Back in 1970 the world witnessed the inception of the first Mercedes-Benz G-Class. From its very first moment it was produced at a dedicated facility at Magna Steyr in the Austrian city of Graz. And till today the famous G wagon is being built in Graz and it is THE location to experience the Mercedes-Benz G-Class at its best.
The G-Class Experience starts at a dedicated showroom in the huge Magna Steyr factory. Besides the Mercedes-Benz G-Class the largest car factory in Austria also produces the Mini Clubman and Countryman and soon a new car from Jaguar-Land Rover will also go in production here.
Just before we reach the showroom we already see the silhouette of a very special G-Class: a brand new G500 4×4² is parked right next to the entrance of the building that is wrapped in a three storey high image of a G. Inside we are welcomed by one of the G specialists that will accompany us the entire day. Here we also find a G500 covered in mud from top to bottom and a special G that took part in the gruelling Dakar Rally.
In the back of the showroom is an area where you can spec your G class with leather and paint samples among others. But before we can spec our G-Class we are welcomed with a short highlight video of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class from its inception until today. After that we are guided through a small corridor that connects the showroom to the factory.
Normally factory tours consists of a lot of walking and waiting. But not here! A set of black golf buggies are waiting for us to drive us around the factory. The G-Class specialists updates us on all the specifics as we make our way past the welding area, the leather shop and the general assembly line. Surprisingly a large part of the G-Class body is still welded by hand and a part of the 2,000 employees working at the dedicated G-Class factory are welding bodies as we glide past in our golf cart.
Magna produces around 100 Mercedes-Benz G-Classes a day in two shifts five days a week. In total around 25,000 Gs are produced every year including about 5,000 for the military. The 63 and 65 AMG models are proving to be extremely popular as over 60% of the civil G models are sold as an AMG.
Following the quick but very informative factory tour we return to the showroom where around 10 Mercedes G350Ds and G500s are waiting to take us to the home test track of the famous G. The G wagon’s home test track is not your ordinary test track but in fact a mountain called Schöckl. Here a narrow off road track with up to 100% incline leads to a restaurant at 1,400 meters above sea level with stunning views of Southern Austria.
The ride from the factory in Graz to Schöckl is about 20 kilometers and takes about 35 minutes. The weather is still good and sunny but some dark clouds on the horizon make us fear it won’t stay like that for long. Luckily we arrive at the foot of Schöckl – which Mercedes-Benz rented from its land owner since the 70s.
We start the Schöckl on a small dirt road that leads to what looks like a dry riverbed. We drive up in a convoy and follow the three Gs in front of us. Behind the wheel is Christian, one of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class test drivers. Only those employees with a special ‘off-road license’ are allowed to drive on Schöckl.
One of the essential things when taking your G-wagon offroad is knowing what settings to use for the differential and gearbox. In this case we are climbing a mountain on rough terrain so changing into low gear is very useful. This essentially reduces the power so you get more torque at a lower speed. Top speed is limited to around 120 km/h in low gear. The button to engage low gear is found in the lower end of the console near the infotainment wheel.
Secondly we have to change the differential settings – normally the power is distributed variably to each of the wheels to get the best performance on the road. But in off road you want to lock one or more of the available differentials to keep you going and prevent wheels that do not have any grip from spinning up. In offroad always lock the center differential (indicated with number 1 in the G wagon) as this makes sure 50% of the power goes to the front wheels and 50% of the power goes to the rear.
In light terrain low gearing combined with a locked center differential will allow you to keep going without a problem. But when the terrain gets more extreme like on the Schöckl you probably want to lock the rear differential (indicated with number 2) and even the front differential (indicated with number 3). The rear diff makes sure power is split evenly between the left and the right rear wheel. The front diff can only be engaged when the rear and center diff are locked as this is the last and final step. The front diff unlike the center and rear diff has a strong effect on steering. Since the front wheels both get the same amount of power it becomes harder to turn. So this is only used for extremely rough terrain where you want all four wheels to receive exactly 25% of the power. Another benefit of locking all differentials is that none of the wheels will spin fast when it is not connected to the ground thus decreasing the risk of tearing the tire when it comes in contact with sharp rocks.
You can engage the differentials while going, an orange light above the button will indicate when it is active. To disengage you can switch the center differential off and the others will unlock too. When we reach the top of the Schöckl we get a chance to play with the G-Class on an off road lap too. After a few times you know when to switch the various differentials on and off – when on smooth service always switch the differentials off as you can otherwise break them.
Even when we stop on a 45 degree slope with some loose rocks and try to drive off again the G does so with very little drama. Back on the road we switch back to high gear and turn the diffs off and the G can hit a top speed well over 200 km/h. The bandwidth of circumstances you can use this car is quite exceptional – whether you go to the opera or trek through Africa.
But the best part of our visit to Schöckl is yet to come. After lunch on top of the mountain with fabulous views across Southern Austria we get back in the car with our G-Class test driver behind the wheel. Now we head down the 4,5 long track in full attack mode. And when I say full attack mode I mean full attack mode. We accelerate on a wider track and dive down the narrow rocky path we came up on. Hitting 50 km/h on a track I could barely walk on – let alone race a car down from.
It is not the most comfortable ride of my life as we swing from left to right in the cabin when the G glides over the rocks. Some parts are so steep that even our driver has to slow down a bit but as soon as the track straightens only a little bit he is back on the throttle, leaving his three passengers in awe.
Before we know it we are back at the place where our Schöckl adventure started. I have the feeling my liver and kidney swapped places but the car didn’t make a sound. Just as we turn back onto the main road to Graz the heaven opens and it starts pouring down with rain. Lucky for us as the ride down Schöckl would be nowhere near as fast and impressive in the rain.
If you want to experience Schöckl yourself contact Mercedes-Benz Events.