The popularity of the G-Wagen: a UAE-style Popemobile

The G-Wagen – enormously popular in the UAE – has been used by previous pontiffs

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The Vatican press office billed it as a golf cart – but in the end it was much more Emirati.

After being driven around Abu Dhabi for the past day in a modest Kia Soul, Pope Francis got into a white convertible Mercedes G-Wagen for the trip from St Joseph’s Cathedral to Zayed Sports City Stadium to celebrate Mass.

The G-Wagen, which is enormously popular in the UAE, has been used by previous pontiffs, even though the current pope has preferred a cheaper vehicle.

Regularly seen in a Hyundai, as well as a Ford Focus and a Fiat Panda, he swapped practicality for style this time around.

The custom-designed Mercedes Benz G-Wagen, which appears to sport a gold Vatican City seal, is open to the elements, perfect for Abu Dhabi’s clear sunny skies.

Mercedes-Benz has been making Popemobiles since 1930, when Pope Pius received a Nurburg 460 as a present. In 1980, it developed the first Popemobile, complete with a bulletproof box. It later created an open top version which it equipped with hand rails to make it suitable for use in good weather – a feature the model used in Abu Dhabi also has.

But while the model may be popular with pontiffs, the G-Wagen is even more coveted in the Middle East.

Rumour has it that the G-Wagen was bound for the scrapheap until a group of wealthy fans from the region stepped in to save it.

And although there were points in its history where it came close to ceasing production, there is no truth in the myth, according to Mercedes.

Nevertheless, the Middle East remains the “most important region” for G-Wagen sales.

The 2019 model includes a "desert" driving mode, which makes it the most capable G-Class on sand yet, according to the manufacturer.

But you will need deep pockets to afford one. The G 500 costs from Dh440,000, while the G 63's starting price is Dh600,000.