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First drive: Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.

First drive: Mercedes-AMG G 63
Familiar looks, wholly unfamiliar dynamics, galactic levels of want - the G-Wagen finally comes good.

 



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Mercedes-AMG G 63

5 5 5 5 5

The old Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen was a total liability: it had insanely bad steering, the kind of rudimentary underpinnings that could only feasibly serve as the basis of a military vehicle (which is what it was originally conceived as, back in the 1970s) and interior finishing that left much to be desired - plus, you had to drive it with your face practically crammed up against the side glass. Bad in all guises, it was particularly nuts as an AMG, where it was given a 544hp, 5.5-litre, twin-turbo V8. So here we are again, driving the latest Mercedes-AMG G 63... and while it might look similar on the surface, things could not be more different than before. This. Thing. Is. Epic.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mercedes-AMG G 63
Pricing: G-Class from £143,305; car as tested £153,905
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, nine-speed AMG Speedshift automatic
Body style: five-door 4x4
CO2 emissions: 299g/km (VED Band Over 255: £2,070 first 12 months, then £450 per annum years two to six of ownership, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 21.4mpg
Top speed: 149mph (limited, with optional AMG Driver's Package; 137mph limited otherwise)
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Power: 585hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 850Nm at 2,500-3,500rpm
Boot space: 667-1,941 litres

What's this?

It's a Geländewagen, one of those weird, anachronistic vehicles that just starts production and then never seems to stop. Obviously, we could cite the Volkswagen Beetle or the Porsche 911 here, but let's keep it on a 4x4, off-roading theme and stick to the obvious analogues. We're talking vehicles such as the now-defunct Land Rover Defender, the inimitable Suzuki Jimny, Jeep's long-serving icon the Wrangler... all of these are a particular breed of machine.

A breed of machine to which the cop-out term 'character' is often apportioned, where 'character' is code-speak or shorthand for 'good God, it's rubbish, but somehow we love it nonetheless'; you can take the brilliant Jimny Mk4 out of that category, though... although that's a story for another day. Anyway, the fact of the matter is that the G-Wagen - which Mercedes now wants you to call the G-Class, to make it fit in with the company's SUV hierarchy of GLA, GLC, GLE and GLS (all of which, incidentally, carry the 'G' in their model names in honour of the G-Wagen) - was always comprehensively rubbish, but was often credited with having 'character'. If, by character, you mean driving a vehicle where you had only the vaguest notion that the front wheels were attached in any way whatsoever to the hideous, recirculating-ball steering system.

But while rivals decided to keep lesser-powered engines in their old warriors, from 1999 onwards Mercedes took all leave of its senses and let AMG loose on the G-Wagen - which typically meant stuffing an almighty great V8 into the nose of the cubist creation and then hoping for the best. And, on the face of it, you might think you're looking at one of these madhouse mash-ups here: this is the Mercedes-AMG G 63, 2018 edition. To all intents and purposes, it looks like the old G-Wagen, which has been soldiering on in production since 1979 (*cough* the year of this author's birth *cough*...). Same slab sides. Same frowning front end, with round headlights, an upright grille, a near-vertical windscreen and lumpy indicators perching on the vertiginous front wings. Same spare wheel hefted onto the side-opening rear door. Same everything, in fact.

However, look at it a little closer. Note the neat LED daytime running lamps enhancing those round-headlight features. Drink in the shut lines that actually look like this car was built properly, rather than thrown together in a shed with particularly poor lighting. Clock the 21-inch 'Trivial Pursuit playing piece' alloys and the distinctive little LED rear lights. Appreciate the slightly smoother, slightly more 21st-century appearance of this leviathan.

Yes, this is the all-new G-Class... sorry, G-Wagen. Mercedes says that while it might look the same - deliberately so, to appease lifelong fans of the Mk1 - it only shares four parts with its predecessor, those being the spare wheel cover, the headlight washer jets, the push-button door release mechanisms and the sun visors. Everything else is different. Incredibly, despite the fact the G has always been sizeable, this new model is longer, (crucially) wider and taller. And it looks magnificent. Absolutely, and utterly, magnificent. In our test car's fully murdered-out combination of Obsidian Black metallic with black Nappa leather and blacked-out rear glazing, there's an air of brooding menace about the big, boxy G-Wagen that's intensely appealing.

The interior is also vastly improved, that extra breadth in the body resulting in a driving position that's no longer tantamount to physical torture. It's still a little cramped in the rear seats, given the G-Wagen's sheer size, but a huge boot and thoroughly plush fixtures and fittings up front more than make up for this. As does an extensive equipment list, including massaging/heated/ventilated/electrically adjustable/active-side-bolsters (phew!) front seats, a 590-watt, 15-speaker Burmester sound system, AMG Ride Control and Adaptive High-Beam Assist Plus Multibeam LED headlights, among much more. Which, along with the fact it is entirely hand-built in Austria, probably explains the G 63's £143,000 starting price (car as tested: £153,905). Oof.

How does it drive?

