The Best New Off-Roading Vehicle Is an EV

The Mercedes-Benz G 580 EV is built for rugged routes, despite its battery

6 min read

an SUV on a dirt road with trees on the side and mountains in the distance

Mercedes' newest electric vehicle can go anywhere non-electric vehicles can—and in some cases, do it better.


The Mercedes-Benz G-Class has been many things since its creation in 1979: A military and commercial vehicle, the most charming of Popemobiles, a Paris-Dakar rally winner, and now a lifestyle accessory for the likes of Drake, Bradley Cooper, Middle East potentates and every last Kardashian.

The 2025 G 580 that I’m torture testing in Languedoc, France has a new trick up its famously square sleeves. It’s gone electric, with enough ingenious tech for Mercedes to declare that it actually outperforms its internal combustion engine (ICE) siblings in off-road situations. Move to pavement, and the Mercedes—officially the “G 580 with EQ Technology”—can shoot to 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) in 4.7 seconds. That’s only a half-second behind the AMG 63 version I also drive, with its hydraulic suspension and 585-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8.

And if Mercedes really speeds things up, this G-Class—long a symbol of conspicuous consumption—will become the world’s first production vehicle with a silicon-anode battery, perhaps by 2026. That energy-dense battery, through Mercedes’ partnership with California-based Sila Nanotechnologies, should decisively boost the G 580’s so-so driving range.

The G 580’s four electric motors, assisted by ultra-conductive silicon carbide metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (
MOSFETs, for short), churn up 432 kilowatts (579 horsepower) and a mammoth 1,164 newton-meters of torque. Those MOSFETs operate with a claimed 99 percent efficiency as they convert stored DC power to three-phase AC for propulsion.

Among a suite of new features, the electric G 580 can turn on a dime, take tight switchback corners with ease, and ford deeper water than its internal combustion engine counterparts.

The G 580 EV has four compact electric motors wrapped in water jackets with internal oil cooling. Each motor pair is mounted with inverters in housings at each axle, sending power through halfshafts to individual wheels. This isn’t a first for EVs: The Rivian R1 also has a four-motor arrangement. But the Mercedes one-ups the Rivian by integrating a low-range gear reduction—a staple for any hardcore 4x4—that multiplies torque for rock crawling, dune bashing or other lower-speed situations. While it’s true that electric motors generate full torque at zero rotations per minute anyway, Mercedes engineers say electric motors don’t like to operate too long at low speeds because that generates excess heat. Allowing motors to spin faster keeps temperatures in check for better durability.

Digital power controls, which Mercedes calls “virtual differentials,” allow the G 580 to divert up to 100 percent of torque to individual wheels in as little as 300 milliseconds. That eliminates the need for the trio of slower locking mechanical differentials—front, rear, and center—whose dashboard switches are part of G-Wagen lore.

The four-motor arrangement and torque vectoring underpin this SUV’s YouTube-friendly party tricks, as seen in the wilds of Las Vegas at CES 2024: “G-Turn” lets the Mercedes spin like a tank. This feature feels more a (very effective) marketing gimmick, and Mercedes itself debated whether to put it onboard.

an SUV on a boulder-strewn dirt roadThe G 580 EV has independent electric motors for each wheel to help with tricky, low-speed situations like rock crawling.Mercedes-Benz

Yet G-Turn will let the Mercedes easily reverse course in tight quarters—say, a dead-end trail—without a long, anxious bout of backing up. Put the G 580 in Rock mode and low range, hold down a metal paddle shifter (left or right, depending on the direction you turn), and step on the accelerator. The Mercedes does its best Brian Boitano impression, for up to two full revolutions. It does this by driving left-hand wheels forward and right-hand wheels in reverse, or vice-versa.

The “G Steer” feature proves more useful, at least for the rare G-Class owner who ventures off the beaten path, private airstrip or red carpet. (On that score, a G 580 Edition One, a near-loaded model that will be first to the United States, should sell for around US $185,000 when it arrives in the second half of this year.)

Instead of having to make tiresome three-point turns in tight spots, the Mercedes can decelerate one electric motor at the inside rear wheel while overdriving the outside wheel. That lets the Mercedes to pivot around corners or obstacles with a turning circle akin to a subcompact car, at speeds up to 24 km/h, which is especially welcome on narrow or forested trails, or even your local campground.

