With the SUV and CUV segments adding so many new models into their respective ranks, it can be easy to forget that there are a few iconic nameplates sitting at various points in the segment. If your a rapper, celebrity, third world leader, or even the pope, few entries can match the extensive rap sheet wielded by the Mercedes G-Class. First conceived in 1972 at the suggestion of the King of Iran, the G-Class initially started life as a military vehicle, with the Argentinian army interestingly being the first power to use it in 1981. The first civilian version appeared in 1979, and it gradually morphed over the years into the luxury laden super SUV that currently rocks the charts today. But does the G-Class still have the goods to compete in a world that is rapidly being defined by EVs, tighter fuel economy regulations, and a renewed surge in political correctness? We were eager to find out.
A Pinch Of Retro And A Dash Of Futurisim Create A Truly Modern Looking G-Class:
When looked at from many angles, the exterior styling of our Selinite Gray G63 AMG tester is not that radical of a departure from its predecessor. The boxy motif, the high degree of functionality, and even the basic front and rear styling are all carried over from the older model. However, Mercedes designers did their best to add more modern flair and futuristic technology to this tried and true canvas. The front fascia features AMG’s new Panamerica front grille, an angrier lower front fascia that is accented by a full chrome bull bar, (this particular add-on generated plenty of debate on its aesthetic appeal) flared fenders, and a slick set of 22-inch wheels. The end result helped our tester look far more audacious than the base G550, and it also helped attract attention like moths to an open flame, with our tester being a very potent conversation starter.
The front fascia does not deviate too far from typical G-Class tropes, but LED headlights help bring more elegance to the design, while LED taillights do help provide a subtle exclamation point in night driving. Despite the light upgrades Benz engineers have made to it, this is not an all out reboot, with the new model retaining some elements of the outgoing model. This includes the headlight washer nozzles, the sun visors, the spare tire cover, and even a bracket under the hood. The hood mounted marker lights even return for duty, and without the brush guard in place (it’s optional in Europe) many folks can be forgiven for thinking that it went through things virtually unchanged. This is also in stark contrast to some of its rivals, with the G-Class not having very many rivals that squarely target it. Some might claim that the Maserati Levante Trofeo, and the Porsche Cayenne do a better job channeling their sporty nature, and that the Range Rover is more futuristic looking, but the Benz’s willingness to stick to its old school looks ultimately helps it stand out from the rest of the pack, with the G63 being the equivalent of injecting the G550 with a big dose of Red Bull.
An S-Class On Stilts:
When you first slip behind the wheel of the G63, you will be forgiven if you mistakenly think you have been warped into its S-Class counterpart. Unlike the outgoing G-Wagen, Mercedes designers chose to infuse the cabin with a good amount of S-Class DNA (S63 in our case.) This welcome upgrade helps create an artistic blend of luxury and high end gadgetry that is very hard to match in this rarefied segment with our tester coming loaded to the brim with luxury. The quilted blood red designo leather seats for example arrived with built in heat and cooling capability, as well as an extensive massage suite complete with two “hot stone” style massage settings. The thrones also feature active side bolsters that automatically extend or retract to ensure that occupants have just the right amount of support when taking the G63 through corners. Be prepared to pay accordingly for the privilege though, with the trick seats being part of the $7,200 Exclusive Interior Package Plus equipment suite.
Go beyond the acres of leather and Alcantara, and the abundant technology on display will also help win you over. The dual digital dashboard displays (another S-Class sourced component) feature two 12.3 inch digital screens, and this allows occupants to tailor a wide range of configurations and setups. Thankfully, a number of G-Class traits still manage to seep through the design, with the upright windshield, the trademark dashboard mounted grab handle on the passenger side, and the prominent buttons for the triple locking differentials all proudly displaying their unique DNA. On that note, it’s a pity that all G-Class models do not get the all new MBUX system which features a slick augmented reality interface that actually projects turn arrows and other navigation information. Instead, it uses an older system that makes extensive use of COMAND. While this system does generate quick responses, and still delivers crisp graphics, there is a brief learning curve with some elements of the COMAND system, and that can make using certain elements of the system harder than necessary when out on the move. Thankfully both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are along for the ride which should allow the G-Class to be more accepting of mobile devices.
