Wasta. You either have it or you don’t. You can’t really buy it. Or can you?
If anything can, it’s the Mercedes G-Class, the ultimate automotive currency in the UAE – especially in its top whack, AMG-fettled G63 incarnation and resplendent in white under the sparkling sunlight of the Emirates.
Also known as the G-Wagen (short for Gelandewagen, or “cross-country vehicle” to those of us unversed in German), the G-Wagen is hitting important milestones left, right and centre at the moment: last year saw the 300,000th example roll off the production line at the Mercedes factory in Graz, Austria, while next year will mark the model’s 40th anniversary.
So what makes the Wagen such a genuine Emirati icon? Perhaps because it mirrors the country’s blend of modernity and respect for tradition; possibly because in white it is pretty much the four-wheeled equivalent of a kandura, box fresh and cool enough for the extremes of desert life. And with such heritage, it has existed for the majority of the time that the seven emirates have enjoyed their union – it has always really just been here.
The revamped 2019 model might represent the most radical overhaul in its history, however, with the styling moved on considerably from the previous generation. The smoothing of its boxy but brilliant lines has caused consternation among aficionados, but this latest chapter of an exterior evolution that has largely kept faithful to a four-decade-old blueprint feels necessary and well-executed.
Long-time fans shouldn’t overly fret that this is a classic left in the oven too long, thankfully, because crucial characteristic touches remain, such as the push-button door handles and the wonderful swing-out back door, replete with its hulking spare-wheel hard cover. There’s something immensely visually satisfying about spying a half moon of the latter every time you glance in the rear-view mirror while on the move.
One of the chief benefits of the rectangular silhouette, meanwhile, is that the high bonnet, with indicators mounted atop its corners, is perfect for judging spaces when manoeuvring or negotiating tighter city streets.
And make no mistake, as well as being cocksure and capable off-road, the G-Wagen is a street warrior: in the G 63, AMG’s wonderful bi-turbo V8 burbles through dual exhausts that sit, idiosyncratically, beneath each passenger door. The bass-happy sound system is able to add to the aural abuse.
If the exterior is a paean to simpler days, then the interior is fully 21st century, particularly at this end of the spectrum – lower-spec G-Classes admittedly exude a more utilitarian air. For example, the side supports of the G 63’s front seats automatically sense corners, then expand or contract to support your torso as G-forces attempt to loosen you from your poised position.
All of the usual padded luxury that we have come to expect from top-end Mercs is present and correct here. And the longer you drive the G-Class, the more life-aiding facets emerge, such as the way that the cruise control cannot only be returned to your last mark, but also go chronologically further back to previous limits with each additional click of the “resume” button.
The only thing that doesn’t make life easier, indeed, is the incredibly annoying, over-sensitive parking sensors that bleep at any and all outside “dangers”, from the white line at traffic lights to walls half a car width away, with no obvious way to deactivate the intrusive noise.
Headroom, as you would expect from the vehicle’s outline, is generous, although the overall interior feel isn’t cavernous, a general sensation that extends to its driving charms. And the G 63’s flat-bottomed steering wheel reminds the driver of the potent potential available via the application of your right foot. That 4.0L V8 generates 585hp and will push the Wagen from 0-to-100kph in 4.5 seconds. The aerodynamics aren’t doing this alone, you can probably safely assume – this is a display of brute strength, yet cushioned in an interior that encases you away from the world. You won’t be fooled into thinking you are piloting one of AMG’s many fabulous sports cars, but it is also a million miles away from the mobile couch on wheels that certain similarly feted SUV fixtures on the country’s roads represent in their current forms.
The G 63 isn’t, it’s fair to say, the Wagen you want if your chief passion is becoming familiar with the vast expanses of the Empty Quarter – for that, drop your dirhams on the G 500, which features a desert driving mode designed specifically for the Middle East.
The urban myth that the G-Wagen’s production was saved by a clutch of consumers in the Gulf who promised to keep buying as long as Merc kept manufacturing is a sizeable hint as to why it’s so popular in the UAE. Because while the nation’s love affairs with the Nissan Patrol, Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Defender remain strong and amorous, no other model has returned the affection with such open arms and respect for the region.
Four decades on and the spark shows no sign of fizzling out. With prices for the G 63 starting from Dh600,000, perhaps you can purchase wasta after all.