If it wasn’t for cars like the G-Wagen, the future of soulless self-driving pods that deliver your pizza and take care of the kid’s school run would be a very dull place. Thankfully we’ve got cars like the three-tonne G63 battleship with a riotous V8, lush leather interior and fearless attitude of a 20-year old.
It isn’t the kind of car that is going to save the planet, but it is a car that will definitely save your soul.
The G63 has always been comical – in a cartoonish kind of way – by forging the brute power and performance of Mercedes’ AMG hotrod division into a 40-year-old four-wheel drive that could cross the Sahara without breaking a sweat. It was a hilarious car in that it was so wrong, in so many ways, that you couldn’t help but laugh every time you drove it.
For that very reason, the flagship G-Wagen has become the anti-Prius status symbol of excess for Hollywood A-listers, European soccer players and Australia’s eastern suburb socialites – almost like a three-pointed ‘up yours’ to the politically correct.
Vehicle Style: Performance four-wheel drive
Price: $247,000 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 430kW/850Nm 4.0-litre 8cyl twin-turbo petrol | 9sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 13.1 l/100km
The G63’s cult status is only going to grow with the latest G-Wagen, which Mercedes claims is just another facelift of the original in an effort to ensure its continuity and legendary appeal.
But this is a facelift of Michael Jackson-esque proportion, with the car featuring five – just five - carry-over parts from its predecessor; items as incidental as the headlight washer nozzle and the door lock barrels, for example. From any other car maker, the marketeers would be screaming that this is a completely-new car from the ground up that revolutionises its segment.
Yet, as rival Land Rover worries about how to re-invent its equally iconic Defender and drive it into the 21st century, you can see how Mercedes thinks it can justify this as a facelift, because it reckons there wasn’t much wrong with the last one, in both its exterior design and overall concept, and has simply refined the formula.
However, when you look past its familiar boxy appearance, complete with signature cues like the indicators mounted on the leading edge of the front guards, the bump strip down the side of the doors with exposed hinges and old-school push-button handles and the cool-as-hell side pipes that exit just in front of the rear wheels, there’s a host of details that make the G63 look nearly as modern as a Tesla Model X and yet so much tougher. Stuff like the full LED headlights, slim tail lights, its cleaner body side, more aerodynamic wing mirrors and even a reverse camera that pops out from a hidden cubby under the spare wheel.
You don’t have to dig too deep into the specifications to comprehend just how new it is either. While continuing with body-on-frame construction, the underpinnings are completely overhauled with a stronger lighter backbone, a larger cabin, new engine and transmission and the latest in active safety systems and luxury conveniences.
If you still can’t see how this is a much newer G-Wagen then unlock the door, which still sounds like a rifle bolt, and climb into the cabin, because the G-Wagen no longer looks like a 40-year-old relic. Like the outside, there’s still a bunch of signature design cues in the dash that highlight its position within the three-pointed star line-up, such as the grab handle in front of the passenger and the trio of buttons in the centre console for the individual differential locks. But, in all other respects, the G63 is as modern and as pampering as the latest E-Class, with two 12.3-inch digital screens on top of the dash, lashings of quilted leather, soft touch fake suede highlights, carbon fibre trim inserts and an overall eye-catching design with turbine-style air vents that are intended to mimic the car’s headlights and square tweeters on top of the dash that replicate the indicators on the bonnet.
It is much more spacious too, with front seat passengers no longer sitting shoulder-to-shoulder as well as sitting further away from the side windows and rear occupants are treated to generous legroom with 150mm more legroom than before.
It’s a comfortable place to sit, with a commanding view of the road ahead, supportive front seats and all the luxuries you’d expect from a quarter-million-dollar machine.
ON THE ROAD
The most radical change is in the way it drives, and most of that is derived through the adoption of a contemporary independent front suspension set-up with an electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system that drastically improves its on-road dynamics, making for a much more car-like experience than its predecessor which continued with a robust live axle and recirculating ball for all of its life.
Despite that, what hasn’t changed is the G-Wagen’s off-road ability. In fact, it retains its unique three locking differential set-up, has a new transfer case low-range gearbox with a shorter crawl ratio and introduces a multi-mode drive selector that tailors the adaptive suspension (exclusively to the G63), engine, gearbox and electronic driver aid settings to improve its go-anywhere capabilities.
