Since 1979, Mercedes-Benz has manufactured the G-Class, a go-anywhere, do-anything SUV with the aerodynamics of a studio apartment and the looks of a German bank vault. In the G-Class you sit upright, as though you’re in the cockpit of an ultra-luxurious, over-engineered backhoe. And I mean that as a compliment — the feeling one gets behind the wheel of a G-Class is unlike any other vehicular sensation out there. The entire vehicle range is extremely proficient off-road, too: it has high ground clearance, prodigious torque and locking differentials. So, especially when you’re in a high-performance version, like the G63, with its twin-turbo V8 and snarly exhaust; or the twin-turbo V12-powered G65, you feel different, powerful, important.
People who don’t have the glamorous pleasure of driving or owning the G-Class deflect their insecurities with remarks like, “Oh, it’s just a German Hummer,” or simply, “It’s too big.” I pity their diffidence. Every last one of those folks needs a reality check. The G-Class is so goddamn awesome. Any argument against it is sucked into its skyscraper-vertical front intakes, spit out its side exhaust, and trounced beneath its oversized, expensive tires.
And yet, Mercedes-Benz thought it might not be extreme enough.
After all, the “regular” G-Class is only half a foot taller than the average male. Its approach angle is only 36 degrees. It only has 8.1 inches of ground clearance. It doesn’t even weigh a full three tons.
No matter that the G-class has been the envy of off-roaders for decades. So what if it’s now such a blatant, ostentatious signifier of wealth that it’s standard issue in music videos? So what if it’s a voracious rock climber in a bespoke suit?
The need to one-up themselves is why the nice folks in Stuttgart decided to up the ante and introduce the G500 4×42. Before the 4×42, there was the 6×6, an outrageous, maddened beast with three axles and six wheels and advanced off-road tech, which was produced in limited numbers and now mostly roams the Saudi Arabian desert. The 4×42 is that exact vehicle, only without the human growth hormone and less one axle.
The 4×42 is what you’d get if you stole Jim Carrey’s magical mask and slapped it on the wildest version of the widdle, puny standard G-Class: bigger, wider, more charmingly grotesque, more capable, more obstinate, more unyielding, more, more, more. Its four-liter V8 is twin turbocharged, a unit based on the formidable AMG V8 of the same size. There’s just a bit more than 400 horsepower, but that’s more than ample. You wouldn’t want this thing to be faster. It’s intimidating enough as it is.
Ground clearance: 17.7 inches. (For those not mildly good at math, that’s ten inches more than the original.) Weight: about 6,500 pounds. Height: 88 inches, or over seven feet — I’m six feet even and had to grasp and scramble to vault myself into the cabin. Cost: about a quarter of a million bucks. There are massive, stainless steel skid plates to protect the underbelly, should you somehow magically find a rock that’s big enough to scrape it. The wheels are stupefyingly large 22-inch behemoths, shod with either smooth road tires or gnarly rubber with knobs bigger than any indecent metaphor you could imagine. There are portal axles, which essentially increase ground clearance and reduce wear on the car’s running gear. The 4×42 can wade through meter-deep water without getting the driver’s Gucci loafers wet.
At Mercedes HQ, the gentleman who handed me the keys referred to the carbon fiber-fendered colossus as his “little one.” He then pointed out that on the Autobahn we’d be able to look directly into the windows of passing buses, not up at them like normal people in sane vehicles. The is-it-blue-or-purple paint was intoxicatingly deep, the doors were so big and heavy that it took me three tries to swing them closed. And because the track is much wider than stock — to increase stability — this hulk seems wider than European roads can manage. But it’s remarkably easy to drive. The all-new V8 is beautifully torquey and smooth. The wide track makes the ride fun, especially through sweeping turns. And to be honest, after three or four dismounts, I got used to climbing into my Teutonic titan without caring if I looked graceful. I was too busy grinning and giggling, anyway.
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