The Mercedes-Benz G-Class’ status as the ultimate go-anywhere Benz is revered within the company, to the point that it’s more a sub-brand rather than a mere model. When chatter about electrifying this icon arose, there were more than a few who questioned it. After all, as a candidate for electrification, there really couldn’t be a less obvious vehicle than a ladder-framed off-roader with a body that’s got the aerodynamic properties of a brick.

Emmerich Schiller, CEO of Mercedes-Benz’s G-Class sub-brand admits he was among them. He reasoned the engineering challenge to make an electric G-Class would be a huge task. Specifically, a battery-powered off-roader would need to be capable of tackling the Schöckl Mountain, which towers over the G-Class’s home in Graz, Austria, and has been the crucible for all previous iterations of the SUV. Adding batteries and electric motors should not and could not be an excuse to dilute this legend's off-road ability.

Mercedes-Benz EQG Prototype

Schiller is happy to admit his initial concerns were unfounded, even though he’s not underplaying the huge effort he and his team have gone to in developing what will become the production EQG. He’s in the driver’s seat both literally and figuratively, helming the G-Class line and serving as our pilot in Carcassonne, France, with an EQG prototype covered in camouflage and with an interior draped in covers to hide prying eyes. There’s no hiding the fact that, aside from what’s powering it, this is all familiar G-Class.

Gallery: Mercedes-Benz EQG Prototype: First Ride

Zippity Zappity

Contrary to what some have reported, and in line with the Graz team’s requirements, the EQG retains its ladder-frame chassis. Commendably here, Mercedes-Benz hasn’t simply created a pastiche of the G-Wagen by popping a boxy body on an existing EQ skateboard battery platform. It’s that which has created the huge engineering effort; packaging batteries and motors within the ladder frame, and, significantly, protecting it all from the rigours of off-road driving.

Mercedes isn’t likely to introduce the EQG before 2024, which explains why no one is really prepared to comment on the battery’s chemistry and capacity. It's almost inconceivable to think that it’s not packing at least the EQS SUV’s 108-kilowatt-hour pack, though.

Taking into account the EQG’s weight, which figures to be around 3,000 kilograms (6,600 pounds) and its less-than-optimal aerodynamic properties, that should mean 310 miles on a full charge. Mercedes-Benz isn’t likely to make its G-Class customers wait any longer at a charging station, either, so the EQG should be able to zap from 10 to 80 percent charge in around 30 minutes on a 350-kW charger.

Mercedes-Benz EQG Prototype

As I said, more battery info will be available nearer to the 2024 on-sale date, but for now I can tell you that the pack is very well protected. Schiller is only too happy to demonstrate that off-road as he deliberately drops the G onto a protruding rock and slides over it, confident that the Kevlar carbon material underneath is doing its job to protect everything.

What Schiller and his team are willing to discuss is that the batteries are powering four electric motors, with each driving an individual wheel. Other possibilities were considered, but for the G-Class to do what the engineers wanted it to – excel off road – this was considered the best option. Schiller has some experience with such a layout, too, as he was involved with the SLS Electric Drive’s development, which also featured a four-motor layout.

Mercedes-Benz EQG Prototype

Like the battery details, engineers remain tight-lipped about the power and torque output of the motors. But within both Mercedes and AMG, there are combinations of EQ motors outputting as much as 650 bhp, and the EQS 580 SUV 4Matic is rated at 536 bhp. With the EQG gaining two extra motors, an output of between 600 and 670 bhp would seem reasonable to deliver the sort of performance I experienced when sitting alongside Schiller and his engineering team.

But the capability these motors provide is obvious as Schiller and I follow a G500 Professional through a remote French valley. While the car ahead is undeniably coping with the tortuous route, it’s evidently not having as easy a time of it as the EQG we’re in. The engineers admit that direct control to individual wheels is as advantageous as the instant torque they bring. Rather than a single low-range transfer box, there’s one for each motor, which in combination with a creeper mode allows a feet off-the-pedals setting within the powertrain. The EQG clambers about with apparent ease even in terrain that’s challenging the G500 ahead.

Mercedes-Benz EQG Prototype

The French Connection

But controlling all that hasn’t been easy. Schiller talks at length about the huge amount of coding that’s required to ensure the motors all work properly and safely together, with the calibration work taking the time. It’s what AMG is working on in France, now that the hardware is settled. The battery pack which slots between the ladder frames and necessitates the removal of some cross bracing, is a structural element – the control electronics for it and the motors, meanwhile, are mostly housed under the bonnet, which means there’s no space for a frunk.

Not that you’re short of accommodation for both people and equipment in the cabin. There’s the odd EQ-specific sub-page within the MBUX infotainment system, but otherwise the interior seems identical to the current production G-Class. There’s an additional button in the centre console for enabling the G-Turn functionality, too. The EQG’s ability to execute a tank turn demonstrates how the individual wheel motors allow this G-Class capability that’s not possible in its internal combustion relations.

Mercedes-Benz EQG Prototype

Press it and the wheels on the left rotate in the opposite direction to those on the right, which allows the EQG to turn within its own length much like a tracked vehicle can (hence the name “tank turn”). It’s as mad to watch outside as it is to experience from the passenger seat. Tantalisingly, there’s another button opposite it, covered for now. When I ask the engineers what it does, they simply say “That’s for another day.”

Mercedes-Benz EQG Prototype

EQ, But Still A G

What’s undeniable as the EQG silently, effortlessly, clambers, climbs, and descends terrain which on foot would require ropes, is that it has as much (or arguably more) off-road ability as its combustion relations. The tranquillity of the silent operation is more in keeping with the remote beauty of the landscape we’re driving it over. Interestingly, too, after a lengthy afternoon session of off-road driving it’s used only around seven to eight percent of its charge, thanks to recuperation on the steep descents.

Few owners, if any, will ever test the EQG so aggressively, but that’s no different than the supercars that circulate upmarket ZIP codes rather than race tracks. This early access to the EQG prototype confirmed little exact technical detail, but was nevertheless a hugely revealing experience. With two more years of development and finessing, the production ready EQG promises to be very special indeed, and as our ride has demonstrated, a proper G-Wagen.