Like the Landy Defender, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class has come to the end of its run; Merc is ceasing production of the legendary off-roader. Before it rides off into the sunset, though, it’s being sent off in style with the Maybach G650 Landaulet. Thomas Geiger of Britain’s Autocar drove it right here in South Africa.
While Mercedes-Benz is busy testing the first all new G-Class in almost four decades, the outgoing model is saying farewell with a very bold statement: a stretched landaulet that goes by the name of Maybach. With an impressive silhouette that makes the prototype Rolls-Royce Cullinan look like a Smart Fortwo, and a level of luxury that’s way beyond what we’ve seen in the Bentley Bentayga, Mercedes-Maybach claims that the G650 Landaulet is the ultimate SUV. Period! Riding the gigantic G-Class is truly elevating in two ways: literally, because Mercedes is using the same portal axles that we know from the 4×42 in combination with mighty 325/55 R22 tyres. That raises ground clearance to almost a half metre (450mm) and lifts the driver higher than in any other stock SUV, on or off the road. While going through the African bush on a luxury safari experience, you feel more like you’re riding an elephant than being stuffed into a tin can on wheels. And figuratively, because stepping up the electrically powered running boards is like stepping up in society and being king, at least for the day.
Since Mercedes wants the Maybach Landaulet to be the cream of the crop, the engine choice was easy: the most powerful one they have in stock. So, once again, the G-Class uses the V12-Powerpack that we know from other AMG 65-models, just with a more noble, understated sound. And as it turns out, it’s definitely the right choice because neither the Landaulet’s massive 3 300kg, nor its shipping container-like aerodynamics faze the 12-cylinder much. Its 463kW of power and 1 000Nm of torque are more than enough for a very smooth and effortless ride. Even if there are a lot of cheaper SUVs with better acceleration times and higher top speeds, it’s an impressive, heart-stirring experience to pilot this giant from 0–100km/h in less than six seconds, or to push it to 180km/h.
The faster you drive it, the more grateful you are for the 30 additional centimetres of track width and the stretched 3.43m wheelbase (instead of the standard 2.85m). Despite its size and eager engine, the G650 doesn’t feel like a wild animal charging down a dusty track. It feels strong, secure and composed. An image of a running rhino springs to mind. As fascinating as the drive might be, however, it’s even more captivating to sit one row back and let someone else do the work behind the wheel. There is simply no other SUV (and no convertible) with as much backseat comfort as this Landaulet. The private jet-like comfort starts with massaging and air-conditioned seats from the S-Class, which can be reclined into a bed-position. It continues with increased legroom, a ‘bar’ complete with champagne flutes, and an impressive infotainment system. This back seat can quite easily be considered the most luxurious sunbed in the world. And to avoid people peeking in and seeing your belly-button during that intimate ride into the great wide open, you can raise a roll-up partition between you and your driver while letting the roof down, both at the push of a button.
But privacy may not exactly be what the typical buyer of this type of vehicle is looking for. More than likely, it’s the exact opposite. In which case, this Maybach is also the perfect choice. One just needs to stand up, grab the massive handles that you already know from the dashboard and stick your head out of the giant roof to feel like the Pope on tour in his Popemobile (the Pope, incidentally, parades around in a G-Class). To see and to be seen has never been easier. The Maybach Landaulet might be the most comfortable G-Class ever. But it’s also one of the most disappointing. How so? Well, there’s the fact that the vehicle is left-hand drive only. Despite the fact that the G650 was unveiled to a small group of international press right here in South Africa, it can never be sold here.
In left-hand markets, it will only be marginally easier to get your hands on, since a mere 99 of these vehicles will be built. After that, no more Maybach Gs, regardless of how much money you put on the table. And even if the estimated €500 000 (R6 500 000) pricetag makes the Maybach G650 Landaulet the most expensive Mercedes in the lineup, they won’t have any problems selling them. But the sad and frustrated can take some comfort in knowing that the next generation G-Class is only a few months away. The Maybach G650 is a great send-off for the old G-Class. Now show us the new one. The king is dead. Long live the king.
“With an impressive silhouette that makes the prototype Rolls-Royce Cullinan look like a Smart Fortwo, and a level of luxury that’s way beyond what we’ve seen in the Bentley Bentayga, Mercedes-Maybach claims that the G650 Landaulet is the ultimate SUV”
Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet
Engine AMG V12
0 – 100km/h Under six seconds
Ground clearance 450mm
Price R6 500 000 (estimated)
Wait! Isn’t maybach dead?
The fact that the G650 Landaulet wears a Maybach badge is undoubtedly a bit confusing to some. Isn’t Maybach dead? And why is this Merc 4×4 called a Maybach? Well, these days, Maybach only exists as a sub-brand of Mercedes-Benz, aimed at buyers who never intend to drive the vehicles themselves. Created by Wilhelm Maybach, the company started life as Maybach Motorenbau in 1909. Until around 1939, it was a fairly significant vehicle maker, mostly remembered today for a stonking line of V12 cars in the 1930s. By 1940, though, the brand was basically gone.
