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

First drive: Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG
Mercedes drops its new Bi-turbo V8 engine into the G 63 AMG model and creates the craziest 'off-roader' we've driven.

 



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| First Drive | Stuttgart, Germany | Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG |

Overall rating: 4 4 4 4 4

Faster, more efficient, better looking and more comfortable than before, there is no doubt this is the best Mercedes-Benz G-Class (AMG or not) yet. However, everything is relative, and the G 63 AMG is expensive to buy and run, old-fashioned both inside and out and incredibly frustrating to drive. We can only applaud Mercedes for making it though, as its existence makes the world a more interesting place. And - along with its bravado, infectious personality and uncanny ability to bring out your inner child - it's for this reason that it doesn't have to settle for only three stars.

Key Facts

Model tested: Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG
Pricing: 110,000 (estimated)
Engine: 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol
Transmission: seven-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body style: five-door SUV
Rivals: BMW X5, Land Rover Defender, Porsche Cayenne
CO2 emissions: 322g/km
Combined economy: 20.5mpg
Top speed: 130mph (limited)
0-62mph: 5.4 seconds
Power: 544hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 760Nm at 2,000rpm

In the Metal: 4 4 4 4 4

The original G-Class (or G-Wagen) was unveiled in 1979 (and first designed back in 1972), and despite the advancement of 33 years it is something that clearly shows. Its basic shape remains, so in a world of ever more dramatic SUVs, this G 63 AMG's boxy and simple silhouette rather stands out. It's certainly not without presence, despite its relatively narrow body, but it could be from any one of the last three decades.

Thankfully the interior has come in for rather more extensive updates, including a centre console that is clearly recognisable from other models, and as result is much more user friendly than before. The upright driving position remains though, as does the flat windscreen and helpfully narrow A-pillars, that along with the rest of this car's expanse of glass, affords the driver with a great view out.

Driving it: 3 3 3 3 3

This is a car that was designed to perform off-road; it still features a wading depth of around 600mm and three locking differentials, as well as both high and low range gearing. So it should come as no surprise that on the blacktop it feels rather like a fish out of water.

Sure the engine and transmission, borrowed from the SL 63 AMG, are both incredible, and with four-wheel drive the G 63 AMG lacks little in straight-line grip. In fact, performance in this instance is startling, the big SUV accelerating from 0-62mph in just 5.4 seconds, helped in no small way by the crisp gear changes from the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. There's even a gratifying V8 soundtrack, one that encourages you to take control and downshift into a lower gear than is strictly necessary only to listen to the glorious V8 rumble for even longer. Tunnels or wall-lined roads are, it seems, simply there to help you enjoy this unit's chorus at an even greater volume, and childish though this undoubtedly is, it's also deeply satisfying.

However, despite the acceleration and noise, underneath that time warp body is something of a compromised chassis. Yes there's AMG sports suspension and an ESP system re-adjusted from previous generations, but the G 63 AMG rather falls apart at the first sight of a bend. Anything but the most gentle and sweeping of curves must be taken at a relaxed pace, otherwise there is an excess of body roll and as the front tyres begin to lose their purchase a vicious flash of the ESP light is accompanied by a sharp cut in power. Once back under control you're free to accelerate hard out of the corner, but this car is the epitome of slow-in, fast-out.

The ESP system can't be fully disengaged either (unlike in other AMG models) and the G 63 AMG proves to be a frustrating car to make progress in. But this over-protective safety system isn't the most surprising aspect of the G's driving experience; no that has to go to the incredibly slow-geared steering. With a rack requiring more input than any other car we've driven (in fact it feels more like a van or small truck in this aspect), you often find yourself having to add more lock half-way through a manoeuvre - yet the poor turning circle at low speeds in simply frustrating.

So, despite the G 63 AMG's sports car credentials, it's actually far better enjoyed at a slower pace of life. Best to settle back in the electrically adjustable chair, enjoying the view afforded by the lofty ride height and driving position, while the smooth automatic gearbox shifts seamlessly between its ratios, happy in the knowledge that a bit of hooligan style straight-line speed is but the merest flex of your right foot away.

What you get for your Money: 3 3 3 3 3

Well most of your money goes on that engine and transmission, the former being built by hand in AMG's factory in Affalterbach, Germany. Each unit is constructed by one technician who follows it around the factory and signs a plaque on top of the cylinder head cover when finished.

Of course, being a flagship model, the AMG G-Class comes complete with plenty of luxuries and gadgets, including the new Comand Online infotainment system with satnav and internet access. But with prices starting at around 110,000, and running costs that include a real-world sub-20mpg figure and top-band annual road tax, the G 63 AMG is something of an expensive proposition.

Worth Noting

You would imagine that the AMG variants of the new G-Class are something of a niche product, especially as even the 'base' model G 350 Bluetec is expected to cost around 70,000. However, it turns out the AMG-badged versions (the G 63 AMG driven here and the even crazier V12-engined G 65 AMG) account for approximately 40 per cent of this car's sales - something you can thank rich and developing markets like the Middle East and China for.

Summary

Fundamentally this car is seriously flawed, and to actually recommend it to anyone looking for an all-round performance SUV would be little short of gross misconduct on our part. However, this car is not about practicality, sensible decisions or financial logic; it purely appeals on an emotional level. As a car to make you smile, both while looking at it or driving it, the G 63 AMG gets top marks.


Graeme Lambert - 14 May 2012









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2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.



2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 






 

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