The Mercedes G-Wagen is at its most astonishing in 585hp G 63 V8 petrol form. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
You know the real thing when you see it and, when it comes to supremely capable large SUVs, this is the real thing, the Mercedes G-Class. In this second generation guise, virtually everything has changed: the body, the suspension, the steering, the engines - all of it's new. So is the 4.0-litre V8 engine in this top G 63 version. As a car, it's unnecessary, it's politically incorrect and it's addictive.
On the face of it, putting a 585hp engine into a luxury SUV shaped like a portakabin sounds a bad idea. No, scrub that. It sounds an absolutely certifiable notion. But Mercedes has done it anyway, reasoning correctly that oligarchs and squillionaires will find the idea of a Gelandewagen powered by the 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 from the AMG GT supercar almost impossible to resist.
Perhaps though, the whole point of enormous wealth is indulging your inner fantasies and the way the handbuilt V8 in this exclusive SUV explodes under heavy acceleration in a frantic volley of noise all the way to the point where it crashes against the 7,000rpm rev limiter is certainly addictive. Giving this car the kind of charm it would need to offer if your other SUVIP choices included a Lamborghini Urus or a twelve cylinder Bentley Bentayga.
The old AMG-fettled G-Class model had a 5.5-litre V8, but this new generation design's lighter, torquier unit puts out 85hp more and clouts the G 63 to 62mph in just 4.5s and onto an electronically limited top speed of 137mph - or 149mph if you're crazy enough to pay Mercedes £2,000 to de-restrict it, in which case you really have got more money than sense. You'll get to enjoy the engine much more once you get the hang of all the different drive systems. As part of the G-Wagen re-design, Mercedes has added in its 'DYNAMIC SELECT' set-up which in its top 'Sport+' setting, ramps up the throaty note of the AMG sports exhaust.
There are also the usual 'Sport', 'Comfort' and 'Individual' options, plus an extra 'Slippery' mode for rainy days and icy mornings. All the choices you can make here affect throttle response, steering feel, stability settings and the shift timings of the new 9G-TRONIC auto gearbox that all G models now get and which features in a G 63 in more sharply-focused SPEEDSHIFT form. 'DYNAMIC SELECT' can alter suspension feel too because another thing this new-era model can now offer is adaptive damping, a standard feature for a Mercedes-AMG customers and a virtually must-have option elsewhere in the range.
Design and Build
You might be tempted to think that the styling of this G-Class hasn't changed much, but of course it has. The military-style upright flat windscreen for instance, embellished by a signature from Gottlieb Daimler in its bottom right hand corner, is this time raked by a further degree. And the round headlights gain full LED beams or, as in the case of this G 63 model, 'MULTIBEAM' LED technology that adapts them to the road and other traffic. The grille has been subtly re-designed too, featuring vertical slats with this G 63 petrol variant. A Gelandewagen without a tailgate-mounted spare wheel would look wrong - this G-Class remains the only large super-luxury SUV to retain one - but there's no reason why this appendage should obscure rear vision quite so much, so the rear window has been widened around it.
Inside, this modern model features the widescreen cockpit display we've previously seen in all of Mercedes more conventional large models, with a 12.3-inch central COMAND infotainment screen bonded seamlessly to a digital instrument display of the same size. A more characteristic G-Wagen feature is the huge great old fashioned dash-mounted grab handle. Rear seat space has dramatically improved and there's a 667-litre boot.
Market and Model
Hand-built by Steyr-Puch in Austria, this is an exclusive car which, as you've probably already guessed, means that it's going to cost you a suitably exclusive price. For this test, we opted for the Mercedes-AMG G 63 4.0-litre petrol twin turbo V8 variant that over 60% of buyers in this country choose, which from launch cost from just over £143,000. The only SUVs that can compete with a G-Wagon's extreme capability off road (contenders like Land Rover's Defender and Jeep's Wrangler) are much less capable on-tarmac - and anyway, they sit in much cheaper and less luxurious market segments. Super-luxury SUVs that are comparably priced and sized against this Mercedes - the Range Rover for instance - don't have this car's classic, military-surplus feel. Nor are they as capable off road.
The AMG engineering elements of this top variant include a quick-shifting 'AMG SPEEDSHIFT' version of the 9G-TRONIC auto gearbox and an 'AMG RIDE CONTROL' version of the brand's new adaptive damping package. There are AMG red brake callipers and an AMG sports exhaust system with chrome-trimmed twin tailpipes. The radiator grille is of a unique design, as are the 20-inch 10-spoke AMG alloy wheels. Plus there are illuminated AMG door sill panels. And nappa leather features on both the AMG Performance steering wheel and the ventilated multi-contour AMG sports seats.
Cost of Ownership
Go for this G 63 Mercedes-AMG V8 petrol variant and you can of course throw any thoughts of running cost efficiency out of the window. Again, there's an improvement in the officially quoted figure thanks to the body weight reduction. And to the fact that the 4.0-litre V8 features cylinder de-activation so that under light throttle loads, it chugs about on only four cylinders, this switch designated when operational by a little icon at the top of the instrument cluster.
Unfortunately, these engineering improvements don't make as much difference as you might hope. The old 5.5-litre AMG V8 G-Wagen managed 17.8mpg on the combined cycle; this 4.0-litre one theoretically returns 21.4mpg. In reality, if you drive this car regularly as the burbling V8 repeatedly encourages you to, you'll often only achieve half of that. Not of course that anyone likely to be able to afford a £150,000 585hp Gelanderwagen will ever be unduly bothered by the thought of such excess. They might though, be more bothered by the frequency with which this rate of thirst makes it necessary to continually re-fill the 100-litre fuel tank. Servicing is every year or 12,500 miles, whichever comes first. It's worth knowing that your maintenance outlay can be kept a little in check by going for the optional Service Care package that takes care of routine maintenance.
Here's the car that tops our guilty pleasures list. Whether you want to make a really big statement with your choice of SUV or you simply want the most capable, road-sensible off roader there is, the Mercedes G-Class - especially in this G 63 guise - offers a money-no-object solution. With a design dating back to the Seventies, it may be old in concept, but it remains classily cool with an appeal remaining undimmed against the changing fads of automotive fashion.
Judging this car by the usual criteria just doesn't work. As ever with a Gelandewagen, the normal rules resolutely don't apply. What's changed is the way that with this new-era model, that appeal has been very cleverly updated. It's thoroughly modern, but all the things that make a G-Class special and unique remain intact. We could have been served up a lifestyle-orientated copy of the original. But this remains the real thing.