Like using a sledgehammer to hang a picture frame, some tools are just comically overqualified for the job.
The iconic Mercedes-Benz G-Class has always been “too much” in the best ways possible, but the performance-oriented 2020 Mercedes-AMG G 63 version is like a sledgehammer attached to a bazooka. There’s no other way to describe it other than over the top and utterly overbuilt.
The G-Wagen has looked relatively the same since it first came out about 40 years ago, but this boxy brute is as stylish as ever. If I had the means, however, I wouldn’t pick a white or silver paint, because the SUV ends up resembling a refrigerator. Mercedes offers the G-Wagen in a variety of standard colours – my favourite being a dark emerald green – but also a bunch of upgraded ones, the most pricey of which are matte finishes that cost an extra $6,150. Worth it? If you’re already spending six figures on a vehicle, why the heck not?
This quadratic utilitarian design is absolutely timeless, but modern touches – like LED halo lights, puddle lights, carbon-fibre trim, the signature AMG grille, and giant wheels that measure as large as 22 inches – do their part to bring the SUV into the new era without affecting the old-school vibe and heavy nostalgia.
Inside, the carbon-fibre trim, soft leather covering every possible surface, turbine-style vents, brushed aluminum, chunky grab handles, and flawless Benz build quality impress. It’s lavish, and even the headliner is a soft suede-like material. Passengers also go nuts over the customizable ambient lighting with 64 colours, which I had set to hot pink and maximum brightness. Normal colours are available, but why be normal when you can be this extra?
This is easily one of the most unique and coolest-looking vehicles offered right now, with the most thunderous personality. It’s rare to find vehicles with this much character; everything it does is over the top. Closing the door sounds and feels like a vault being sealed off, and even the locks sound like gunshots.
It’s rare that anything fashionable, stylish, or cool is also practical, and this SUV is no exception. The G-Wagen is too tall to fit inside most parking garages, which isn’t great news if you live in a condo like me with underground parking, and it takes quite a bit of effort to actually climb into the thing, so my senior-aged mom looked quite undignified trying to get inside. It also lacks a lot of the modern conveniences we’ve come to expect, but Mercedes would like to argue that it’s all part of the G-Wagen experience. It doesn’t have a proximity key (drivers have to dig around in their bag or pockets and unlock the G-Wagen using the key fob like a peasant), for example, and there’s no automatic tailgate because the side-hinged hatch opens like a fridge. The hatch is also incredibly heavy due to the spare tire, but at least it doesn’t swing out like a barn door and risk smashing into anything – the door is well-damped.
The tires on this AMG model are performance tires designed for sticking to the road and not for bulldozing forests and going off-road, so any sojourns off the pavement will require a swap to more appropriate rubber. Add in a dedicated set of winter tires, and the costs continue to climb, though this likely isn’t a concern for someone considering the most outrageous of G-Wagens anyway.
Cargo capacity also isn’t great considering how huge the G 63 is. It’s rated to have 454 L of space in the trunk and 1,246 L with the second row folded. The smaller and less-expensive GLE-Class, meanwhile, has 630 L in the trunk and 2,055 L behind the first row. And, despite its mammoth size, there isn’t a lot of interior space for passengers inside the G-Class.
The G-Wagen is tall, so there’s plenty of headroom, but the SUV is quite narrow and the wheelbase is short, so shoulder- and legroom aren’t generous, especially if there are taller passengers in the front. The front seats themselves are comfortable and can be optioned with a massaging function and a feature where the bolsters hug you when cornering. Both are completely useless but novelties that are impressive to passengers.
The steering wheel and all seats come standard as heated, but ventilated front seats are optional. When optioned with ventilated seats, front passengers can use both the heat and ventilation at the same time. There’s also four-zone climate control and quilted leather everywhere.
None of this SUV’s shortcomings matter at all, because the crown jewel of the AMG G 63 is the hand-built twin-turbo V8 that outputs 577 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. With its snappy nine-speed automatic transmission getting power to all four wheels – it’s split with a 60/40 rear bias under normal conditions – this magnificent engine rockets the G 63 to 100 km/h in an absolutely wild 4.5 seconds. When you consider this beast weighs 2,650 kg (5,842 lb) – almost 1,000 kg (2,204 lb) more than the new GLB-Class – and that it’s likely the least aerodynamic object this side of an apartment building, this is a triumph of engineering over physics. To put this into context, a base Porsche 911 takes 4.2 seconds to get to 100 km/h and has a drag coefficient of 0.29. This brick of an SUV has a drag coefficient of 0.55!
The G-Wagen is also the only vehicle you can get with three locking differentials, so with the right tires, it would be able to plow through any Moab-level stuff nature can throw at it.
Driving Dynamics: 9/10
Nobody needs a vehicle with this level of military-grade capability, but driving this SUV made me feel like a boss and it gave me great confidence knowing that I could both drive circles around a Jeep on a mountain trail and outrun most sports cars in a drag race. The fact that the G 63 can so effortlessly do both is an interesting contrast that shows how insanely overbuilt it is.
