The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a paradox. It’s utilitarian, rugged and boxy. But at the same time, it’s coveted by the rich, stylish and famous, and Mercedes keeps coming up with ever more luxurious and powerful variants to satisfy those buyers, the latest of which is the 2020 AMG G63.
This ubertractor has a 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 that produces 577 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque — figures befitting a supercar — and routes that power through a chassis that, while more refined than ever, still feels better suited to guarding a Slavic border checkpoint than driving on anything resembling a twisty road. It’s all very silly and austere and purposeful. And therein lies the charm of the G-Wagen: well-dressed lunacy.
The always-lovely 4.0-liter V8 is paired with Mercedes’ nine-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic all-wheel drive. Being a G-Class, it also has three locking differentials, should you ever decide to venture into the rough stuff. (And even then, the G550 is better.)
Given the tall, narrow shape of the G63 and the glut of power and torque that it produces, the driving dynamics are best described as fine around town but harrowing at speed. The electro-mechanical rack-and-pinion steering is very much improved over the previous G’s recirculating-ball setup, but the turning circle, at 44.3 feet, is best compared to large boats rather than other cars.
The ride on the G63 ranges from bouncy and wallowy in comfort to “call my dentist, I am going to need some fillings replaced,” stiff in Sport Plus, though I suspect that some of this comes down to the colossal 22-inch optional wheels fitted to my tester. Strangely, I find the sweet spot to be in Sport mode rather than Normal. It’s still stiff, but relatively livable and the roads’ sharpest bumps get some of their edges smoothed out. Braking comes courtesy of some big ol’ 14.8-inch rotors up front and 13-inch rotors in the rear, with six-piston and single-piston calipers to grip them, respectively.
Inside, the G-Class is upright, with straight-ish glass and slab-like dash panels, yet it’s all covered in the finest leather and Alcantara. Everything is perfectly stitched and neatly trimmed. You’re cosseted in comfort; the cabin is gorgeous and executed in a way that absolutely justifies the G63’s six-figure asking price.
The ergonomics are a little weird, though, because they have to conform to a very old style of SUV with a relatively small footprint. For example, the seating position is super high. Generally, on an SUV, I’d call this a positive, but I find myself unable to adjust the seat down to a position where my head isn’t touching the suede headliner. At 6 feet, 4 inches, I’m pretty tall, but I’m not that tall.
Legroom is also a concern, thanks to the availability of just 38.7 inches in the front and 39.5 inches in the rear. Despite appearing massive when seen by itself, the G63 is not that big of an SUV. The interior borders on cramped at times, despite offering more cabin space than its predecessor, but it’s just a sacrifice you make if you simply must be seen in used-to-be-military hardware. Arguably the best parts of the interior are the sound the doors make when you close them and especially the sound the door locks make when you arm or disarm the vehicle — it’s like a giant rifle being cocked.
I love the side-hinged rear door and it’s handy in parking garages where the G’s height might make a regular top-hinged hatch less than ideal. But this also means you can’t back in too close to a wall or another car, since the door needs extra space to swing open. The cargo area is trimmed in soft, luxurious carpet and quilted leather, too, so it definitely keeps up the illusion of luxury, as long as you don’t need to haul anything especially practical (or dirty). There’s 38.1 cubic feet of space back here and you can fold the seats down, as well.
Unfortunately, this generation of G-Class launched just before the arrival of Mercedes’ new MBUX tech, so it still relies on the older COMAND infotainment system on a pair of 12.3-inch displays. Probably the most disappointing thing about the system is the lack of a touchscreen, especially given how close you sit to the dash. Still, Apple CarPlay is along for the ride, as is Android Auto, and the voice commands work well enough. I do love the excellent Burmester sound system, which is standard on the G63.
The G-Class has always been expensive and the AMG G63 is super pricey, at about $153,000 to start. My G63, as tested, retails for $182,445 including $995 for destination. That’s a ton of money for what I would consider a novelty, unless you’re really relying on the G for its unmatched off-road capability and even then, you’re probably better off with the less-expensive G550.
A decent chunk of that as-tested price comes from the inclusion of the $8,050 G Manufaktur interior package, the $6,500 matte olive green paint, the $4,550 22-inch forged wheels and the $2,200 top speed limiter removal (which is utterly pointless, by the way). Still, I suspect that if you’re the kind of buyer who wants a G63, you probably don’t care about penny-pinching all that much.
Other high-dollar, high-speed competitors include the Bentley Bentayga , Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid and Mercedes’ own AMG GLS63, which offers a much nicer driving experience but lacks the G’s inherent cool factor. You could go for a Range Rover SV Autobiography and get similar off-road chops, but again, a Land Rover just isn’t as awesome.
I love the G-Wagen, but honestly, the ostentatious AMG version strays too far from the base model’s off-roady charm. I’d rather get a G550 with the smallest wheels possible and start adding aftermarket accessories until it looked like I was ready for the Paris-Dakar. The G63 offers plenty of thrills, but $153,000 is just too much to pay for a novelty experience. It looks cool, sounds cool and is luxurious as hell, but at the end of the day, I could say the same about a G550.
This was originally published on Roadshow.