The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is boxy, brash and bold, but it’s a legend in the automotive world.
Since debuting 33 years ago, it has barely changed, but for 2013, the G, short for Gelandewagen, gets a facelift with a new engine on the AMG model and a drastically revamped, upscale interior. But the exterior still harks back to its past.
“To the outside our designers had a pretty clear task – don’t touch it. Don’t touch it. We have some LED daylights now and new mirrors, but that’s basically it on the exterior,” says Axel Harries, director of the cross-country vehicles division.
For 2013, the G-Class off-roading icon comes in two trims: the G550 and the G63 AMG.
Powering the G550 is a 5.5-litre, DOHC, V-8 that produces 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque; while my G63 AMG tester benefits from an all-new, 5.5-litre, DOHC V-8 bi-turbo engine. Both engines are mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The G63 AMG delivers 536 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque and is more powerful, yet more fuel efficient than the outgoing G55 AMG with its 5.4-litre supercharged V-8 engine.
While the G63 AMG has a new ECO engine start/stop system that automatically kills the engine when stopped and restarts it again, gas consumption leaves a lot to be desired. The number on the dash speaks volumes: 30 litres/100 km! Yikes, not even my test drive of the Lamborghini Aventador on a racetrack north of Rome produced that number. But if you’re driving a monster SUV like this one, I imagine fuel economy is the least of your concerns.
Getting inside the G is tricky – it’s high off the ground. For the passenger, it’s easier; the traditional dash-mounted grab handle still remains on the front passenger side for an added and much-appreciated boost into the cabin.
Once inside, you have a commanding view in all directions. You’re also surrounded in luxury, which is a bit shocking and unexpected for such a rugged ride. Personally, it’s too much, too lavish for my tastes. I prefer the simplicity and the bare-bones interior of the legendary G.
Everything has changed inside. The centre stack is completely redone. The navigation screen sits atop a new leather dashboard. The switches for the three differential locks are directly in the driver’s line of vision. The gear shifter is redesigned and is in the lower section of the centre console. It doesn’t move to the steering wheel like it has on the GLK. A four-spoke steering wheel with 12 multifunction buttons is also new. You can also add optional equipment like a heated nappa leather steering wheel or a rear seat entertainment system.
My AMG tester, which accounts from most of the G-Class sales, raises the bar even higher with plush, two-tone quilted leather upholstery and a piano black lacquer steering wheel and trim. On the outside, it gets a new twin-blade grille, three large air intakes in the front skirt, new 20-inch wheels with red brake calipers, AMG and V-8 bi-turbo badges on the side, and a sports exhaust system with twin chrome side pipes instead of tailpipes.
And the technology abounds with everything you’d expect to find in a typical Merc – distronic adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and parktronic parking sensors with a back-up camera. There is also a revised ESP system with trailer stabilization and a hold function.
The chassis of the G-Class is built for off-roading. It’s based on a ladder-type frame with sheet steel that’s nearly four millimetres thick. It’s more suitable for off-road than a unibody construction. The G has a slope-climbing ability of up to 80 per cent, ground clearance of 21 cm and a maximum fording depth of 60 cm. It can also retain its driving stability at inclined angles of up to 54 per cent.
I tested a “G Professional” on a makeshift off-roading course in the ski resort town of La Cusaz. This is the purist version of the G, which is the base model available in Europe and not Canada. I made my way along slowly, winding up and down the steep hills and rocky terrain. At times, it was a balancing act with two airborne wheels. Sharp side tilts and deep ruts proved no problem for the G – it remained balanced and sure-footed. Even a ditch filled with nearly two feet of water was easy to cross. I gunned it, water splashes in all directions. The G conquered everything in its path, emerging unscathed.
On the road, I switched to a G63 AMG model. Fired up the engine and it growled to life. Nailed the throttle and the V-8 was powerful and fast. Even though it’s a heavyweight, it’ll hit 0-100 km in a mere 5.4 seconds.
It’s not the most nimble vehicle – around corners the tall massive SUV produced significant body lean. The steering is also sluggish and slow – it required a lot of input from the driver. The ride is choppy and harsh at times. Still, I confess it is a blast to drive – it’ll make you grin every time you’re at the wheel. It’s a real guy’s toy that’s capable of conquering anything in its path.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz G550 and G63 AMG go on sale in June. Prices aren’t available, yet. And don’t expect they’ll be cheap. The current G55 AMG starts at $115,000.
Tech Specs: 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG
Type: Four-door, premium off-road SUV
Price: Not available
Engine: 5.5-litre, DOHC, V-8 bi-turbo
Horsepower/torque: 536 hp/560 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.8 combined; premium gas
Alternatives: Range Rover Supercharged, Porsche Cayenne GTS, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, BMW X5M