When you were in middle school, roughly everyone in your class was the same size. But then there was that one kid. That one six-foot tall kid in a class of five-foot tall kids. He was also 15 years older than everyone else and could bench 500 pounds. That kid is the car equivalent of the Mercedes G63 AMG.
(Full Disclosure: Mercedes wanted me to drive the G63 AMG so bad that they gave me an entire week of 12 MPG driving, which earned it the nickname "Gaswagen" from my friends. They did not help me get involved with the mafia, which I thought came standard with the car.)
Mercedes has been making the Gelandewagen since 1979. If you look at a 1979 model and a 2013 from a distance, you won't be able to tell the difference. It's been the same car for the last 34 years.
The G-Wagen isn't just different from every single car in the Mercedes lineup, it's different from nearly everything else on the road. This is one of the last true body-on-frame trucks left on sale today. It's also one of the only vehicles for sale today that would be rejected if it became more refined. The G has a cult that surrounds it thanks to its endurance, off-road capability, longevity, military service, and Rambo-esque looks.
And that brings us to the G63 AMG. Instead of doing what SVT did by making the F150 into an off-road monster like the Raptor, the boys at AMG took a different approach. Wheels are 20 inches in size with low-profile tires. There is an absolutely blinding amount of chrome. There's a thundering twin-turbo V8 under the hood. There are quad side exhausts. The interior has special leather. This is a car that has the equipment to be great off-road (and probably is), but you'll never see it off-road.
You'll see it around Manhattan and Los Angeles, where off-roading includes going onto a slight curb or down a cobblestone street.
The G63 is ridiculous, ostentatious, unbelievable, unnecessary, stupid, amazing, awful, and one of the most fantastic things ever. And it's somehow all of these things at the same time.
In 1979 Mercedes introduced a boxy shape that wasn't revolutionary at all. In 2013, that boxy shape is even less revolutionary, but it has a modern retro cool about it. The lines actually appear to be cleaner than they were years ago, which gives it the look of a factory-built resto mod.
The bull bar on the front is 100 percent chromed. It looks great, but it presents a problem for the people in front of you on the highway: It blinds them. Literally. You know how when you hold a watch to the sunlight and it reflects the light right back at the wall or into the eyes of a "friend" you don't really like? It's the same principle here, except this time it blinds the person in front of you, which makes it tough for them to drive. It does get them out of the way, just another perk of the most imposing truck on the road.
And when I say imposing, I mean imposing. This thing is terrifying to behold. The huge air inlets, the masses of chrome, the blacked out windows. Everything about it says that there are some very dangerous people behind the wheel. It's the only truck where you can simultaneously blast Billy Joel's unthreatening hit Uptown Girl and scare the living piss out of people all around you. That says something.
One point where I do take some umbrage are the LED running lights. LEDs are the cool thing now (the kids love the stuff!), but on the G-Wagen, the small strip below the headlights look like they are from Pep Boys. It's like a designer was told "this has to have LEDs," so he just tacked them on because he didn't really want to do it. He sure showed them!
"Tacked on" is kind of a theme of the G63, or really any car that has been updated consistently since 1979. In the case of the G63, you have a nav screen that looks like a Samsung Galaxy was taped to the top of the dash. You have windows that go down with one click but not up. The center stack is loaded with buttons, which Merc has been phasing out for years. It's an interior that has had an inordinate amount of plastic surgery. Like Kate Beckinsale, it doesn't look bad, but it doesn't seem particularly natural.
What does feel natural is the military grade sounds throughout. The door locks sound like a shotgun blast. The doors themselves close with an authority that is normally reserved for Fort Knox. Many of the switches inside that haven't been updated, like the windows, the seats, the differential locks, and others, are chunky militaristic buttons.
The seats are also fantastic, with pneumatic bolsters and lumbar that can be precisely adjusted to fit your body. It's really great. I also loved the Designo red leather interior.
The contrast between the new and the old is the only issue I saw. While some things could be operated while wearing gloves, the updated buttons need a delicate touch. Perhaps it's a nod to the fact that clientele for the G-Class has become less Arnold Schwarzenegger and more Spencer Pratt.
