Although most Americans know Mercedes as a luxury vehicle brand, the German automaker has produced some seriously rugged trucks throughout its long history — the legendary Unimog is one notable example. The Mercedes G-Class, also known as the G-Wagen or Geländewagen (meaning “cross-country vehicle”), is another. In the United States, most of these SUVs are outfitted with fancy chrome wheels and low-profile tires, and rarely see terrain more challenging than mall parking lots — but the underlying platform is surprisingly capable.

An early civilian G-Wagen. Photo: Matti Blume / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The G-Wagen has been around since the 1970s. It was originally developed as a military vehicle but later offered in civilian form, much like the Humvee. Although newer versions of the G-Class have transformed into luxury SUVs, they’re still off-roaders at heart. They feature true body-on-frame construction, three locking differentials, short overhangs, and respectable ground clearance.

For the latest RECOILtv Transport episode, Mike Glover and George Bell of Fieldcraft Survival took a 1996 G320 out on the trails in Arizona to review its performance. This G-Class was imported straight from Germany, so you’ll notice its appearance is a bit more barebones than that of newer American models (especially the flashy AMG version).

The duo also discussed considerations for a search and rescue vehicle, and how a PACE plan — primary, alternate, contingency, emergency — should be applied to communications gear in the backcountry. Check out the full video below:

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