Truth be told, the chunky appearance and sparkling interior alone almost convince you that the new G-Wagen might be worth a whirl, but once you get to drive it, several amazing revelations take place. Mercedes-AMG could not fully abandon station with this car: while the brief was to make it a near-infinite amount better on road, the G-Class still had to maintain its off-road prowess. So, it retains a ladder-frame chassis, three locking diffs and a low-range gearbox. Armed with such knowledge, you set your expectations accordingly and reckon the best the G 63 is going to be able to do is drive about as nicely as a well-sorted one-tonne pick-up truck, of which the finest example on sale right now is Mercedes' own X 350 d. Nevertheless, you really do wonder how on Earth the G 63 is going to corral whopping figures of 585hp and 850Nm with any degree of finesse - figures that demonstrate that the G-Wagen runs the same 4.0-litre, biturbo V8 as the sensational AMG GT R sports car... only the G 63 has an additional 150Nm of torque. Gulp.

Fear not, though. Some things have changed. The G 63 has far more torsional rigidity than its predecessor. Despite its reinforced ladder-frame platform weighing more than the old G's chassis, the whole vehicle is said to be 170kg lighter than the previous generation, model-for-model - albeit, this AMG still tips the scales at a monster 2,560kg. A drag co-efficient of 0.54 says everything about the G-Wagen's steadfast resistance to kowtow to any semblance of aerodynamic efficiency, instead favouring bluff, unapologetic styling. The woeful old steering system has been replaced with a proper rack-and-pinion set-up, while the front suspension is far more advanced than the old version's live-beam axle. It has, it would seem, at least some of the tools to cope with its prodigious grunt.

And it takes about two corners, not even taken at speed, to know that things are very much different with the G-Wagen this time around. Turn the chunky AMG steering wheel in your hands and the front end of the G 63 does something unusual - it responds almost immediately; there's no slack, no vagueness to the steering, just lovely, solid weighting and faithful consistency. Knowing that the boxy Merc will now actually turn in when you want it to, you then go on to learn that this is a hugely improved beast. The handling isn't stellar, by any means, as other, monocoque-based performance SUVs would quickly show the G 63 a clean pair of heels - the likes of the Audi SQ7, the Bentley Bentayga and the Mk3 Porsche Cayenne are more composed when hustled fast.

Yet the suppleness in the way the G 63 moves is really no less alluring than the flat-bodied, iron-fisted control of, say, a hard-charging SQ7. If anything, it's more enjoyable. There's pitch, dive and lean in the G 63, but not to any level that has you sweating in mortal terror. Some understeer and highly objectionable traction control also don't help, but actually you can get the G-Wagen into a lovely, flowing and - above all - fast groove and it will enthral you. It's like some kind of long-travel-suspension Dakar racer has made it to the roads, without anyone knowing.

Such squidge in the superb, three-way-adjustable suspension also makes the G 63 a pleasure to cruise in. As its cliff-face exterior batters the air outside into submission, there's nothing like the sort of intrusive wind noise you might expect of it and the tyres' progress along the road surface is also similarly subdued. The nine-speed auto is seamless in operation, the dampers let the Mercedes-AMG lope along - with only a very odd, occasional shimmy giving away its two-piece construction and betraying it's a 4x4, rather than an SUV - and that excellent steering means you're not making endless correctional inputs to keep the thing going roughly straight on the motorway. It's both relaxing and exciting to be in the G 63 for long distances, although a week-long overall fuel economy average of 16.6mpg tells its own story of precisely how juicy a 2.6-tonne mobile house that can run 0-62mph in a scandalous 4.5 seconds is; we saw a best just shy of 20mpg on a very genteel M1 cruise.

However, with all this wholly unexpected handling talent and the remarkable civility of the thing in the mix, please don't for a second think the G 63 has lost its deranged lunatic character. Because it hasn't. When you ask the 4.0 V8 up front to give you everything, the results are wonderful and hilarious and demented in equal measure. Sport+ mode sharpens the drivetrain and suspension to the point where the 850Nm just hits you in the face like Mjölnir, but if anything, you want to try full throttle in Comfort mode. Do so, and there's a brief, bullet-time-esque pause as the gearbox, twin turbos and the rear suspension all gird their loins, man up and take the strain, and then... WHOOMPH! With a comical squat backwards, the leviathan G 63 hammers for the horizon in a tremendous, unrelenting fury of side-exit V8 bellow. The soundtrack, by the way, from idle to redline, has several different voices and all of them are devilishly good.

And so, the G-Wagen Mk2 has it all: the wonderful theatre, the dramatic noise, the searing pace, capable handling, comfortable ride, brutal looks, a classy interior, lashings of the X-factor... it really is the complete package. It's phenomenal. And simply in a whole other realm of ability to the G-Wagens that went before it. We think we're in love.

Verdict

Looks the same as its predecessor, doesn't drive anything like it: that would be the neat summation of the Mercedes-AMG G 63. And, as a result, this is immediately one of our favourite-ever 4x4s/SUVs/crossovers that we can think of. It has charm, desirability and engagement in spades, it actually works to a very high standard on roads and it's probably still completely unstoppable off the tarmac. Cheap, the G 63 is not, but as lottery-dream cars go, there's not many (if any at all) that are as mesmerisingly, deliriously, fantastically talented as this bonkers behemoth. It's an absolute joy that this thing continues to exist in this day and age, and we should all be very, very, very thankful that the G 63 lives on.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

5 5 5 5 5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 4 Dec 2018









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2018 Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.

2018 Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG G 63. Image by Mercedes-AMG.








 

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