The G63 has Mercedes' 5.5 liter twin-turbo V8. It makes a mere 536 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque. That gets the 5,800 pound truck to 60 in just 5.3 seconds. It's the fastest accelerating house I've ever driven. It shoots you off the line with a truly surprising amount of thrust thanks to incredibly amounts of low end torque.
It can beat pretty much anything off the line, which scares and confuses everyone else on the road.
Here's the thing about the G-Wagen: It's not intended as an on-road or city car. It never was. It is a dune jumping, rock climbing, off-road beast of a truck. Transferring those years of off-road expertise to on-road prowess takes a lot of skill.
In certain cases, the ride is pretty good. On a longer highway journey, it was comfortable and smooth. Around town though, I found it rough. It would bounce up and down, like the entire truck was the suspension. The ride itself wasn't especially rough, but the movement in the cabin wasn't particularly pleasing.
This is not a handling machine, not that I was expecting it to be a Porsche 911. When I first got in, I expected the AMG tuning to result in something that might at least be semi competent.
The kindest thing I can say is that it doesn't flip over when presented with a turn. However, that was definitely a concern. There are a number of issues that present themselves. First, the truck is fast. Faster than you'd ever expect it to be. That means that you might enter a corner quicker than you think. The steering rack is slow and steering is light without much feel. Combine all of those things, and you have the recipe for a truly terrifying first trip around a highway on ramp.
The narrow, tall truck just doesn't corner. In fact, it seems to actively refuse to corner, like a toddler that doesn't want to clean up his toys. Except here it's like the toddler will murder you if you force it to go around a bend.
It's equipped with a seven-speed automatic, which does a swell job. Shifts are fast, crisp, and smooth. It's everything you want it to be. It does have paddles and a manual shift mode, but you aren't going to use them. I did for about four blocks and found them useless. They are probably good for off-roading and holding a gear though.
The G also has a two speed transfer case and locking diffs, which makes it perfect for going off-road. Of course, the closest most G63s will get is a snowy driveway or a slightly dusty trail to your home in Newport. But in that situation it will dominate everything in its path.
A 5,800 pound truck requires a lot of stopping power. At low speeds, the G63 stops just fine. At higher speeds, it's kind of a terrifying experience. Pedal feel is slightly rubbery and bringing it down from speed in a hurry isn't something that happens.
The G63 is a plan ahead sort of vehicle. Everything takes a while, and that includes braking. You can't expect three tons of steel and German military excellence to come to an immediate stop with the stab of a pedal. It takes planning, time, and a little bit of luck to bring this behemoth to a stop.
The stereo in the car is about average. I wouldn't say it's great, but I wouldn't say it's awful either. Like A Prayer, Madonna's best song, rocks really hard in the G.
But there's more to audio than the stereo. The AMG V8 is one of the best sounding engines on the market today. It has an authoritative bark and with just a little bit of a rasp. It's like Janice Joplin was converted into a car. In addition there is the vault like sound of the doors and the shotgun sound of the doors. The mechanical sounds this car makes are enough to force rogue states into submission.
Over the years the G63 has added in everything that modern cars have while keeping what made it famous in the beginning. So it has a two speed transfer case and three differential locks. But now it also has iPod connectivity, navigation, satellite radio, radar cruise control, parking sensors, a backup camera, bluetooth, and pretty much everything else you could want in a modern car.
The G63 starts at $134,300, with my test car coming in at $137,705. And it's really in a class of its own. What do you cross shop with a G63? A tank? An underground bunker? If you want one, you buy one. End of story.
It's one of the most over-engineered Mercedes (Mercedeses?) ever built and definitely the most rugged one you can buy today. It might even be one of the most rugged cars you can buy today.
This is one case where the car is greater than the sum of its numbers. So it doesn't handle? So it doesn't stop? The fuel consumption would be easier measured in gallons per mile than miles per gallon. The G63 is an army tank from a different time. The sheer fact that we can still buy one of Merc's crowning achievements from the 1970's as a new car today makes it worth every penny.
Engine: 5.5L Twin Turbo V8
Power: 536 HP at 5,500 RPM/ 561 LB-FT at 2,000 RPM
Transmission: Seven-Speed Automatic w/ two-speed transfer case
0-60 Time: 5.3 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph (Limited, and I assume for a very good reason)
Drivetrain: Four-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 5,721 Pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 12 City/14 Highway/13 Combined
MSRP: $134,300 ($137,705 As Tested)