Mercedes-Benz G350d to the Rann!
Your mind plays tricks on you. Out here, on the seemingly infinite flats of the Rann of Kutch, there is no telling how imposing the G-Class really is. The Rann dwarfs it, but then again, the 5000 square km of nothingness that makes up the Little Rann could make an Antonov look like a Cessna. I walk up to the G, and that’s when things come back into perspective. It towers over me and in matte black paint with all-black everything, it looks thoroughly intimidating. No wonder every gangster worth his street cred wants one. The G gives you the impression that the entire car was designed with a ruler and a pencil, and to be fair, it probably was — the G-Wagen hasn’t actually changed its shape all that much since the first Gelandewagen rolled off the line in 1979. The two punch-hole LED rings up front leave it with a blank, slightly soulless expression — a poker face that gives away nothing of what lies waiting for you on the inside. I need to use the foot-board to haul myself into the cabin before I slam (and you really have to slam) the door shut. The locks clank shut with the violence of loading a shotgun, it’s a whole different animal on the inside.
Out of the flat windscreen, I see the cracks on the ground running to the horizon where they melt into a million shimmering mirages. I also see a Jeep Wrangler. Again, there’s nothing to lend any perspective to its size as it sits there, but the boxy shape is enough to tell you why we’ve brought it along today. You’d have to be blind not to see the similarities. Both these SUVs have their roots in military vehicles, both retain their body-on-frame construction and both will help you survive the apocalypse. This is not a comparison test. It cannot be — there’s a 1 crore rupee chasm between the two and that’s reason enough that they don’t go head-to-head. This, instead, is a story of parallels. Of 4x4s from either side of the Atlantic that are modern-day off-road icons with similar pasts, and diverging futures.
120kmph. That’s how fast you’re allowed to drive on NE-1, the Vadodara to Ahmedabad expressway, and not get flagged down for breaking the law. The G350d was there, speedo needle sitting effortlessly at 120kmph, gliding along the arrow-straight stretch of tarmac. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t expect it to be so effortless. When I heard I had to drive the G all the way from Pune to the Rann Riders resort on the edge of the Little Rann, I was hoping it would be the G 63. This box-on-wheels weighs close to 2.5 tonnes and is as aerodynamically efficient as a brick. Nothing short of an AMG V8 would suffice I thought, but how wrong I was.
The straight-six diesel has plenty of power to hustle the G along — in fact, I’d say that for a long drive from Pune to Ahmedabad and then on to Dasada on the edge of the Rann, it was actually more pleasant. The V8 does tend to send the nose skyward every time you breathe on the throttle and even tie the chassis into knots now and again, whereas this diesel engine makes for a far more stress-free driving experience. The only reason someone would want the V8 over this is because they want the attention that the juvenile exhaust gets you. Not exactly my cup of tea. Meanwhile, you don’t need to be an oil baron to go cross-country in the 350d and the lack of that hideous Panamericana grille is only a bonus.
What matters the most is that the G 350d has the same presence of the G 63. The road between Mumbai and Ahmedabad has become incredibly crowded of late, but the G manages to part traffic like Moses parted the Red Sea. Its headlights sit squarely in the rear-view mirrors of small SUVs, and I was sitting so high that I could roll down the window and smack errant truck drivers. Would have probably gotten away with it too, with how badass the G looks. And all the while, I was cocooned in leather and Alcantara, had a hot stone massage going on through the seats with 50 Cent spitting truths on the Burmester system.
It’s incredible how little the G has changed since it was conceived. The Gelandewagen was originally commissioned as a military vehicle by the Shah of Iran and eventually found its way into Mercedes-Benz dealerships. Nowadays, though, it is more likely to be found on Sunset Boulevard than in the Sahara. It is still incredibly capable — a low-range gearbox, three locking diffs, Schockl-proved so you know it can take on the outdoors. But in 2018, Mercedes-Benz swapped out the rigid front axle for an independent setup with double wishbones — their first real change to the SUV’s underpinnings in nearly 40 years. It was done to tame the unwieldiness on the road, and sure enough, it did. Pune to Rann Riders, done and dusted.