At a Languedoc vineyard and chateau, on a challenging off-road course, I guide the G 580 up rain-slicked, boulder-strewn grades that would appear impassable to the average Tesla Model Y or Toyota RAV4 owner. On gut-check ascents and descents of up to 45 degrees, the Benz’ Intelligent Crawl feature autonomously manages the G 580’s speed and torque vectoring, with an almost surreal lack of wheelspin—allowing me to focus on my driving line. The low-mounted battery lets the Mercedes tackle side slopes of up to 35 degrees without tipping, a reliable way to freak out anyone who’s never been overlanding.

hands holding onto steering wheel of a carThe G 580 EV’s dashboard includes an option to display the terrain underneath the front of the car in a “Transparent Bonnet” mode.Mercedes-Benz

An “Off-Road Cockpit” button calls up real-time information on the Mercedes’ luxurious dual-screen display, powered by its latest MBUX infotainment system. That includes the “Transparent Bonnet,” which beams an image of the terrain and front wheels beneath the bumper. That makes it easy to place wheels on low-speed obstacles without a human spotter outside the truck.

While I prefer working my own brakes on downhills, it’s hard to resist the Mercedes’ helping hand, including automatically applying regenerative brakes to regulate speed and save wear on mechanical brakes. Atop the scenic hillsides, with the Mediterranean peeking through storm clouds, we find ourselves in the midst of a wind farm. Their spinning blades underscore more of the G 580’s Mother Nature-advantages versus the ICE-powered versions we also drive: Blissful silence on trails, zero tailpipe emissions and the ability to recharge on renewable energy. Drivers can always choose the “G Roar Experience,” a digital simulation of V-8 thunder, should they tire of hearing birdsong or rushing streams.

Speaking of streams, Other car owners would gasp to see our electric G-Wagens fording through muddy water up to 85 centimeters (33.5 inches) deep. That “fording depth” is a significant 15 centimeters deeper than ICE versions. Don’t be shocked: In one of its biggest engineering accomplishments, the Mercedes envelops a battery with 116 kilowatt-hours of usable power entirely within its steel ladder frame, connected by more than 50 screws. A dual-tier pack of 216 nickel manganese cobalt cells is shielded from water, shocks, stones, and dirt by a torsion-resistant casing of carbon fiber and composite. The underbody armor weighs 57.6 kilograms, one-third the weight of a comparable steel structure.

That still leaves this boxy brute weighing 3,085 kilograms (6,801 pounds), with all the aerodynamics of a cinder block, despite a claimed 17 percent gain in coefficient of drag. The battery, from China’s CATL, delivers up to 473 kilometers of range on Europe’s optimistic World Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure cycle. That should fall closer to 400 kilometers (roughly 250 miles) when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency releases its own estimates for U.S. buyers. An onboard charger allows 11-kilowatt charging at home or Level 2 stations, or a 200-kilowatt maximum rate on a DC fast charger. That’s enough for a 10-to-80 percent charge in 32 minutes.

overhead view of an SUV going through muddy watersThe G 580 EV can ford water up to 85 centimeters deep—15 cm deeper than internal combustion engine versions can handle.Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes invested in Sila Nanotechnologies, a Silicon Valley start-up, in 2019. The fruits of that deal are finally on the near-term horizon: The G-Class is set to become the first vehicle to integrate “Titan Silicon” anodes, manufactured using 100-percent renewable energy at Sila’s facility in Washington state. Silicon anodes, Sila says, could potentially store 10 times more charge than graphite and other metal alloys in the same pack space. The company claims a 20 to 40 percent boost in energy density over current silicon-free designs, with prototypes reaching more than 800 watt-hours per liter at the cell level.

Pocketbook math suggests the G-Class, with a 20 percent density gain, could stuff nearly 140 kWh of useable capacity into its well-armored pack. That would lift real-world range (versus Europe’s WLPT fantasy figures) to roughly 480 kilometers, or right around 300 miles. A 40 percent jump in density could cram 162 kWh into a same-size pack, for a 560 km (nearly 350 mile) range. Now we’re talking: That real-world range might top every electric SUV sold in America, and trail only a pair of sedans, the Lucid Air and Mercedes’ own EQS.

The G-Class already found more than 9,300 customers in America last year, despite prices ranging from $142,000 to well over $200,000. The addition of a guilt-free EV version for its status-conscious fans—and the possibility of longer range to come—suggests a green and profitable future ahead for Mercedes.

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