Mercedes says the G has better off-road clearance in every dimension; approach, departure and breakover angles are improved, it has 6mm additional ground clearance and can wade through up to 700mm of water – 100mm higher than before – without a separate snorkel.
We tested all of those attributes during the machine's international launch at Chateau Lastours in Southern France, a vineyard that also happens to be one of the world’s toughest off-road parks, where leading World Rally Championship and Paris-Dakar race teams come to punish new machines in pre-season testing, where Mercedes performed a chunk of the G-Wagen’s development work and, not by accident, where the last G-Wagen was introduced to the world a quarter of a century ago.
The hardest of hard-core work – climbing 45-degree rock walls, crawling up and down extremely rough terrain and canoeing through a creek - was driven in the lower-grade G500 (that won’t be coming to Australia, yet) with dedicated off-road tyres on 18-inch rims.
And let’s just say, in that specification, the G-Wagen will go anywhere you point it, easier and in more comfort than ever before.
The G63’s bush-bashing credentials might be a smidge lower, owing to the fact the AMG features a rear anti-roll bar for better on-road handling that marginally restricts the car’s wheel articulation compared to the G500, and the Edition 1 cars we drove on the road are fitted with low-profile 22-inch tyres that wouldn’t have as much rough-road traction.
However, we did test the standard G63 model that features 20-inch wheels with dual-purpose rubber on a rocky rally road full of jumps and ruts and it is almost certainly no less of a four-wheel drive. In fact, it felt like a limousine had mutated into a monster truck, the car floating and sliding over the incredibly rough surface thanks to its brilliantly supple suspension without ever feeling top-heavy or cumbersome.
More than anything, it’s the way the G63 steers that is the most radical difference. Whether you’re pounding along the Birdsville Track or cruising around Bondi, the G63 now feels like a normal car – and not a battleship. Where it seemed as though you were telegraphing inputs through the wheel on its predecessor to a completely different department and had to wait for it to register, the new G, firstly, requires less wheel twirling and immediately points where you want to go with decent weight and feedback through the chunky three-spoke steering wheel.
It’s a revelation on the road in particular, and not only makes it easier to live with everyday but also seriously good fun to punt along a back country stretch of twisty tarmac.
It also rides much better than before too, with excellent body control and compliance and a surprising amount of grip in the bends. And with the latest active systems, including semi-autonomous features from the S-Class, it is as safe as houses – as much as a block of flats on wheels can be.
Sure, it can’t quite hide the shortcomings of its huge mass, high centre of gravity or its traditional four-wheel drive underpinnings, but the G63 is not only more comfortable to drive it is massively entertaining too. Point it into a corner and it’ll roll onto the outside wheel and hold its line with a gentle push across the front wheels, but then stand on the loud pedal and it’ll crouch onto its haunches, picking up the front end like it’s about to claw the road ahead of it, and it simply rockets towards the horizon with muscle car-like ferocity.
It’s here that the G63 makes you laugh uncontrollably – simply because a machine like this shouldn’t do things the way it does. Now though, it is hilarious for all the right reasons.
A chunk of that character comes because of what’s under the bonnet, AMG’s grin-splitting 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, which produces 430kW and 850Nm – enough to send the G63 from 0-100km/h in just 4.5 seconds and on to an electronically-limited top speed of 220km/h.
Hooked up to a new nine-speed automatic transmission, it’s such a charming yet flexible powertrain, with three distinct characters. Leave the drive controller in the default Comfort setting and the G63 effortlessly lopes along, gently riding on its wave of bottom-end pulling power, the gearbox shifting smoothly and the side pipes emitting a low-frequency grumble. Flick it over to Sport and it immediately feels more energetic with a sharper throttle, livelier shifts and a throatier note. However, it’s full Mr Hyde personality is unleashed in the top Sport+ mode, where it accelerates with more ferocity, the gearbox intuitively keeps the engine spinning towards to the top of the torque curve and its angrier soundtrack can be heard from another suburb away.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The latest G63 feels every bit as quick as it sounds and is no longer just a loud, obnoxious lead-tipped arrow. It simply defies the layman’s understanding of physics that was comically wrong in its predecessor but is now achieved in a safer, more comfortable, luxurious and easier to drive car - and in an even more hilarious manner.
The world definitely needs cars like the AMG G63.
- Interested in buying Mercedes-Benz G63? Visit our Mercedes-Benz G63 showroom for more information.