I just love this thing, despite its age, its excessive price, and its inefficiency. There's something about a slab-sided SUV that speaks to us in this era of aerodynamically optimized, curvaceous vehicles that all tend to look the same. It's the same story with the old Jeep Grand Cherokee: there's an inherent appeal to the straightforward, box-on-wheels approach. What I also really liked about the G550 was my realization while driving it through downtown Ann Arbor that it is actually not that big of a vehicle. It's narrow and it's upright. Its footprint is relatively small, it's easy to parallel park, and, of course, it is, perversely, a great urban vehicle due to its elevated seating position and the great sightlines provided by its upright windshield. Mercedes-Benz's efforts to imbue this utilitarian vehicle with the luxury features that American buyers expect of a $100K vehicle -- things like a Comand screen (bolted to the dashboard, not integrated into a center stack) and the creamy dash inserts and blue designo carpets -- are all pretty hilarious but are, I'm sure, appreciated by buyers. As much as I enjoyed driving the G550, though, I sure wouldn't want one as an everyday vehicle. It's too heavy, ponderous, and wasteful for that. Actually, you don't even have to drive the G550 to experience two of its greatest pleasures: the satisfying solidity of its doors, which close like the proverbial bank-vault door, and the door locks, which move up and down in their chambers with a delicious metal-on-metal thunk-thunk.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The Geländewagen is awesome. Its exhaust note sounds as mean as the SUV looks: very beastly. I can't think of another all-wheel-drive vehicle that's so quick to squawk its tires on dry pavement. If I had all the money in the galaxy, I could really dig one of these as a race-car tow vehicle (7700 pounds of towing capacity!). Still, the 11 mpg that the trip computer indicated after my 150 weekend miles without a trailer is pretty mind-blowing these days. (The EPA rates the G550 at 12/15/13 mpg city/highway/combined, so even feather foots are going to pay dearly at the pump.)
With the right set of tires, the G-wagen would be damn near unstoppable in snow. Even on these Yokohama all-terrain tires, it's very, very good, and the big truck's ground clearance helps set it apart from just about every other SUV. The steering is as bad as you'd expect from an antiquated recirculating-ball setup (necessitated by the live front axle), but this big dog can still drift pretty well on snow-slickened surfaces. It's not as fun and confidence-inspiring as more tossable, less top-heavy vehicles, though.
The driving position is buslike: you sit very high, the wheel is tipped forward, and you've got tons of visibility through the huge windows. Folks in the back, especially little kids, love the expansive view outside as well. There's tons of cargo space in the back, although the swings-to-the-side rear door isn't as convenient as hatches that swing up. It takes substantial muscle to close the tailgate because it's got a huge spare wheel/tire assembly with a snazzy metal cover. All of the G-wagen's doors close with the reassuring thunk of a bank vault (and yes, I came up with the same comparison before I read Joe DeMatio's similar comments).
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor