Gina Baksa gets down and dirty with the Mercedes-Benz SUV G Classes
Fog. Never a driver’s friend, yet its stealthy presence gave an enigmatic quality to the mud and drizzle last month at Millbrook Testing Ground in Bedfordshire. This is where elite army vehicles go through their paces and car manufacturers test their new models (fully clothed for secrecy). Vehicles, tyres, engines and fuels of the future are all put through their paces here. It’s a diagnostic geek’s heaven – and very secret squirrel. On arrival at the main gate, the lens on my camera is duly covered by a sticker. Official snappers only.
I’m here to test Mercedes’s stable of luxury SUVs: the G, GLE and GLS classes on Millbrook’s renowned off-road course. Having driven these cars on motorways and A-roads, I’m keen to test them on more challenging surfaces.
Set in 100 acres of hilly Bedfordshire countryside, the Millbrook off-road tracks provide?a mindboggling range of terrains for every type of vehicle, from soft-roaders to full high-mobility military-specification vehicles. But the humps and sand hills were to come. First, breakfast, and special mention here to Orin and the team for the fab bacon baps.
Thus fortified, I made my way to the G-350 d parked outside and joined my instructor in the comfortable cabin (love the heated seats). He could sense my excitement: “You’re going to have a lot of fun.” Oh yes.
We’re in manual to start – there’s the choice of an automatic drive too. The gear paddles behind the wheel moving as I steer, it’s hard to keep track of them initially. We set off at a sedate pace, my thumbs resting on the top. “You don’t want to lose them,” warns my instructor, pointing out the Alpine road track where the famous roll scene from Casino Royale was filmed. Top speed in the G 350 d is 119mph – but steady and slow is the name of the game in off-roading.
No wonder the G-Class is a legend, it’s a beautiful drive. In addition to the choice of lively gorgeous colours (mine is a pearlescent blue) this SUV is an adventurer’s dream – even if those adventures begin and end at the school run. On the technical side, one of its standout qualities is its permanent four-wheel drive system that distributes torque through three differential locks – front, centre and rear. Each of these can be engaged independently to maximise traction.
This was particularly helpful when driving across the sinusoidal’s (not a nose complaint) but a series of offset humps designed to induce ‘maximum axle articulation’. Carefully negotiating the route, we traverse mortar holes, log runs and a lean-to 25-degree curved traverse. Luckily the G has a 28-degree maximum tilt angle, so I know I’m safe. A little discombobulating but fun!
The G can also climb at 45-degree slope with ease, but due to the rain on the concrete hill (itself 45 degrees) was out of bounds. Instead, we made our way up and down sandy tracks and sand hills, which the G blasted through with ease, thanks to its 4-wheel Electronic Traction System. If one of the tyres loses traction the system automatically applies the brakes to that wheel. This ensures power is still fed to the ground, even if only one wheel has grip. What you might call genius engineering.