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Why is Dubai obsessed with the Mercedes G-Class?

Words by Neil Churchill

When the Ruler of Dubai drives one, you know it’s going to be popular. Even the Police drive them.

Whenever you visit Dubai's Mall of the Emirates, you can be sure of a pretty big crowd gathered outside the doors. Seeing it for the first time, you could understandably think that the rows of tourists with their camera phones in hand are waiting expectedly for a celebrity to arrive.

But, as you probably know better if you've been in Dubai long enough, they're actually there for the cars. The small chauffeur area outside the mall is more like a showroom for some of the world's rarest supercars. A normal Friday afternoon there would actually put most real showrooms to shame.

Dubai's car market - or more specifically the high-end of the car market - is quite spectacular. But above all the Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis and Jaguars, it's actually a rather hulky 4x4 car that Dubai appears to be in love with. The Mercedes G-Class is everywhere. Sit outside a cafe anywhere in Jumeirah and you'll probably count into double figures how many roar past you, and that's before you've finished your shisha.

But why does the G-Wagen do so well in Dubai? Well, credit really must go to the emirate's ruler. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum drives a G63 AMG - he was actually the first person on the planet to receive a G65, although it is believed he returned it as he found it too loud. Before that he drove the popular G55.

Of course he owns a number of other high-end cars, including a Range Rover which he also uses to get around the city - but if you ever see him on the road, it is most likely he will be behind the wheel of his G-Wagen, with the number plate '1'. In a place where the ruler is so well respected, adored, even loved, it is not surprising that citizens as well as expat residents look to replicate the Sheikh's life.

Obviously that is impossible in many ways, but driving the same car as him is a reality, if you have the money - around AED 500,000. There's other reasons that can also explain Dubai's obsession with the second oldest Mercedes-Benz in production. It was originally developed as a military vehicle at the suggestion of the Shah of Iran, who at the time was a significant Mercedes shareholder.

Dubai - or on a larger scale the UAE - has become very proud of its military. It's easy to see the appeal of a car that was actually developed for harsh terrains and warfare, in a region of the world that is no stranger to conflicts and extreme landscapes. Not to mention that the original idea for the car came from the Middle East.

The G-Wagen proved to be such an effective military vehicle that up to 40 armies still use variants of the car today - we imagine with some optional add ons such as bullet-proof armour and run flat tyres. A Mercedes AMG chairman has previously claimed that Dubai is the joint largest market for its G55 model, the other being California. It's a valuable statement when you consider that - and this is a subjective view - but the G-Class is not the best looking car ever made. It's not even the best looking 4x4.

Its box style and body-on-frame construction has become part of its unique appearance. But when you compare it to the sleek lines on a Range Rover, Lexus RX or Porsche Cayenne, the G-Wagen sticks out like a man in corduroy trousers and a polo neck at a fashion show. And yet, as the number of them in Dubai proves, its appearance works. A much more simple explanation for the car's popularity is the UAE's landscape.

Off-roading into the desert is a popular hobby, as is simply driving to the beach. Riding across bumpy surfaces or sand can be done in a number of 4x4 cars, but very few of them offer the comfort and luxury inside that a G-Class does. As long as Dubai has sand, military might is held in high esteem and Sheikh Mohammed continues to drive one, the G-Wagen will continue to be hugely popular.

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