Just how do you replace a living legend?
It’s proving a challenge for Land Rover’s engineers with the all-new Defender, but their counterparts in Stuttgart took a typically pragmatic view when tackling the same task with their own off-road icon.
There’s no doubt that this is a G-Wagen – still hand-built in Graz, Austria – but look closer and you’ll see it’s softer-edged, and bigger, too.
That latter point makes a huge difference from the driver’s seat, where you no longer find yourself clouting your elbow when twirling the wheel. Underneath the Emperor’s New Clothes, the chassis is also all-new, as is the drivetrain.
Off-roading geeks will be pleased to see that its 4x4 credentials are undiminished – it still features a low-range transfer box and three locking diffs – but it’s on the road where the greatest strides have been taken.
Before setting off, you can choose between seemingly endless configurations for the engine, traction control and suspension, auto or manual operation for the nine-speed ’box – even two exhaust tunes: ‘loud’ and ‘ridiculously loud’.
The noise, like most things about this car, is faintly ludicrous. Yet at the same time, like most things about this car, it’s also rather wonderful.
Pedestrians and other road users seem to love it, too, with most giving a grin or a thumbs-up where you’d get animosity in a similarly vulgar Porsche or Audi SUV.
The source of the incredible sound is a 3982cc twin-turbo V8 making 577bhp – enough to shift this 2560kg behemoth to 60mph in 4.5 secs, and on to 137mph – or 149mph if you opt for the £2k AMG Driver’s Package.
The way it goes is laugh-out-loud entertaining: the tail squats, the nose lifts and it powers forwards like a cabin cruiser, leaving lesser cars bobbing in its wake.
What’s remarkable, though, is how it deals with that pace. The vintage bounce of old is gone, replaced by a firm but supple ride and astonishing poise for its mass.
It’s not clever enough to defy physics, of course, but behave with some decorum, make use of the vast (400mm front, 370mm rear) cross-drilled discs, and this huge machine will cover ground at an alarming rate.
Yet for all of that, the real charm of the new G-Class is the way it retains the soul of the 1979 original.
The doors still need a hefty slam; the central locking thunks home with the precision – and sound – of a rifle bolt; and you look out through an upright ’screen with the signature of Gottlieb Daimler in the bottom corner.
Inside, the architecture remains pleasingly Cubist, yet overall space is tight.
So it’s not very practical, and not very sensible – but since when did a classic have to make sense?
In the end, it’s almost irrelevant that the new G is so much better than its predecessor, because this car is all about the theatre. And what a performance!
Images: Will Williams
- Engine 3982cc twin-turbo V8; 577bhp @ 6000rpm; 627lb ft @ 2500-3500rpm
- Transmission nine-speed auto, 4WD
- Mpg 21.4
- 0-60mph 4.5 secs
- Top speed 137mph
- Price £143,305