When you fire it up and hear the V8 roar to life, it fills you with a smug sense of being untouchable. The deep, guttural grumbling at idle is enough to scare people out of your path, but the wild howling that emanates from the side pipes at full throttle sounds like winning the lottery and is enough to wake the dead. And that’s just in comfort mode; it only gets wilder in sport and sport+.
The G 63 is engaging to drive, not in the same precise and responsive way as a sports car, but because it offers such a visceral and involving experience. You would think that it takes a lot of effort to pilot, but the G-Class is surprising in that it requires your attention, but it’s approachable and doesn’t induce the same high levels of stress that driving a supercar does. The steering isn’t as loose as other off-roaders, so it feels more precise and has some decent weight to it, which gets dialled up as you progress through the drives modes. It doesn’t take much effort to keep the big SUV tracking straight and it’s not difficult to drive. It is, however, very rewarding.
Fuel Economy: 5/10
Not that fuel economy really matters for a vehicle like this or to the income bracket this SUV targets, but I was averaging a hilariously bad 15.6 L/100 km over about 750 km of mostly highway driving. Its official ratings are 18.1 L/100 km in the city, 15.6 on the highway, and 17.0 combined. It takes a lot of effort to shove something shaped like a shipping container though the air, so none of this should be a surprise. Of course, it also requires premium fuel, and lots of it.
The G 63 comes standard with Mercedes’ full suite of safety and driver assistance technology, which is a smart move considering the SUV’s hefty price tag. Everything from blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, attention assist, traffic sign assist, active lane-keeping assist, active parking assistant, 360-degree top-down camera, trailer stability assist, active high-beam assist, adaptive LED headlights, pre-collision conditioning, and more are all included as standard.
The safety equipment is comprehensive, but at times reacts to regular, non-dangerous situations in a way that’s a bit jarring and invasive. The lane-keep will vibrate the steering wheel if you’re getting too close to the line, and instead of nudging the steering to fix it if you’ve gone too far, it will apply the brakes to get you centred again, which is annoying especially if you’re doing it on purpose to give cyclists or oncoming trucks more room. It feels like it’s fighting the driver sometimes and should be easier to override.
The G-Class has most of the features you’d expect at this price point: a high-end surround sound system is standard, as is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB ports in the front and back, a household 115V plug in the trunk, heated windshield, heated steering wheel, three-zone climate control, heated rear seats, and more.
There are a few notable omissions, including no wireless phone charging, no head-up display, and no wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (they’re also not compatible with the widescreen setup, so there are thick dead zones when in use, which is a waste of valuable screen space). Mercedes is also happy to customize the interior with its “G manufaktur” program and add on any number of pricey options, some of which should really be standard at this price.
With its big, rectangular windows and a tall seating position, visibility is excellent. It’s also very easy to see the SUV’s corners, which makes it simple to park and manoeuvre. An excellent top-down 360-degree camera makes it foolproof to park and also helps when on the trail. The camera graphic even takes into account the spare tire, limiting the possibilities of an embarrassing parking lot collision.
Where the G-Wagen suffers with user-friendliness is its infotainment controls – there’s no touchscreen, and it’s not available with the voice-activated virtual assistant that’s found in newer Mercedes products, so drivers are forced to use a touchpad and rotary dial to control the system, which is a very frustrating way to get stuff done. Luckily, there are analogue buttons for most HVAC controls. The G-Wagen also has touchpad controls on the steering wheel; the one on the left is to control and customize the 12.3-inch screen that acts as the gauge cluster and the touchpad on the right controls the other 12.3-inch screen that houses all other media and climate controls. It takes a lot of getting used to.
All in, my G 63 tester rang in at $221,050, which includes more than $22,000 in mostly cosmetic options like black trim and carbon fibre everywhere and other superfluous add-ons. The base price for the G 63 is $195,900, and at that price, it’s a bit frustrating to still see so many options available that should already be included, but again, this is spoken from my perspective as a thrifty automotive editor and not a multi-millionaire. In the same way that nobody buys a Rolex to actually tell the time, nobody is buying a G-Wagen as just a thing to drive; they are buying a status symbol and if that’s what you’re looking for, the G 63 is worth every penny.
It’s easy to understand why the G-Wagen is put on such a pedestal. Celebrities love it, it’s a dream car for countless others, and it’s so good that the military even can’t resist its charms and capability. Although it’s not the most practical SUV out there, it’s still way more useful than any supercar in its price range and a lot less intimidating from behind the wheel. This SUV is iconic. It’s a boss SUV, and with so much personality and capability right out of the factory, the G 63 is a legend and will always be one.
|Engine Cylinders||Twin-turbo V8|
|Peak Horsepower||577 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||627 lb-ft @ 2,500–3,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||18.1 / 15.6 / 17.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||454 / 1,246 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2020 Mercedes-AMG G 63|
|A/C Tax||$100 + Federal Green Levy, $3,000|
|Price as Tested||$221,150|
$22,150 – Exclusive interior plus package, $5,900; Night package, $4,750; Obsidian black roof/wheel arches/bumper, $2,300; Seat comfort package plus, $3,700; AMG carbon fibre, $5,500