Move past the technological wizardry on display, and you will discover that the G-Class is still a very comfortable place to spend time in. Front passengers gain an extra 1.5 inches of legroom which allows them to stretch out and relax on long jaunts on the freeway. Rear passengers are not left out in the cold, and while the G-Class still retains its two row configuration (versus the three rows offered in the equally opulent GLS) rear passengers gain 5.9 inches of extra rear legroom which is paired nicely with the extra 1.1 inches of shoulder room. The abundant space back there is enhance further by the standard rear heated outboard seats, as well as a foldable center armrest that allows the 60/40 bench seat to finally be a legitimate place to rest up. But despite its best attempts at being an S-Class, the G63 is still ultimately a notch below that model in a few regards, with wind noise being very abundant at freeway speeds, and the thick roof pillars creating big blind spots in the rear corners. The G63 also gets upstaged a bit by its three row counterpart the GLC, which offers comparable if not higher levels of luxury, and boasts a third row seat to boot.
A key ingredient that defines all AMG models is the mind-boggling performance that comes baked into each one. It promotes a unique character, and it also allows the model to rise up to its full potential. In the case of the G63, it takes the bar and completly snaps it in half, with our tester being powered by a handbuilt variant of the 4.0 liter twin-turbocharged V8 that sees duty in the lesser G550. While the standard engine makes do with 416 horsepower, the mad scientists at AMG must’ve read our fan mail, and decreed that particular figure was simply not good enough. So they went to work meticulously tuning and refining the engine to excorcise as many lost ponies as possible. The end result is a creation that produces 577 horsepower, and a planet moving 621 lb-ft of torque. This translates into an easily accessible pool of power, with our tester making the dash to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and having plenty of confidence when out on the freeway. While we will lament the loss of the G65 and its twin-turbocharged V12, even AMG is not immune from the effects of tightening fuel regulations, and the boosted V8 (a cousin of the unit in the AMG GT-R) does a commendable job of taking the V12’s place.
A nine-speed automatic is the sole transmission on hand, and right off the bat, this gearbox proves to be a very capable partner for the twin-turbocharged V8, with the transmission eagerly dropping down gears to match what the V8 is trying to do. Acceleration is wickedly strong, and the G63 has no problem throwing your head against the seat when you mash the accelerator to the floor. The whine of the twin-turbochargers is nicely complimented by the V8 symphony that loudly emanates from under the hood, with the transmission delivering a nice satisfying blat when rowing through the gears. It seems like nothing can stop the G63, and its very easy to have the scenery go from a beautiful landscape, to a blur in no time. Our tester has the iconic triple locking differentials that are a G-Class staple, but we suspect that many AMG buyers will prefer to let their rigs do the talking on the track versus fording every stream and crossing rocky outcrops. But that’s fine with us, since we suspect that the G63 will draw plenty of stares wherever it goes, with our rig being treated and gushed upon like a visiting world leader during its time with us.
However even this superstar is not perfect, and there are two key flaws that make themselves evident during long term exposure to the G63. For starters, handling is still rather clumsy, and while ride quality has improved significantly over the old model due to revisions to the suspension components, the G63 is an instrument that does not like to be rushed in sweeping turns. Instead, it prefers to be gently guided into apexes which causes it to fall short of rivals like the Ranger Rover SVR or the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifolglio that encourage you to engage in more spirited track behavior. Also, the muscular V8 prefers you ignore its low fuel economy figures, with our tester averaging a rather pitiful 12 mpg during its stay with us. Mercedes engineers did take a crack at improving things though, and have equipped the G63 with auto stop/start, cylinder deactivation, and an eco mode for the nine speed transmission. A Prius it isn’t, but the G-Class is not about that, and instead encourages its owners to generate attention with its own form of identity and political incorrectness. It also doesn’t hurt either that the G63 can hang with the best that Bentley, Rolls Royce, and even Lamborghini have to offer which is always a good feather to have in any automotive cap.
With all the performance, luxury, and utility that the G63 has to offer, it’s no surprise that pricing is in a completely different ball park, with base models starting at $147,000. Our heavily optioned tester arrived with a meatier figure, and had a final sticker of $166,095 which causes it to be in a very lofty piece of financial territory. The bulk of the price increase comes from optional extras, with highlights on our tester being the $7,200 Exclusive Interior Package Plus, the $3,950 22-inch AMG Cross Spoke Wheels, and the over $3,000 cumulative total for the design manufaktur graphite metallic trim, and the black flamed open pore ashwood trim. This pricing is $23,000 more than a G550, but it does put the G63 in fierce contention with rivals such as the $178,500 Range Rover SV Autobiography Dynamic, and select versions of the Bentley Bentayga.
With acceleration that is better than many sports cars, swiss army knife utility, and a truck load of heritage, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG checks alot of the boxes that well heeled SUV buyers come to expect from a super SUV. While AMG has sadly axed the V12 in the name of fuel efficiency, the twin-turbocharged V8 is still a very solid canvas, and we are eager to see what new tricks AMG engineers will bring to the G63.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.