The original Land Rover Defender may be an incredible off-roading SUV, but it also has its flaws. They’re slow, spartan, and not exactly safe. It was safety regulations, in fact, that stopped US sales back in 1997. And the small US-legal production date (’93-’97) makes the Defender rather expensive, especially compared to ones in Europe. There, Defenders usually cost around $30-$40,000. But a US-spec Defender can cost close to $100,000. There is, however, an alternative: the Mercedes G-Wagen Cabriolet.
YouTuber Doug Demuro recently purchased a G-Wagon Cabriolet to complement his Land Rover Defender. And he’s since made several videos explaining his purchase, and demonstrating what makes this convertible SUV an excellent Land Rover alternative.
Is this a customized G-Wagon?
G-Wagons are no stranger to wild customization. Brabus has tuned them to 888 hp, and companies like Lumma Design offer crazy body-kits. And Mercedes’ own engineers made a 6-wheeled pickup G-Wagen, albeit based on an existing military 6-wheeler. But Doug’s 1999 G500 Cabriolet isn’t some coach-built one-off, like that classic Bentley pickup.
Just like how Mercedes offered a G-Wagen pickup almost from the start, so too did the automaker offer a G-Wagen convertible. In fact, the Mercedes G-Wagen Cabriolet predates the first pickup version. Pope John Paul II even used a modified one as his Popemobile.
To be fair, Mercedes-Benz doesn’t offer the current G-Class in convertible form. Before the old G-Class bowed out, the automaker did create the Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet. But with only 99 made, finding one on the road is unlikely. Still, the Landaulet was a limited-edition in the truest sense of the word. It came with a twin-turbo V12, portal axles, a stretched wheelbase, and the rear seats from the S-Class. Though, the G 650 Landaulet had to be special, at a starting price of $550k, according to Car and Driver.
Doug didn’t buy a Landaulet. But he did have several good reasons for buying a Mercedes G-Wagen Cabriolet.
What makes the Mercedes G-Wagen Cabriolet better than a Land Rover?
Although Doug did take his G-Wagon Cabriolet off-roading recently, the SUV’s winter tires meant it wasn’t exactly set-up for Moab. But the Cabriolet retains the G-Wagen’s four-wheel drive and 3 locking differentials, not to mention the extremely-useful ground clearance. The convertible SUV is also smaller than you’d expect: Doug mentions it’s actually narrower than a Ford Focus. It’s also roughly 1’ shorter than a Mazda CX-5.
Doug does mention his G500 Cabriolet’s running boards did occasionally scrape the sand and rocks. He recommends, for those out-fitting their Mercedes G-Wagen Cabriolets for off-roading, to fit rock rails. And off-road tires.
But the G-Wagen Cabriolet’s real advantage over the Land Rover Defender is its on-road refinement. The Defender may be an overlanding icon, but it rattles on the highway, it doesn’t have too many interior creature comforts. But when Doug drove to the off-road trails, the only issue he had was some slight wind noise. The G500’s power roof may be a little finicky, but it is better than the Defender’s canvas top.
And overall, the Mercedes G-Wagen Cabriolet is simply a better every-day vehicle than the Land Rover. The Mercedes has leather seating, heated front seats, actual climate control, and even parking sensors. The Defender doesn’t even have a radio or cabin heating. The G500’s 5.0-liter V8 is also more powerful than the Defender’s 4.0-liter V8, making lane mergers and daily-driving less of a headache.
And most importantly, especially to Doug, the G500 is safer. It has ABS, airbags, and simply feels more solidly put-together. For someone who has kids, that’s an important consideration.
Would a Mercedes G-Wagen Cabriolet be worth buying?
Doug’s 1999 Mercedes-Benz G500 Cabriolet cost a little over $100,000. Part of the Mercedes G-Wagen Cabriolet’s expense is the federalization process. Although Cabriolet models that are at least 25 years old don’t have to comply with safety or emissions standards, newer ones do. Luckily, there are several importers that can and have successfully federalized G-Wagons. It helps that Mercedes didn’t really update the SUV significantly over the years: many 1990-2017 parts are interchangeable.
At that price, the G500 Cabriolet costs roughly the same as a US-market Land Rover Defender. But the G-Wagen is highly unlikely to lose much value. Especially the Cabriolet models: Doug claims there are maybe a dozen in the US. And, while the Defender is arguably the more iconic off-roader, the G-Wagen is the better vehicle overall. It’s just a better Land Rover.