seats folded down.

I liked that the cargo space was easily accessed through a door that swings open like a regular vehicle door, not a tailgate. And the door rests open to the left, not curbside, as it does on some other SUVs like the Honda CR-V.

But the G500s's nicely carpeted cargo floor is impinged upon by the tops of the wheel wells and you have to lift items a good bit to reach the cargo area.

And watch how you back up in the G500. The hard cover for the spare tire extends farther than the back bumper does, which can make it difficult to judge distance when parallel parking.

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BB05 - 7/14/2014 7:27:45 AM