You might well not realize the 2019 Mercedes-AMG G63 is an all-new vehicle at first glance—and that’s largely the point. The old version, in spite of its compromised nature on dry roads and cramped, utilitarian (well, for a $125,000-plus Mercedes) interior, stayed popular among a die-hard group of Gelandewagenliebhaberin all the way until the end of its life. As a result, Daimler was hardly about to throw away all that goodwill by letting the model expire.
The fact that it had also become the darling of well-to-do wealthy folks in pretty much every high-end enclave across America, from Beverly Hills to Beacon Hill? Totally coincidental.
The Good: With the all-new model, the G-Wagen finally offers the levels of luxury you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz with a six-figure pricetag. Even better, it offers that without trading away any of the square-edged style or all-terrain capability that made the vehicle famous during the last quarter of the 20th Century.
Who It’s For: Anyone with plenty of money who needs maximum breadth of capability in a single vehicle. Or, more realistically, anyone who wants everyone to think they need maximum breadth of capability in a vehicle, but actually will just drive to Whole Foods.
Watch Out For: While the G63 handles better than previous Gelandewagens did, it’s still very much a top-heavy, softly-sprung brute—and not nearly as agile as its sports car-rivaling acceleration might make you think. Even those genius Germans can’t outsmart Isaac Newton and his fancy laws.
Review: By now, the Gelandewagen’s off-road capabilities are pretty much legendary. The latest G63 is able to clamber up 27-degree slopes, plow through 27.6 inches of water, and wander over anything sticking up to 9.5 inches off the ground. In effect, it can climb every mountain and ford every stream, just like those other Austrians did back in the Thirties.
So of course, I wound up using the G63 the way most people will: shuffling about through city streets, down highways, and along country roads. (I did dally onto a sandy beach for a minute or two at one point, just to say I did.) Mercedes-AMG knows this is how most people will drive it, of course. That’s why the G63 comes stock wearing street tires, not knobby off-road rubber.
All that time on actual roads, however, was enough to prove that the 2019 G-Class drives like, well, a modern-day automobile—a stark contrast to the previous generation, which felt about as well-suited to the asphalt jungle as George of the Jungle is. The electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is direct, well-sorted and quick (well, at least, for a 5,842-pound SUV that stands nearly six-foot-six-inches tall), and the ride is well-planted and comfortable, in spite of the all-terrain credentials.
The supple adaptive dampers are forced to try and keep both the Gelandewagen and the AMG sides of this multi-mode beast happy, which proves a difficult task, considering their missions lie at polar opposite ends of the automotive spectrum. I found it best to leave the suspension in Sport Plus mode for most road driving; unlike in most AMG models, the ride is still pliant and comfy in that setting, even over battered pavement. More importantly, it gives the big G added (and much-needed) stability in turns. With the suspension left in its default setting of Comfort, the G-Class feels rather tippy in tight turns; it never feels unsafe, but you’ll definitely be following the doctrine of slow-in-fast-out on any winding two-lane roads.
But if the G63 feels like the tall body-on-frame vehicle it is in tight sweepers, it feels very much a product of Affalterbach when you hammer the go-pedal. The acceleration is less explosive than in other AMG 63s, by sheer virtue of the mass being forced to move. Still, the force it pulls with through the nine-speed gearbox’s first and second cogs is a bit startling; launch it from a stop, and it’ll throw you back in your seat like a carnival ride. Indeed, the acceleration feels more unnatural than anything else, thanks to that height. It may take two hands to count off the number of SUVs that can match the G63’s sub-four-second 0-60 dash nowadays, but none of them are taller than James Harden.
Few of them sound this glorious, either. Those side-mounted exhaust pipes may be a terrible choice for off-roading, but they bring the fury of the 4.0-liter V-8 closer to your ears. AMG’s tuners have been at the top of the engine note game for years, and the entry into the era of forced-induction motors hasn’t broken their stride; the elephantine blast trumpeting from the quad pipes is loud and proud. Indeed, sounds make up much of this rig’s subjective appeal. Mercedes strained to keep the iconic sounds of the doors and locks, and thankfully so; the solid slam each of them make are a callback to overbuilt Benzes of yore, noises that project safety and security straight through to the soul. (I’ll bet more than a couple salespeople have clinched a G-Class sale just by firing the locks shut with the remote in front of the prospective buyers.)
A much-needed update means the G-Class’s interior finally feels worthy of its S-Class-sized price tag. There’s now enough room for Schwarzenegger-sized men (or larger, actually; Arnold’s not really that big) in the front seats. Equally as important, the cabin finally offers the levels of luxury expected from a six-figure Mercedes, with sumptuous seats (especially with the $2,200 box for the Comfort Seat Package checked, adding massage, rapid heating and ventilation) and premium materials everywhere the eyes turn and the fingers touch.
Outside, it’s largely G-wagen status quo, but there are a few noticeable tweaks — some positive, others distracting. The overall look is smoother than the old version, which lets the car’s iconic shape breathe a little. But the LED headlight rings give it a vaguely owlish appearance, as though it were wearing Harry Potter glasses. And the AMG Panamerica grille’s vertical pillars make the vehicle look a little bit like a…well, a Jeep. I prefer the traditional, horizontally-oriented Merc grille found on the current G550; it has the virtue of being unmistakably Benz.
Verdict: The all-new G-Class is a near-perfect reboot — one that captures the spirit and appeal of the original while simultaneously updating it for modern times and sensibilities. By virtues of removing the distracting flaws of the old version, the improvements manage to accentuate the G63’s greatest feature: the sheer breadth of its capabilities.
The Mercedes-AMG G63, after all, is a super-capable off-roader with low range, three locking differentials and multiple off-road driving modes…that also happens to be a legitimate luxury car in terms of materials, technology, and fit & finish…and also accelerates as quickly as a muscle car. Like a multi-tool, it’s not quite as good as the dedicated versions of the products it can replace, but it still manages to pack all their basic capabilities into a single package — which is hard not to see the appeal of, silly as the idea may seem at first.
2019 Mercedes-AMG G63 Specs
Price as Tested: $164,315
Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, 577 horsepower, 627 pound-feet of torque; nine-speed automatic; four-wheel-drive
Curb Weight: 5,842 pounds
0-60 MPH: 3.9 seconds (Car and Driver testing)
EPA Fuel Economy: 13 mpg city, 15 mpg highway
Mercedes-Benz provided this product for review.
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