The G-Wagen has always been one of motoring’s intriguing anomalies. It was designed back in the late seventies as a light-use military vehicle; used and abused mostly in the deserts of the Middle East.

It gradually gained a cult following as a road car, though, and over time it became a popular left-field alternative to the Land Rover Defender and Jeep Wrangler. But it was always a bit of a shed mechanically, much like the models it sought to compete with.

• New Mercedes-AMG G 63 review

By 2018, the G was in desperate need of a mechanical upgrade inside and out. But rather than redesign its exterior, Mercedes decided to completely overhaul the car beneath the skin and keep its looks all-but identical to those of the 1979 original. It’s a decision that G-Class customers are more than happy about, according to the brand.

We’ve already driven the storming AMG version, powered by the bonkers 4.0-litre V8. With 577bhp and four side-exit exhausts, it accelerates as violently as you’d expect; sounding like a thunderstorm at full chat. Now though, it’s the turn of Mercedes’ ‘entry-level’ diesel model.

Here, propulsion comes from a familiar 3.0-litre straight-six, producing 282bhp and 600Nm. That’s enough to send the G 350 d from 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds and to a top speed of 123mph. Not AMG-fast, but quick enough to make the diesel G feel brisk. It’s not the most aerodynamic vehicle, either; it’s about as slippery as a block of flats.

On the move, though, this doesn’t matter, because up to 70mph it remains supremely refined. Gone are the rigid axles, and in their place is a proper, modernised suspension system with links and dampers that provide a genuinely sophisticated ride.

The nine-speed transmission is excellent, too, and provides super-smooth shifts and can be controlled via the paddles on the steering wheel if the mood dictates.

The four-wheel-drive G-Class still has three differentials to play with if you are really serious about your off-roading; one at either end and another in the centre that locks everything into place. And thanks to its exceptionally good approach and departure angles, it feels capable of driving straight up the side of a snowy mountain with the right person behind the wheel.

If the exterior remains endearingly retro, the interior is thoroughly contemporary. You get the same vast cross-dash touchscreen infotainment system as you do in most other modern Mercedes – including the E-ClassGLE and S-Class – with digital dials and state-of-the-art sat-nav, air-con and mobile connectivity. Apart from the upright driving position and boxy proportions, you could be in any of the marque’s latest models. And that’s quite a compliment indeed.

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