For a reasonably perceptive species we humans are responsible for coming up with some rather ridiculous inventions. In fact just a quick stroll through a Saturday shopping mall will uncover a plethora of products that seem to unashamedly challenge the very core of our long-evolved intelligence.
Take those farcical power balance bands for example. A miserable rubber bracelet embedded with a minuscule hologram button, they’re said to miraculously boost your wellbeing by altering the “vibrations” of your body. Bollocks.
Going for the princely sum of around R250 a pop, they just prove to everybody that you’re a supremely gullible consumerist; a marketing slut who wouldn’t be out of place in Mike Judge’s 2006 satirical sci-fi film, Idiocracy. Really, you might as well hang a candy necklace around your neck – it’ll have the same effect.
I’ve got a similar rant to share about those bizarrely shaped, and astronomically priced, shoes that are supposed to give you a full body workout just by walking to the nearest sweet shop for your next sugar hit. Kim Kardashian may endorse them but don’t for one second think that they’ve helped to sculpt her perfect physique. Naïve masses take note: that’s the cumulative effect of many long hours slaving away in the gym.
There are similar pickings to be had in the world of machines too. From the slow and useless blimp to the fiendishly expensive, dangerous – and actually rather limited – Space Shuttle that recently flew its last mission, mankind has produced some real pearlers. The Bugatti Veyron springs to mind. Yes, it may boast a top speed of over 400km/h but where on Earth, besides a test track, can you possibly get close to achieving this?
Sticking with the subject of mad, seemingly pointless motor vehicles, let’s move swiftly along to the behemoth that’s been transporting me around the city for last few days. It’s called the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen and it is to Germany what the Land Rover Defender is to the UK: an arcane block of mud-slinging pig iron linked to the military.
Born in the heat of Cold War Europe the G-Wagen – or G-Class if you really want to get technical – was originally developed to transport men in camouflage across treacherous rural terrain. Proving to be pretty much unstoppable in this regard, Mercedes-Benz then decided to make it available to everyday civilians who hungered after the beast’s enviable off-road credentials.
Soon appearing on public roads in limited numbers, the G-Wagen’s angular silhouette and sinister grille design became the ultimate status symbol: a rugged fashion accessory that, just like a Swiss Army knife or Zippo lighter, screamed of a life without borders. Yep, if you thought yourself something of a modern cowboy, a rebel without a cause, then this Mercedes-Benz was certainly your steed of choice.
An instant cult classic since its release in 1979, the G-Wagen has continued to roll off its small Austrian production line more or less unchanged – and almost entirely hand-built. If anything, it’s become even more capable in the rough stuff over the years thanks to the inclusion of three locking differentials; a feature found on very few vehicles of its ilk and one that makes it perhaps the most formidable 4×4 your hard-earned greenbacks can buy.
“So why then,” I hear you ask with blistering scorn, “are you palming the G-Wagen off as technological white elephant?” Well the thing is, I’m not. As a rugged and rustic off-roader, nothing can rival it. It’s only when you lift the G from its natural habitat and infuse it with the spirit of a balls-to-the-wall supercar that it all starts to get rather silly.
For unlike the entry-level G-Wagen that gets a sensible diesel motor, my range-topping G55 AMG comes loaded with a mammoth supercharged V8. Great for murdering sports cars in an impromptu drag race but utterly useless if you’re thinking of going on safari. Why? Well with an average fuel consumption of 24l/100km, you’d be lucky to travel more than 300 clicks on a tank of gas. Certainly not a problem around town, but when last did you see a big garage forecourt nestling on the plains of the Serengeti?
Its interior poses a similar problem. The nuke-proof G300 CDI can be sprayed clean with a garden hose but the posh innards of the G55 AMG require far more TLC. There’s leather and electronics and heated seats and a roof lining tailored out of alcantara; fine for impressing Saturday night nubiles but at desperate odds to the filth kicked up by hectic bouts of bundu bashing. It’s kind of like going hiking in an Armani suit – utterly absurd.
Those five-spoke AMG wheels are another standout feature. Unfortunately, shod with low-profile rubber, they ruin the ride and turn even the smallest of speed bumps into a bone-jarring grand canyon. The cosmetic tinsel doesn’t stop there because you also get special widened wheel-arches, stainless-steel running boards and no fewer than four side-venting exhaust tailpipes.
Awesome to ogle, but do you really want to risk damaging them by thundering down some unexplored trail? And that’s before you even take into consideration the rest of this vehicle’s worth: R1.8-million. Consequently you tend to treat the G55 with kid gloves; behaviour no true off-roader should ever aspire to.
So there you go; as the trail-blazing 4×4 it was originally designed to be the G55 AMG is, in my opinion, fundamentally flawed. It is a flashy, impractical, money-sucking megalith that would appeal only to Moscow drug-dealers or that new hip-hop superstar who’s currently riding the cash wave of his latest platinum bestseller.
But you know what, if I had the means, there would definitely be one sitting inside my garage. Maybe it’s the demon bellow of its engine, or the way all that power contorts your face into a Joker-like grin, but there’s a perverse edge to this Mercedes-Benz that makes it devilishly enjoyable.
In an era defined by nanny states, health and safety and annoying bunny huggers who never stop mouthing off about global warming, how the G55 AMG even exists is quite beyond me. Yet it does, and for that reason alone I simply love it.
Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG at a Glance:
Engine: 5439cc supercharged V8
Power: 373kW @ 6100rpm
Torque: 700Nm @ 2 750 – 4000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 5.5 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 210km/h (limited)
Fuel: 24l/100km (achieved)
Price: From R1 875 100
Huge presence and character
You won’t want to take it off-road
The thirstiest car I’ve ever driven
[Picture: Halden Krog]