Looking across the automotive landscape, things just aren’t the way they used to be. Traditional sedans have taken a backseat to seven seat sport-utility vehicles, and pick-up trucks outfitted with luxurious appointments and modified as though they’re from Mad Max are top of mind for today’s buyers.
Even if these vehicle’s primary duties will consist of dropping Johnny and Janey at school and soccer practice, these are the trends capturing buyers’ imaginations today.
And, sad to say, even our icons have experienced a fall from grace. Recently, Porsche unveiled its all-new 911 coupe. The market consensus: Who cares? The all-new BMW 3-Series found its way into showrooms to kick off 2019. Survey says: Total snoozer.
It hasn’t been a complete bloodbath, however. That’s because certain vehicles have juice. Our subject, the all-new Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon, is one of them. There are several reasons for this. First, they simply just don’t build autos like the G anymore. Second, this three-pointed star has a certain cachet that is very rarely attained among today’s vehicle. Last, but certainly not least, it’s a truck that is extremely capable whether it’s on or off road.
Let me explain in greater detail.
Whether you’re taking delivery of a standard G550 or the more sporting Mercedes-AMG G63, you’re confronted with the same profile. The G-Class is a boxy vehicle whose design has not changed much since the 1970s. Although the 2019 model year G is all-new, you wouldn’t know it unless you’re a car geek like me. Then again, if you were the top brass at Mercedes why would you make a drastic change? Mercedes sells each one it builds.
Don’t get it twisted though. The design and engineering teams didn’t take a vacation. The G has increased in size all around and there’s plenty of little details to make sure it’s differentiated, generation-to-generation. Take, for example, the new headlights that use of LED rings to make the G-Wagon a little more glamorous and a little less utilitarian. Or, how about the new Panamericana front grill and large, integrated air intakes that help keep the AMG’s powerful, turbocharged V8 cool? Sure, the changes are minor but one thing is critical: When a G550 or G63 pull up, it still makes an entrance. And, honestly, that’s sort of the point.
I am not quite sure why but even when I see a G-Class these days, I am always captivated. It’s not because I love its styling. It just has a distinct, Teutonic look to it that it commands my attention.
While you may require a magnifying glass to track the changes on the outside, stepping into the G’s elevated cockpit is an entirely different story. This is where Mercedes decided to “rip and replace.” Although the old interior seemed inspired by the 2000s, the new cabin looks far more 2025. It has more space, though you’re likely to wonder “Where?” and the all-new G has inherited the same technology found in other Mercedes vehicles. This includes two massive 12-inch displays for your instrument panel and infotainment, touch-sensitive controls mounted on the steering wheel that make you feel a bit like a wizard and advanced cruise control that makes tackling traffic jams a breeze. Oh, and then there’s the seats that cool, heat and massage. When compared to the original G’s humble, utilitarian beginnings, this is more akin to a space ship.
And, then there are the details. The seats aren’t the only thing wrapped in leather. So are the doors and dashboard. Alcantara covers the headliner. When you lock and unlock the G-Wagon’s doors there’s a distinct sound that reminds me of a deadbolt. The best part though? That would be the bank vault-like “thunk” the doors make when you close them. It is exceedingly well built and its solidity harkens back to a day and time when Mercedes built vehicles differently.
Getting more acquainted with both the G63 and G550, the first thing you notice when you plop down into the seats is the vehicle’s driving position. The windshield is closer than you may expect and the seats are mounted high. This way you can see all four corners in the auto — this is ideal as you want to see where you’re going when off road. When you hit the push button start for the V8, it fires up as though you’ve awoken a beast.
The standard G550 is equipped with a 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 that produces 416 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque. Mated with the company’s standard-issue nine-speed automatic, zero to 60 happens in a swift 5.6 seconds. If that’s just not enough for you though, you can always get a boost – pun intended – via the Mercedes-AMG G63. The AMG-tuned variant also makes use of a biturbo V8 but it produces a more significant 577 horsepower and 627 lb.-ft. of torque. It too benefits from the company’s nine-speed autobox and hits 60 in 4.4 seconds. When you’re moving north of 5,500 and 5,800 pounds, respectively, these are impressive times.
And, then there’s the sound. When you push the throttle on a G550 it is not trying to hide its powerplant. With its side mounted exhausts, a glorious V8 symphony plays. The G63 just ups the game with a more brutal soundtrack. If you really want to have fun, just give it a blast in the Lincoln Tunnel. It’s addicting.
There’s one dirty little secret about the previous generation’s G-Wagon: It didn’t drive that great. It still felt very truck-like on the road. Sure, it was capable of astounding off-road feats but it was a bit rough around the edges on tarmac. The three-pointed star has shaped this up in the all-new G-Class, however.
Whether you’re driving the G550 or G63, it’s a much more car-like experience. Even though you have to step into the G, it doesn’t actually feel that high once you’re situated. Getting around, its steering is more direct and doesn’t require tremendous effort whether in a parking lot or at highway speed. Bumps are quite isolated and the suspension offers a surprising amount of comfort, which isn’t always a guarantee in a truck. Even with the G63 variant and its large diameter wheel and tire package, road imperfections were absorbed. There is one soft spot, however. That would be wind noise. Although I noticed the dual-pane glass, it’s not enough to suppress the effect you get when you have a box traveling at speed.
Where I think people would be impressed is how well the G63 can handle curvy roads. Thanks to its fat tires and wide stance, it is surprisingly capable. As I worked my way around country roads, the G63 was able to go much faster than I expected around twists and turns. In fact, it likes to be pushed. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance when driving what equates to a cube on wheels. The G550, on the other hand, can also do the unexpected but I wouldn’t push my luck given it doesn’t feel as dialed in — The G550 doesn’t instill nearly as much confidence working the switchbacks as the G63.
While there’s plenty of more spacious SUVs on the road today, I don’t think there’s one nearly as complete and as capable as the G-Wagon.
Sure, there’s the Land Rover Range Rover but the brand’s quality control issues would keep me up at night, especially when spending more than six figures. For me, make mine a G550. Although I do appreciate where the G63 excels, it’s simply not necessary.
By Richard Posluszny