It was renamed MTU Friedrichshafen, and Daimler-Benz bought it in 1960, but the German company didn’t do much with the name, it just slapped it on some special-edition vehicles. In the 1990s, however, the luxury car market got shaken up. Both Bentley and Rolls-Royce came up for sale, but Mercedes-Benz showed little interest in either. When VW ended up with Bentley and BMW took ownership of Rolls-Royce, Merc decided it needed to throw its hat into the uber-luxury ring. So, in 1997, Mercedes-Benz brought the Maybach marque back to life. Sadly, the name did not boast the cachet necessary to compete with Bentley or Rolls-Royce. Sales were disappointing, to say the least. So, in 2013, Maybach was killed off. But it wasn’t dead for long. In 2015, Mercedes-Benz brought it back to life, this time as a sub-brand. When the company pushes luxury and opulence to the absolute limit, it calls that vehicle a Mercedes-Maybach. It has created a Maybach version of the S-Class, and now we have a G-Class version, too.
This is a spy shot of the upcoming G-Class replacement. Not much is known about the vehicle at this stage, but the basic shape seems similar to that of the outgoing one. It’s quite a bit wider, though.
The all-new G-Class
Yes, Mercedes-Benz is ceasing production on the G-Class that we all know and love. It is undoubtedly a sad day. However, you can take some solace from the fact that Mercedes-Benz doesn’t seem to be straying too far from its winning formula with the G-Class replacement. Spy shots of the new vehicle are floating around on the web, and the untrained eye will struggle to spot a difference between the old G-Class and the new one. The vehicle still boasts that iconic boxy shape, it hasn’t been softened or streamlined at all. The most noticeable difference is an increase in width. Considering that the G-Class was always a tad narrow, especially for a vehicle with massive ground clearance and a blistering engine (in AMG guise), an increase in width is a welcome and necessary change.
Based on the (admittedly little) information we have at the moment, there’s room for optimism. However, a lot of questions still need to be answered. What engines will be on offer? Will it have a ladder-frame chassis? Will it still have a front diff lock, or a rear one, for that matter? Will low-range gearing still even be a standard feature? Considering how many people buy the G-Class purely as a fashion accessory these days, it won’t be a great surprise if Mercedes-Benz softens the vehicle a bit and makes it more tarmac-friendly. What’s the point, after all, of putting a big and heavy 4×4 system in a vehicle that will never see a dirt road? However, Mercedes-Benz takes a lot of pride in the off-road ability of the G-Class, and it has a long list of governmental and military customers who demand a pukka 4×4, so we can be fairly certain that a hardcore version will be made, regardless of what’s offered to the pavement hoppers. The new G-Class has some very big shoes to fill, and Mercedes won’t want it to disappoint. All will be revealed when the company showcases the 4×4 at the Frankfurt Show in September.
Take it off! Take it off!
If you’re wondering what the meaning of the word ‘Landaulet’ in the Maybach G650’s name is, the term specifically refers to a vehicle with a convertible roof above the rear seats. It’s a convertible, in other words, for people who don’t need to drive themselves around. If you love the idea of ‘sunning yourself’ on the way to the country club while the chauffer battles through traffic, a landaulet is for you. But this is not the first time that the G-Class has taken its top off, though it has admittedly never done it quite so dramatically or ostentatiously. Still, it’s been going topless longer than Pamela Anderson or even Melania Trump. Here’s a short history of the G-Class convertible.
1979 G-Wagen 460 Ragtop
The 1979 G-Wagen 460, the very first Geländewagen (The Geländewagen name was officially replaced with the term G-Class in 1998), was released with the option of a removable ragtop. If you want to get technical, it wasn’t a proper cabriolet, since the roof couldn’t go up and down with ease, and was intended more to improve practicality than make the occupants look cool. But it did set the precedent. It showed how cool a G-Wagen could look without a roof. Mercedes-Benz continued to sell the 460 in ragtop form until the 1990s.
1997 G-Wagen G320 Cabriolet
As the G-Wagen approached it’s 20th birthday, it received a bit of an update. Most significantly, two new engines were offered. There was a new 2.9-litre turbodiesel and a petrol V6 (a first for Mercedes-Benz). The first real cabriolet was also released, complete with a motorised top that allowed you to open and close the roof with ease.
2007 G500 Popemobile
There is a long history between the Vatican and Mercedes-Benz. In fact, Merc has been helping popes get around since 1930, when Pope Pius XI took delivery of a Nürburg 460 Pullman limousine. Ford has provided Popemobiles, as have Fiat and Seat. When Pope John Paul II visited Britain in 1982, he rolled around in a Leyland Constructor truck. But Mercedes vehicles, specifically Merc SUVs, have been a particularly popular choice. There was a 1980 G230 that looked more like a roving display case than a 4×4. Then there was the 2007 open-top Popemobile. It was undoubtedly the coolest conveyance ever conceived for a pope. It was based on a burly G500, its roof had been dramatically chopped, and it had been finished in stunning Vatican Mystic White (yes, that’s a real colour. Every Popemobile is finished in Vatican Mystic White).
2014 G-Class Cabriolet Final Edition 200
Does a landaulet model qualify as a cabriolet? A good argument could certainly be made for it, but Mercedes-Benz is unlikely to agree, since it already said its ‘final goodbye’ to the topless G-Class in 2014 with the Cabriolet Final Edition 200. The company had been offering cabriolet models since the 1990s, though never in huge numbers. But it all (supposedly) came to an end with the Final Edition, when Mercedes concluded cabriolet production with a final 200 units. The G650 Landaulet, then, is like a horror-movie villain who comes back to life for one final lunge of the knife, even though he’s been shot in the chest 200 times. But we appreciate the final thrill.
Text: Thomas Geiger. Report compiled by: GG van Rooyen
Photography: Andreas Lindlahr