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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

WATCH: Mercedes-Benz G400d takes the mantle from G63

Less grunt and torque than the G63 but a lot more frugal, the G400d made for the ideal long distance companion.

This video is no longer available. On paper, and in my head, the assignment appeared easy. Undertake a road trip in the Mercedes-Benz G400d Stronger Than Time to the Free State, do some off-roading and establish whether it is indeed the ultimate G-Wagen instead of the AMG G63. Revisiting the past Straight from the off though, a few hurdles presented itself. Mere months before joining The Citizen in 2019, this writer had the privilege of experiencing the G63 as his last ever test vehicle at now defunct fellow Caxton publication, Autodealer. The difference was that I had been sharing it…

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This video is no longer available.

On paper, and in my head, the assignment appeared easy. Undertake a road trip in the Mercedes-Benz G400d Stronger Than Time to the Free State, do some off-roading and establish whether it is indeed the ultimate G-Wagen instead of the AMG G63.

Revisiting the past

Straight from the off though, a few hurdles presented itself. Mere months before joining The Citizen in 2019, this writer had the privilege of experiencing the G63 as his last ever test vehicle at now defunct fellow Caxton publication, Autodealer.

The difference was that I had been sharing it with my colleagues instead of having it all to myself, which meant that my time behind the wheel was limited. I didn’t regret it though as it was more than enough to get acquainted with had been a dream vehicle to drive.

The dilemma

In a reversal of the past, the G400d was to keep me company for the entire five-day tenure. While excited, it also left my heart and mind racing faster than its claimed top speed of 210 km/h and 0-100 km/h in 6.4 seconds.

Firstly, there was the fact that the stunning looking Olive Green G400d with the standard inclusion of the AMG Line and AMG Night Packages retailed for R2 892 840  before options – a R473 640 credit over the G63. 

Secondly, despite being one of the best and most adapt off-roaders ever made with low range and three locking differentials, the notion of the 20-inch AMG wheels being skewed towards road rather than off-road use weighed a lot on my mind.

Thirdly, there was the actual road trip itself of 285 km to Bethlehem and then back, excluding everything in between. The worry? What if something happed like hitting pothole or an incoherent driving wanting to be overly close damaging a part of the body?

And fourthly, there was the G-Wagen itself. Developed as a military vehicle before going into civilian service soon after debuting in 1979, it has become the embodiment of a hero car. A cult vehicle if you like, which means it adheres to the expression, you never meet or heroes.

This was a mistake

Right now, there was a more pressing issue besides my shattered nerves after collecting one of the most revered and iconic vehicles of all time.

Heading onto the N1, the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster illuminated the 4H symbol, meaning the G400d was in high range four-wheel-drive. My heart immediately sank as not even the ventilated (heated also) leather seats could dampen the perspiration that kicked into overdrive.

ALSO READ: Oil-burning Mercedes-Benz G400d updated but still Stronger Than Time

In my frantic state, I had forgotten that the G-Class has a permanent all-wheel-drive system with no part-time configuration. In effect, its default setting is 4H with the only other option being low range. My nerves calmed after a few minutes as I seriously thought that something had gone.

With that, plus the thought of ringing the editor up to tell him I had broken the G400d’s transmission by driving down the highway in 4H over, I settled down, still a bit nervy, but excited at what the weekend would hold.

The 2 472 kg container

Leaving Johannesburg still at a gentle pace, I had to constantly remind myself that the trek I was embarking on had just been turned on its head. While we as motoring journalists are unashamedly spoiled by having the opportunity to drive some truly incredible examples of exotica, conducting it in something like the G-Wagen somehow still felt wrong.

In fact, it felt like a dream I was about to be woken from as first the Grasmere toll plaza flashed by and then the turn-off on the R57 to Vanderbijlpark. By this stage, I had yet another problem to content with – the wind. It was having far too much fun with the G400d’s shipping container-like body and pummelling it from the left to that point where it felt like titling.

Mercedes-Benz G400d road rest
Olive Green paint finish looks simply stunning.

Nervously smiling as I fought to keep it straight, I happened to glance at the trip computer. Remarkably, the G-Class, despite weighing 2 472 kg, had been doing an incredible 11.5 L/100 km.

After passing Vanderbijlpark and once over the Vaal and into the Free State, I decided to no longer take it easy and instead extract the most from the jewel that resides underneath the bonnet.

Forget eight and go for six

Replacing the old 3.0-litre OM 642 that powered the G350d, the new 2.9-litre OM 656 produces a strong 243kW/700Nm. Harking back to Benz’s past, the unit sports a straight-six rather than a V6 design and is mated to the familiar 9G Tronic gearbox.

It is a combination that had this writer asking on more than a few occasions, why would you possibly want the G63 with its 430kW/850Nm 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8? Aside from the obvious consumption benefits, the oil-burner is refined, powerful and arguably more enjoyable than the V8.

Mercedes-Benz G400d road rest
Despite the badge alluding to a 4.0-litre engine, the G400d is powered by a 2.9-litre straight-six turbodiesel.

While nowhere near as raucous or with the snarling metallic soundtrack, it can still lift the G-Wagen’s noise with ease and make for rapid progress as the amount of torque is such that you hardly want any more.

