Most of the Mercedes SUV range consists of four-wheel drive off-road capable SUVs, and every SUV can be optioned out with additional off-road equipment. The off-road package for the 4MATIC versions of the Mercedes GLA consists of improvements to the electronics, but not necessarily mechanics, as the GLA is never really going to see any serious terrain.
On the other side of the Mercedes off-road spectrum stands the G-Class. This SUV was initially imagined as a rugged off-road vehicle, but later adopted a more fashionable approach. The Mercedes G-Class is one of the most capable luxury SUVs and the off-road equipment in the G-Class is a lot more comprehensive than it is in the GLA.
Mercedes G-Class: The king of off-roading
The story of Mercedes Benz off-roading starts with the G-Class, and only a few extremely purpose-built Mercedes models like the Unimog can exceed the G-Class when it comes to off-road driving. The 2021 G550 starts at $132k and the G-Class is rather capable off-roading, even without any additional off-road options.
The G-Class comes standard with three locking differentials that enable it to traverse even the toughest of terrains. You can manually lock the front, center, and rear differential. Paired with the low range gear off-road mode, and hill descent mode, the G-Class can fully utilize its boxy shape in an off-road driving environment.
The ground clearance of the G-Class is also class-leading at 9.5″ between the axels. The maximum fording depth in water and mud is 26.7″. Approach, departure, and break-over angles all measure 26°-31°. You can also option out the G-Class with adaptive air-suspension that enables you to choose the proper car-height for every scenario.
Mercedes GLS is capable with the off-road package
The Mercedes GLS is aimed at providing maximum comfort for up to 7 passengers and is the Mercedes-Benz SUV flagship. The 2021 GLS starts at around $100k and can be equipped with the Off-road engineering package if you plan on regularly taking your GLS on off-road adventures.
Mercedes has managed to offer great on and off-road driving characteristics with the new GLS, partially because of the aforementioned Off-road engineering package. Mercedes also ditched the dual-clutch gearbox for the GLS because an automatic offers better off-road capabilities.
The package offers a protective underbody, variable air suspension, and if you select the Off-road+ mode on the infotainment screen, the GLS will utilize a two-step transfer case that is able to send torque to each individual wheel. The GLS also uses a reduction gear that is specifically designed to traverse the toughest of terrains.
With the package, you can also get the “Rocking mode” which enables the GLS to literally jump as it adjusts its suspension in a matter of seconds. This mode is somewhat akin to an old-school lowrider but it does actually serve a purpose as it enables the GLS to get itself unstuck in tricky conditions.
Mercedes GLE and GLC Off-road options
Both the GLE and the GLC can be optioned out with the Off-road engineering package just like the GLS. The package is also available even for the new GLB. The Mercedes GLE350 starts at $65k and the GLC starts at $49k.
The package offers a fully variable four-wheel-drive system equipped with a low-range gearbox, hill descent mode, optimized off-road ABS, protective underbody, and an off-road-capable suspension. This package is designed to offer a perfect balance between on-road comfort and off-road capabilities.
Even though most of these models never actually experience any serious off-roading it’s still reassuring to know that if you actually decide to do so, you will not be disappointed. The G-Class certainly does offer the best off-road driving capabilities, even without any additional packages, but the rest of the Mercedes SUV lineup is also surprisingly capable.
Does it make sense to spend multiple thousands of dollars on an off-road package on a new Mercedes SUV?
Well, it does make sense if you actually plan on using it. The off-road packs for Mercedes Benz models cost from a few hundred dollars up to multiple thousands of dollars for the larger Mercedes SUVs capable of using the Rocking mode.
If you plan on going off-road regularly, you should opt for the G-Class. The rest of the Mercedes lineup simply does not match the G-Class in any shape or form. If you are not going to use your Mercedes SUV for any off-road driving, you should skip the package and focus on improving the daily comfort and luxury features.
How off-road capable are Mercedes SUVs without the off-road package?
It depends. A four-wheel-drive system is a necessity when it comes to off-road driving, but you are able to buy a 4MATIC Mercedes SUV without the off-road package. If you pair your 4MATIC SUV with a set of decent tires and the FWD system, you will still be looking at a fairly capable mild off-road SUV.
Non-off-road pack models don’t offer any additional underbody protection though, so any rock climbing could damage the underbody. Moreover, most modern-day Mercedes SUVs come with large wheels, and fairly low-profile tires, and that’s also not a good idea when it comes to any moderate off-road driving.
Is the Mercedes G-Class the most off-road capable consumer SUV on the market?
Well, it’s certainly one of the best. Some SUVs, like the Jeep Wrangler, are purpose-built and usually offer beefy tires straight out of the factory. Many Land Rover products like the Range Rover and the newly released Defender are also able to match the G-Class when it comes to off-road driving.
But if you want a more affordable SUV than the G-Class, and you don’t want a compromised on-road driving experience like that of the Wrangler, you can always opt for the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser. The Land Cruiser is also an extremely capable SUV, especially for sand driving.
Some models like the Ford Ranger or the small Suzuki Jimny are also fairly capable when it comes to off-roading, but they certainly can not match the G-Class or any of the other SUVs listed.