New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2019 Mercedes-AMG G 63

The dirty rocket

The truck squatted, the heft of more than 5,000 pounds shifting to the rear springs under the stern suggestion of 577 horsepower. The cabin went blurry with sound, a twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V-8 snapping at the universe through a side-exit exhaust, the front tires begging for grip as the hood tilted skyward for a moment, obscuring the road ahead. This is the behavior of a jet boat, not a brawling SUV. Mercedes-Benz says the 2019 Mercedes-AMG G 63 can blitz to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. It seems absurd in print and conservative with my hands on the wheel, working to keep the bruiser between a pair of hungry ditches. Everything about the situation seemed impossible, far beyond the bounds of my reckoning.

This has always been the purview of the G 63, and the all-new 2019 model expands on the machine’s ludicrous capability on road and off. Like the G 550 on which it is based, the G 63 is longer and wider than before, with an independent front suspension where a solid axle once lurked. The result is a far more civil machine with more interior room, a nicer cockpit, and handling dynamics that fit this century.

Like its base sibling, the G 63 gets an all-new dash, complete with two 12.3-inch displays, one for the gauges and another for infotainment. The effect is gorgeous, light years ahead of the old center-mounted faux iPad look in the 2018 model. More importantly, there’s more room everywhere, including an additional 5.9 inches of rear legroom over the previous model. That means that for the first time, an adult can sit in the second row without having to collapse a femur, and there’s plenty of space for a child’s seat. There’s also nearly three more inches of elbowroom up front. The result is a cabin that feels like a G-Class, but with a humane amount of space.

As in the 2019 G 550, the new, independent front suspension was the key to improving the G 63’s manners on road. Worming our way down a winding, two-lane scratch through the rocky French hills outside of Perignon on the Mediterranean coast, the truck was no longer the tippy, stumbling box we knew and loved. Yes, the G 63 AMG felt twice as wide as the pavement beneath us, it’s flat fenders obscuring the low stone walls to either side, but it was happy to turn. A new, variable-ratio electromechanical power steering system adapts the amount of assistance to vehicle speed, more help while going slow, less at a good clip. It also offers customizable settings through the vehicle’s drive modes.

Yes, the G-Class finally gets the AMG Dynamic Select system, which offers five familiar on-road settings, plus three new off-road modes. The latter are accessible by pressing the center differential lock button. Sand, Trail, and Rock modes tailor the vehicle’s throttle, shift, and steering systems to the terrain, while also managing the vehicle’s four-wheel drive system, made possible by a new clutch-based center differential specific to the G 63. It’s still capable of 100 percent lock, but can switch between being engaged and disengaged much quicker than the mechanical style found in the G 550.

The drive modes also tailor the new adaptive dampers on all four corners to the terrain at hand. Standard on the AMG, the system can adjust the level of damping at each wheel independently, delivering a firm ride on road while softening for uneven terrain or pavement.

While the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 is a carryover from the previous G 63, the engine is mated to a new nine-speed automatic transmission. The wide-ratio box helps give the machine its breadth of capability, from a super-low crawl ratio of 2.93:1 in low range, first gear, to blasting down the highway to an electronically limited top speed of 149 mph in ninth. Sport and Sport+ modes open up a multiple downshift function that puts the engine at the proper rpm for turning your eyeballs to goo. Helpful. There’s also a serviceable manual mode, should you feel like clicking through gears yourself.

None of this refinement has come at the cost of off road ability. While the G 550 remains the more capable machine once the pavement ends, the G 63 has kept its claws, with locking differentials front, rear, and center. It still boasts a ridiculous fording depth of 27.6 inches, and can scramble up the sort of grades that make you wonder about the functional definition of the word “cliff.”

It’s hard not to admire the G 63. Mercedes would have been forgiven for bifurcating the G-Class, offering one model with all of the off-road ability the world has come to expect from the big box and another with pavement-dominating performance. It’s the sort of play we’ve seen Jeep make with the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, sacrificing all off-road pretense for on-road domination. But that’s not what’s made the G 63 the icon that it is. Buyers keep coming back to the big, dirty rocket because it’s as close as they can come to a limitless machine. The new model proudly holds that banner high.

The 2019 Mercedes-AMG G 63 will show up at dealers late this year. Though there’s no word on an MSRP just yet, but expect it to start at around $150,000.

2019 Mercedes-AMG G 63 Specifications

ON SALE Late 2018
PRICE $150,000 (base)
ENGINE 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/577 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 627 lb-ft @ 2,500-3,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 189.7 x 85.7 x 77.2 in (G 550)
WHEELBASE 113.8 in
WEIGHT 5,500 lb (est)
0-60 MPH 4.4 sec
TOP SPEED 149 MPH