It took about 30 seconds after being handed the keys to this Mercedes G350d to confirm that the silliness is still very strong. Yes, it may be bereft of the mighty twin-turbo V8s used by its G500 and G63 big brothers, but don’t go thinking that it’s sensible just because it’s powered by a 3.0-litre inline-six diesel.
There’s that first sight of its ridiculous, boxy, slab-sided form and its display cabinet-like glass-house. The THWACK you hear as the fantastically aggressive locks disengage. And then there’s the moment you close the driver’s door after getting in. Actually, it’s rarely just one moment - you’ll usually find yourself swinging it shut with what seems like a lot of force, before realising it’s going to take much more of a slam to get the damn thing closed properly.
On the move, this feels like an SUV of the old school - something of a rarity when most rivals tend to feel just like normal cars and have done for years. In the G there’s pronounced body roll, and you usually have to wait for a moment or two for the car to react to each of your steering inputs.
But it’ll biff about just fine, and can even be driven quick-ish down a twisty road without the whole affair seemingly perpetually perilous. That’s down to the stuff under the skin - granted, there still is an old-fashioned (but newly designed) ladder chassis forming the basis on the vehicle and the rear axle is solid, but the front suspension is now independent. Plus, the laughably old-fashioned recirculating ball steering of the last one has been ditched for a rack and pinion setup.
No longer do you find yourself hacking away at the steering wheel just to keep the thing in a straight line. How modern. Speaking of which, inside you get a whole load of fancy tech borrowed from the S-Class, most notably a pair of 12.3-inch screens - one for the instrument cluster, and the other for the infotainment. It all works brilliantly, and it’s probably a little easier to use than the newer MBUX setup found in Merc’s compact cars.
Don’t be fooled by the fact the new G looks damn near identical to the old one on the outside - it’s been thoroughly overhauled. In fact, you can count the stuff that’s been carried over on one hand - the door handles, the sun visors, the washer jets and the spare wheel cover were the only bits to make the cut.
You might ask why Mercedes has changed almost everything while working hard to make sure it’s the spitting image of the old one, but why wouldn’t you, when the looks are probably the best thing about the G-Wagen?
The inline-six diesel - which replaces the V6 used previously - is smooth, quiet and refined. The mid-range shove is effective rather than dramatic, but that’s understandable when it’s trying to propel 2450kg. Speed builds at a reasonably impressive rate, though helped by the I6 being decently pokey - you’re looking at 282bhp and 442lb ft of torque, making for a 0-62mph time of 7.4 seconds.
Just don’t expect good fuel economy because you shirked the shouty V8 option. The 3.0-litre engine has to work against all that weight and a body that has the aero profile of a semi-detached house. While also driving big differentials and turning big wheels with fat tyres affixed. The best we saw out of it was an average of 23mpg for one trip, and although a longer cruise will yield a better number, it’s likely to start with a ‘2’ still.
Even with a switch to independent front suspension, off-roading isn’t a problem. All of the key off-roading stats - ride height, approach, departure, breakover and the wading depth - have all been improved, and all three differentials can be locked using the pleasingly chunky buttons on the dash.
We didn’t get a chance to do anything more adventurous than some light green-laning, which the G350d handled nicely, albeit with the road-biased Pirelli Scorpion tyres being the clear weak point. The deeply rutted, muddy track proved to be a recipe for a lot of wheelspin, but without the car getting stuck and us having to call a local farmer to haul us out. Handy. In any case, we’ve sampled the new G-Class on rougher stuff in the past, and it’s breezed past whatever we’ve thrown at it.
All sounds pretty good, isn’t it? But before you get too excited, there is a number you need to know: 94,065. That’s how many pounds Sterling you’ll need to send the way of your local Mercedes dealer in exchange for the keys. And that’s before options - the G-Class you see here is £102,810.
That seems like a lot when for the same money you could have your pick of the posh SUV market, come away with something which is - by every measure other than off-road ability - better, and still have some change left over.
This, however, would be missing the point. A G-Wagen shouldn’t be a sensible choice, and my god, it really isn’t, even in diesel form and with all the modernisation that’s gone on. But the fact that Mercedes - of all companies - kept the old one going so long and spent all this money developing a replacement which is just as daft is both baffling and brilliant.
Unlike any other SUV, the G-Class has the ability to make you smile just by being around. Simply milling around at low speeds is entertaining - riding around so high in the knowledge of the ridiculous scenes you’re causing, with all that glass providing an excellent view of the world and people’s reactions.
You absolutely should not buy one. But if you can, do.