How I Got the World's Toughest SUV Stuck in a Tiny Pond
With some of the toughest off-road trails on the continent, not to mention those spectacular mountainous backdrops, there's no better place than Utah to put the 2016 Mercedes-Benz G550 (sporting a 4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 under the hood for the first time) through its paces. Joined by a fellow journalist and photographer, I spent a day puttering around the historic Moab area, snapping photos of ghost towns and enjoying the creature comforts of the G550 -- until, in the distance off to the side of the road, my travel companions spotted a small pond. It would make for an excellent shot of the G550 looking tough, we concurred, and made a quick left turn toward the water feature.
It did not end well. Hard to believe, folks, but we got the world's most capable SUV stuck in a puddle.
For context: you could cross the Sahara in this thing
The G-wagen (as it's often called) is the stuff of legend. Seriously, if any vehicle can disentangle itself from a small, muddy pit, it's a member of the vaunted G-Class family. The G-Class evolved from a military-grade German Jeep built to tackle any terrain and handle any type of situation. It proved so successful, it's barely been changed since it was introduced in 1979, save for making it more luxurious. It's rightly secured its place on top of the mountain, alongside the most esteemed Defenders, Land Cruisers, and Jeeps.
The G550 in particular has a four-wheel-drive system that's so respected and distinct, Mercedes-Benz doesn't even refer to it as 4MATIC, as it does on its less intense AWD offerings. The G-Class offers ample ground clearance, low-range gearing to help with intense off-roading, and three locking differentials to distribute power to the wheels in the most effective way possible, just in case things gets hairy. Three!
Translation: One does not simply get a G-wagen stuck. Usually.
We were anticipating an epic splash...
... and ended up with, uh, not that. We wanted a shot of the G550 reigning supreme over nature, downright excited to exploit the new, twin-turbo V8 -- which it shares with the mighty AMG GT supercar. Could we turn this puddle into our own Dakar rally stage? Was this going to be our own unique brand of the Easter Jeep Safari?
My co-driver went for it... there was no splash. Our dreams of a grand entrance and killer photo op were abruptly derailed; giving the G550 some gas did little more than spin its wheels. We were stuck.
So there we were, trying to extricate the most competent off-roader in the world from a wimpy-ass mud pit. We switched it into low range, engaged the locking diffs, and... nothing. The indomitable G550 just sank a bit more into the ground. Pushing against its not-at-all-insignificant chrome bar attached to the grille was equally fruitless. In a matter of moments, the car was caked in mud, looking exactly the way an off-roading beast should look, but going nowhere.
Of course, the real problem had nothing to do with the G550 itself, but its tires. The summer-spec tires transform the G-Class into a perfectly suitable SUV for your daily commute, but they're useless off-road -- it's just not what they're built for. It's the same reason your tires matter more than all-wheel drive in the snow: without the requisite tread pattern to grip the bottom of our little pond, the tires had no way of helping the Benz out.
The Mercedes tech was not amused
Eventually, one of Mercedes' technicians from our convoy happened past our predicament. The look on his face, upon seeing a mighty G550 stuck in a puddle, was akin to a father's utter disbelief when his son throws a baseball through the window. He shook his head, lowered his gaze, and laughed a little. "Absolutely 0% chance of getting it out without a tow truck," he said. "No chance." But word of our plight traveled fast, and when several other technicians arrived with a tow strap -- in a Chevy Suburban, ironically -- things took a turn for the better.
Luckily, the only major casualties were our boots -- close inspection revealed that the G550 was in fine shape. It's a charmingly anachronistic SUV that will utterly dominate any off-road situation... so long as it has the right tires.
In the end, we were more than slightly foolish to attempt to dip a toe in the mud. But a quick car wash was all that was needed to rinse away this spot on the venerable G-wagen's ego. All's well that end's well.
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Jeff Jablansky is a contributor to Thrillist Cars, and miraculously didn't lose a shoe in that mud pit. Follow him @unclewithcars, and please, make sure you bring a tow strap.