When it comes to luxury off-road vehicles, few can match the Mercedes-Benz G Class for capabilities, swagger or price tag. Said to be developed for the Shah of Iran’s military in the 1970s, the G Class is equally at home dune-bashing outside of Riyadh or dicing for a parking space on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
Its retro-funky, box-on-box styling is absolutely ageless (which is one reason why Mercedes-Benz hasn’t done much of a restyle on the latest version), and the G Class will get you noticed, whether you're a pro baller or a well-heeled soccer mom. Despite its “hey, look at me” appearance, the G Class will absolutely deliver you from point A to point B in (relative) comfort, regardless of roads (or the lack thereof) and weather conditions.
That kind of comfort and capability comes at a price, and the least expensive G Class model, the G550, starts at over $107,000. That buys you the expected interior amenities, like butter-soft leather, genuine wood trim, premium carpeting and plenty of sound-deadening insulation to mask the G’s origin. Only the Land Rover Range Rover, or perhaps the Lexus LX 570, come close to matching the G Class in both amenities and off-road capability, but neither can match the Mercedes-Benz for prestige.
At the start of the range lies the G550, powered by a 5.5-liter V-8 rated at 388 horsepower and mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. The combination is good enough to deliver a 0-60 mph time of six seconds flat, but don’t expect even reasonable fuel economy. Last year, the G550 was rated at 12 mpg city and 15 mpg highway, and we expect about the same from the 2013 version.
If more thrust is a requirement for you, stepping up to the G63 AMG will get you a twin-turbo version of the same V-8 engine, rated at 544 horsepower. That’s good enough to shave almost a second from the 0-60 time, with the G63 AMG taking just 5.3 seconds for the same run. Both versions power all four wheels through three locking differentials and high and low ranges ensuring that the G Class will get you where you need to go.
On the road, the G Class feels top-heavy and somewhat nervous in crosswinds. The electric power steering feels light (almost too light), and the G Class’ surprising level of grip is aided by aggressive stability control programing. Given the degree of body roll when pushed hard, we say that’s likely a good thing. Cabin noise on road is better than you’d expect, although you’ll know when traversing rough pavement or gravel roads.
Get off the beaten path, however, and the G Class excels. With three locking differentials and a myriad of traction-optimizing systems, the G Class boldly goes where angels (or Range Rovers, anyway) fear to tread.
As you’d expect from its tall and boxy shape, there’s plenty of headroom for both first and second row passengers, and even rear seat leg room is reasonable. Front seats are firm but comfortable, with the expected amount of power adjustments given the G Class’ price range. Rear seat passengers get bottom-cushion tilt to aid with long-distance comfort, and two adults work better than three in the somewhat narrow rear seat. Passengers will quickly realize that the G Class is a bona fide SUV, making entry and egress somewhat more challenging than crossover drivers may be used to.
All G Class models come well equipped, even in base trim, with features like Bluetooth connectivity; voice-guided navigation; a sunroof; satellite and HD radio; rearview camera; a heated wood-and-leather steering wheel; heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats. For 2013, buyers also get mbrace2, Mercedes-Benz’ mobile connectivity software that allows users to access apps like Yelp and Facebook through the G’s infotainment system.
For a detailed look at the 2013 Mercedes-Benz G Class, see our comprehensive review on The Car Connection