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The Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen: History, Generations, Specifications

All things Mercedes-Benz G-wagen on Automobile.

Conner GoldenWriterManufacturerPhotographerBring a TrailerPhotographer

Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen Essential History

Over the decades since its introduction, the history of the venerable Mercedes-Benz G-wagen and all its variants, off-shoots, updates, and powertrains has grown so dense and labyrinthian, we've decided to cut the Gordian knot and merely cover the boxy G-wagen's greatest hits and highlights. Hungry for more details? Be sure to read the stories linked below, plus, there are numerous forums and anorak registries to be found online that do a far better job than we ever could of breaking down the fine detail of year-by-year differences for civilian-and-military variants of the G-wagen.

G-Wagen: The Beginning

As many enthusiasts may know, development of the G-wagen (also known as G-Class, Gelandewagen, or simply the "G") owes at least some of its impetus to urging from the Shah of Iran, who suggested Mercedes would do well for itself in the competitive space occupied by Land Rover, the Toyota Land Cruiser, and various Jeeps.

The subsequent G-wagen was envisioned in both military, professional, and civilian forms, with production handled by Austrian engineering consortium Steyr-Daimler-Puch. Mercedes and Steyr teamed up for development, but the final assembly and production details were handled by the Austrian firm, a deal that lead to G-Class vehicles sold in Austria, Switzerland, and other eastern European countries being branded as the Puch G.

First-Generation Mercedes-Benz G-Class

After a few years of development, the W460-generation Gelandewagen launched for the 1979 model year, riding on a rugged live-axle 4x4 platform powered by a trio of engines: A 2.3-liter gas four-cylinder, a 2.4-liter diesel four-cylinder, and a diesel five-cylinder. In 1980, the 280GE added Mercedes' popular inline-six to the mix with a respectable 150 hp on tap.

Second-Generation Mercedes-Benz G-Class

Mercedes and its customers must have liked the W460-generation quite a bit, as it remained in production without significant change until 1991. By the time the subsequent W461-generation G arrived, the model family offered something for everyone, with 2-, 3-, and 5-door variants in a mix of cabriolet, station wagon, and panel van configurations.

Aimed primarily at the professional crowd, the W461 essentially incorporated updated powertrains and revised 4x4 drivetrain into the W460 body, along with a smidge of interior refinement and quality-of-life improvements.

The G-Wagen Family Split

In 1990 Mercedes "split" the G-wagen family into two distinct branches: The aforementioned W461 catered to the down-and-dirty workhorse crowd, while the new W463 was the first iteration of the plush, big-baller "status" off-roader we know the G as today.

According to most reports, the civilian W461 stuck around in global markets until 2014, with gradual updates in limited numbers until it was phased out entirely, leaving the W463 branch as the sole extant G-Class lineage.

W463 G-Wagen Evolution

As the W463 evolved, engines got bigger, seats got cushier, trim became chrome-ier, and the price tag became more eye-bulging. It wasn't until 2002 that the plusher G-wagen was sold in the U.S. in any official capacity, with a hungry market driving the G to much success as a range-topping status symbol.

Enter the AMG G-Wagen

The G 55 AMG—the first mass production AMG-ified G—arrived shortly thereafter in the same year with a 5.5-liter naturally aspirated engine, followed later by a supercharged V-8 engine pushing out up to 469 hp. The first major update to the aged W463 arrived in 2007, updating much of the interior trimmings and exterior aesthetics. The W463's second major update came in 2012, and included an interior update that brought the G in-line with the Mercedes' contemporary sedan and SUV interior design and function.

In the U.S., the G-wagen has never been available with fewer than eight cylinders, making it a bit of an anomaly in the luxury SUV space. Upgrading to the power-packed Mercedes-AMG G 55 and later G 63 has always been a popular move for loyal G buyers, some going so far as to say yes to a starting price of at least $220,000 to add four extra cylinders in the form of the G 65 with its 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12.

G 63 AMG 6x6, Maybach G 650, G 550 4x42 and More

Other special editions in the U.S. included the absurdly high-riding G 550 4x42, a four-wheeled cousin of the hyper-limited-edition Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG 6x6, which, despite plenty of interested parties waving open checkbooks, was not federalized for sale in the States. The equally—if not even more—ludicrous Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet takes the crazy suspension and portal axles of the G 550 4x42, the V-12 from the G 65, the interior trimmings from a Mercedes-Maybach S 650, the price tag from the 6x6, and throws in a soft-top rear section for good measure.

Second-Generation W463: The Present-Day G-Wagen

In 2018, the G-Class underwent its largest redesign—ever—with the second generation of the W463. Compared to the first-gen W463 and the Gelandewagens that preceded it, the current G-Class is the most refined, well-rounded, comfortable, and user friendly iteration of the G, all while retaining the go-anywhere, do-anything character of its ancestors.

With the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 as its only engine (for now), the current W463 G 550 and Mercedes-AMG G 63 are proof you don't need to fundamentally change the design of an icon to revolutionize the experience. We're looking at you, Land Rover Defender.

Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen Highlights

Like the Porsche 911, Chevrolet Corvette, BMW 3 Series, and Ford Mustang, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class remains one of the pillars of automotive enthusiasm. There were many granny-geared 4x4 SUVs before and after the arrival of the G, but none have captured the imagination of so many quite like the big boxy Benz.

Unlike most of the other cars mentioned above, every G-wagen produced is fundamentally desirable and moderately collectible. Even W463s from the early 2000s with outdated interiors and infotainment are sought after; no matter your income, you look wealthy in a G-wagen of any vintage. If rock-crushing and dune-busting is more important than curb appeal, it's impossible to find a G-wagen without 4x4 and locking differentials, along with an incredibly robust chassis fit for any mountain you can throw it at—even the infamous Schöckl.

Many Gs not originally offered in the U.S. are now old enough to qualify for importation, so expect to see a lot more Euro-market cabriolets and G-wagens with diesels and six-cylinders lumbering around our roads. Cooler still are the decommissioned military Gs that retain the olive- or sand-colored paint and integrated soldier-friendly go-seats in the back.

Of course, if you're just interested in keeping up appearances, a new G never, ever goes out of style. There isn't a country club or valet lot on earth that will turn away a chrome-covered G.

 

Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen Buying Tips

Again, since there are so many permutations and powertrains to be had in the G-wagen, we're just going to focus on the major stuff. For more detailed model-specific breakdowns, surf forums or get in touch with a specialist.

Older W460- and W461-generation Gs are quite de jour as of 2020, thanks to burgeoning interest in classic 4x4s, vintage German cars, and the continued rise of overlanding. Depending on body configuration, most imported W460 and W461s in good condition will run at or under $30,000, owing primarily to the relatively agricultural character of these dedicated 4x4s. Expect to pay a premium for cabriolets, diesels, and examples with manual transmissions.

These foreign-market G-wagens are robust workhorses, but don't expect ownership to be trouble-free, or free for that matter. When something goes wrong, good luck having your local dealer—or even local Mercedes specialist—service it without a hefty repair bill. Most of the parts have to be ordered directly from Germany, and considering these models were never sold here, your local shop might not be cognizant of any model-specific quirks or common problems.

As always, look for rust, leaks, and a well-documented service history. If you're dealing with a W460 or W461, make sure the importation docs are in order and the truck is legal to register in your state. And, as always, be sure to get a professional inspection before purchase.

Older W463-generation Gs can be problematic for different reasons. While the G was better built than contemporary Mercedes products in the mid-to-late-2000s, fickle electronics and maintenance-hungry drivetrains keep bills high. If an AMG V-8 has problems in a sedan or coupe, it's going to have those same problems in an aged G 55 or G 63. Many of the older W463s were purchased by "ballers on budgets," so expect high-mileage examples to have years of accumulated deferred maintenance. For W463s, buy as new, low-mileage, and clean as you possibly can; you're not gaining much buying power by looking for older examples.

Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen Auctions

For now, there's no use showcasing W463s, since many older examples can be found on buy-here-pay-here lots, and hundreds of newer W463s are readily available on online marketplaces. Instead, here are some older G-wagens of note that have sold on Bring a Trailer.

Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 1979
  • Last year of production: Ongoing
  • Base Price: $130,900 (2020)
  • An automotive icon
  • Everyone loves a G
  • A rare truck beloved by enthusiasts and wealthy owners alike
  • Far cooler than any Hummer could ever be

Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen Articles on Automobile

Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen FAQ

You have questions about the Mercedes-Benz G-wagen. Automobile has answers. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked Mercedes-Benz G-wagen queries

Is the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen a Good Car?

Depends what you want to use it for. Off-roading? The G-wagen is excellent. Standing out in the parking lot? Absolutely. Making your neighbors jealous? Piece of cake. Saving money on gas and maintenance? An emphatic no.

Why are Mercedes-Benz G-Wagens so expensive?

Mercedes' understands the G-wagen's position as a status symbol, so one of the best ways to maintain that allure is to keep the price high and the production numbers relatively low. So, unless you get a well-used example, a new-ish G will cost you over $100,000.

What do Mercedes-Benz G-Wagens start at?

If you walked into a Mercedes dealer and drove off in the basest-of-base G 550s, it would cost you $130,900.

What's so special about a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen?

A combination of quite a few things, really. Old world charm, mil-spec cool, Mercedes-Benz cachet, excellent performance, astounding build quality, and evergreen appearance all contribute to the G-wagen's lasting presence.

2020 Mercedes-Benz G 500 Specifications

PRICE $130,900 (base)
ENGINE 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/416 hp @ 5,250-5,500 rpm, 450 lb-ft @ 2,250-4,750 rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 13/17 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 189.7 x 85.7 x 77.2 in
WHEELBASE 113.8 in
WEIGHT 5,551 lb
0-60 MPH 5.6 sec
TOP SPEED 130 mph