What’s more, the G400d comes with the same 100-litre tank as the G63, so it can go a lot further on a single taken instead of needing a fuel stop and blunting the experience every 100 km.

No hope of conforming

As the kilometres racked-up with the Nappa leather seats doing their job and the Burmester sound system keeping me entertained, the apprehension of realising my goal of putting a G-Wagen in low range became palpable as I entered Bethlehem.

Rolling in with the G400d evoked the same feeling I had four years before when piloting the BMW i8 on a trip similar to this. I was standing out like Michael J. Fox i.e. Marty McFly in Back to the Future, only that my DeLorean was a big green Mercedes SUV powered by diesel and not a flux capacitor.

And so it happens

Having failed to blend in, the G400d, the next day, had its chance to show what it could do off-road. At the time of the trip, most of Bethlehem had been subjected to controlled fires, which made the landscape appear blacker than an oil slick.

Traversing now easy-to-spot gravel paths previously obscured by long grass, the G400d looked at ease on the lunar-like landscape as the compact surface didn’t bother the road-biased wheels too much. A few minutes later though, it was time to get serious.

Mercedes-Benz G400d road rest
Road-biased 21-inch wheels got dirty a few times

While the town’s showgrounds were expected to provide little in the way of a challenge, what it did have was a rather big incline that presented the ideal opportunity to experience a side of the G-Wagen very few would. Nervous to the core, I selected low range and gingerly crept forward. About as effortless as one would imagine, turf soon disappeared as the G’s nose went up and blue sky replaced burned dirt.

Like the Cold War era shotgun sound emitted by the central locking, I came to the realisation that that it could well happen to me, albeit with a real gun, if something were to go wrong. Having always boasted that I would one day take a G-Class off-road, I soon realised the sheer panic it installed for all the reasons I had mentioned at the start of this feature.

Mercedes-Benz G400d road rest
Despite the dual display, the G400d that runs the old Comand infotainment system.

As much as the G was seemingly laughing at my distress, probably asking, “are you serious? Is this all you can give”, it was time go down as the nose dropped and my whole body drooped forward in my seat. Gripping the steering wheel, the G400d soon went my level as it cleared the obstacle with no issues aside from the state of its driver.

Despite neither of the diff-locks being called to action, the simple selection of low range was enough to leave a massive smile on this writer’s face as the G had not only delivered, but yours truly as well after years stating exactly that.

Brave soldier

Once back after the jaunt, a different issue had started rearing its head. While known for being one of the coldest towns in the country, the anticipated freeze took a surprising turn as that evening, it started bucketing down with the absolute vengeance.

Mercedes-Benz G400d road rest
That look

Along with thunder, lighting and a hallowing wind, the weather had me worried. Due to its width, the G400d had been unable to stand under the shaded carport and was thus left exposed to the elements.

In fact, it made me felt like a worried general – if there ever there is such a thing – that had been forced to leave his star soldier out in the rain and cold.

Mercedes-Benz G400d road rest
The three switches that will allow the G400d to go anywhere.

Like a diligent last action hero though, and true its moniker, the G400d stood the test of the weather hour after hour without so much as being soaked and undamaged the next day.

Back to reality

It was also the last day and with the weather clearing, the trip back to Johannesburg had me setting goal of seeing what the G400d could achieve in terms of absolute frugality.

With the Dynamic Select system switched to Comfort mode and not going past 100 km/h, the dirt and rain drenched G-Wagen set-off on its return journey.

Mercedes-Benz G400d road rest
Boot can swallow between 667-litres or 1 941-litres.

As comfortable and spectacular has it had been both on-and-off-road, it still sported a few flaws. For one, it lacks the MBUX infotainment system and instead comes with an updated version of the old Comand setup.

Mercedes-Benz G400d road rest
Rear head-and-legroom leaves little to moan about.

The the standard ash wood inserts feel horribly cheap, the ride becomes noticeably firm on anything but smooth surfaces and because of its design, it rolls through tighter corners.

At 667-litres or 1 941-litres with the rear seats down, the boot is comparatively small, some of the aluminium finishes also didn’t feel up to standards for a vehicle costing R3-million and the Lane Departure Warning is especially brutal as the brakes are automatically applied with some ferocity the moment crossing the centre line is detected.


For all its flaws though, the G400d’s biggest charm is the fact that it plays to the anti-AMG card.

It doesn’t have the expectations of the G63 weighing on its shoulders and can therefore be used more frequently. And for longer without there being a fuss over its performance or how its looks could be modified to look even more wild or in some case, downright awful.

Mercedes-Benz G400d road rest
Designation the G400d deserves

Silly indeed but not as much as the G63, the G400d left its final impression back in Johannesburg. After 900 km, five days and a single fill-up, it recorded an indicated best of 10.8 L/100 km with more than half-a-tank still remaining.

Like the G63, the G400d is by any means still a pointless vehicle. Expensive and unlikely to ever show its true potential for the very reason it was designed for, it nonetheless remains a staggering example of opulence combined with a reputation and charisma a Range Rover will never match.

As a model though, it resoundingly trounces the G63 by simply being better at being a proper G-Wagen in nearly every aspect.

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