On normal weekdays Berlin is pedestrian heaven and motoring hell. There simply isn’t road space for much traffic. But today there’s our shiny Mercedes-Benz G500 on triple-XL Hot Wheels.
You don’t need a truck licence, but a truckie’s experience in climbing aboard helps. Okay, Mercedes Actros it ain’t but at 2235mm tall and 2190mm wide, you’ll be glad it’s bristling with proximity sensors, Surroundview camera and park aids.
It may not be as big as last year’s 6x6 model but it’s still an intimidating sight. Most gave the €226,100 (AUD$331,276) super G the thumbs-down – or one or two fingers up. To cyclists, the menacing intake rasp and exhaust rumble warns them well before my slipstream shakes them loose of their line.
But at a set of traffic lights in midtown, there's an S63 AMG. “Wanna race? Don’t be a wimp, dude!” Too bad – the ubiquitous city speed limit is a rigorously enforced 30km/h.
By now I’m in Kreuzberg, where East meets West, and the G500 4x4 Squared feels surprisingly at ease in the shoal of spoiler-laden 3 Series BMWs and MkV Golfs. It’s an ostentatious statement of affluence, a serious CO2 offender, a street-legal tank with heavy-duty portal axles and push-button diff locks.
Parked overnight in a left-wing area, there’d be a fairly high risk it would get vandalised. But on the dimly lit streets of the town's rough side, where the Russian mafia clashes with rival eastern gangs, my SUV with the tinted windows is given a wide berth. It’s too risky a target.
As the sun sets, we head for the city lights, boulevard cruising in top gear and blowing dust off the graffiti around Checkpoint Charlie with the sidepipes and flattening the speed bumps with 2996kg. The ride varies from firm to bony, the suspension – apparently tuned by the Marquis de Sade – leaving your back to do most of the work, despite the pneumatic multi-contour seats. The 325/55 off-road Pirellis only seem to enhance the effect.
Like every G-class, it’s old-fashioned and idiosyncratic: there’s no space between you and the door yet overhead could house roosting bats; the central locking is incredibly loud and the tailgate slams shut like a vault.
More worryingly, this edition struggles to hold a straight line, accurately follow steering inputs or maintain composure over city tarmac. Then there’s the barge-like 14.3m turning circle.
But switch off the DSC, lock the transmission in Sport and deactivate start-stop – now the 310kW, 610Nm 5.0-litre V8 lights up the rear wheels and the 6000rpm redline comes into view. All is forgiven.
Given the considerable momentum it can build with the power and weight, you’d have to be concerned about stopping but to our delight the upgraded steel brakes have the stamina to control the spider-legged Benz. Admittedly, the drag coefficient of a block of flats helps slow her down, as does engine braking from the feisty V8, the rolling resistance of the clown-sized boots, and the friction inside the four-wheel drive system.
Lifting off the pedal at speed wastes more energy than any electric vehicle can gain under full recuperation. Keep the pedal down at the maximum 210km/h and the fuel gauge needles nosedives to empty in an hour and a half. But you might want earplugs before you try.
Too tall to spend the night in an underground car park, we found a hotel outside the city where the G could remain outside and safe. In the morning, the hotel staff ventured to take a closer look and they loved it.
But 10 minutes later, on the narrow avenue leading back to the autobahn, we were given the bird – number 16 – by an angry bus driver, even though we were way over to the side of the road to make way for him.
It’s the standard response to a vehicle that wilfully violates every motoring norm and leads us to conclude that, fun as it undoubtedly is, unless you have rhinoceros hide for skin this isn’t the ride for you.
2.0 OUT OF 5 STARS
LIKE: Tonka truck fantasties made real; lovely V8 engine
DISLIKE: Terrible in almost every objective way; not available in Oz
Engine: 3892cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 310kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 610Nm @ 2250-4750rpm
0-100km/h: 6.5sec (claimed)