2009 Mercedes Benz G550
This is, by far, the coolest vehicle I've ever driven. On the outside it doesn't look very special, but inside it's very modern and luxurious. The V-8 provides tons of power, and it sounds awesome.
I've always admired the boxy looks of the Geländewagen and the fact that those looks are backed up by some serious off-road equipment. Three locking differentials (front, rear, and center), solid front and rear axles, and honest-to-God metal springs make this a very respectable off-roader with all the typical German touches inside. If only Hummer could figure out how to build a vehicle like this...
I honestly can't think of a thing I'd want to change about this G550. It handles well enough on the road, has surprisingly little wind and tire noise, and does everything you need an SUV to do. The S-class has long been my favorite Benz, but now the G-wagen holds that spot in my heart, and I doubt that anything can usurp it.
There are a million reasons why vehicles like the G-class make no sense, but after a few minutes behind the wheel, none of them matter. This is just the most interesting vehicle you can buy today.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
What a spectacu...OH MY DYING WORD!!!!! I just saw the price tag and almost fainted.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
The Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen ("overland vehicle"), which hardly has changed since it was launched thirty years ago, is further proof that few vehicles are as enduringly popular as a squared-off, utilitarian, military-esque four-by-four. Witness the long and very successful run of the original Jeep Cherokee; the evergreen appeal of the Land Rover Defender, which, sadly, is no longer sold here; and the demand for the original FJ40 Toyota Land Cruiser. Clearly, people view these sorts of vehicles as the real thing, and they speak to our desires for adventure. They also are a welcome break from the modern landscape of aerodynamically optimized crossover vehicles that all look the same after a while.
The G550 also speaks to Americans' desires for prestige, from its pie-plate-sized front star badge to the shiny, blue-lit "Mercedes-Benz" scuff plates. It's amazing how Mercedes managed to line the previously Spartan G-wagen with a fully modern Mercedes interior; anyone who has driven a new Mercedes in the past fifteen years will immediately be at home in this luxurious cabin, as everything will be familiar.
There are, of course, some compromises, no matter how much wood and leather is stuffed into the G550's cabin. The weird buttons for inflating seat-lumbar bladders get in the way every time you try to fasten your seatbelt. There's surprisingly little rear-seat room for such a big vehicle. The slow-acting, recirculating-ball steering is either endearingly retro or annoying, depending on your viewpoint. The door handles are difficult to operate, and the doors are difficult to close completely once you're inside the cabin.
All of this, of course, is part of the G550's charm, as are the bolt-upright windshield; the huge, side-hinged rear cargo door; and, of course, the vehicle's legendary off-roading abilities, which I did not have an opportunity to explore this time but which I've experienced in previous G-wagens I've driven.
What's perhaps most amazing about the G550 is how fast the darn thing is. This is thanks to a new-for-2009 V-8, which replaced the previous 292-hp, 5.0-liter SOHC V-8. Now the G-wagen gets the same modern 5.5-liter V-8 that proliferates across the Mercedes lineup. Its 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque are more than sufficient to propel the G550 with amazing rapidity, and if you really dig into the accelerator, there's an intoxicating exhaust growl.
As for fuel economy? Surely you don't care, but I achieved about 13 mpg on a 400-mile freeway trip, driving between 75 and 80 mph.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
After having personally owned nine Mercedes-Benzes and driven just about every vehicle with a three-pointed star produced in the last thirty years, I finally get behind the wheel of the thirty-year old G. And I'm in complete, total love. I'm not an SUV kind of guy, but this is not an SUV. It's a freaking tank. It doesn't pretend to be a road car - the sloooowww steering must need fourteen turns of the wheel to get from lock to lock. All the windows are perfectly flat pieces of glass, so you see reflections dancing in your periphery. And the view out? No modern car has visibility this good. Well, except for backing up - you can't see much behind the G, but that's irrelevant--you can just run it over, anyway. (And watch the whole thing unfold on the backup camera.)
Actually, the coolest thing about the G is the intersection of old and new. It looks old because, well, it is. And it feels old. The doors close with an old-world mechanical clank I haven't heard from a Mercedes since the W126-body (1980-1991) S-class. And yet, you push your right foot down and there's no question this is a modern car: the G550 is stupidly fast. Stupid, I say. The seven-speed auto bangs through some of the shortest gear ratios I've ever encountered, and your passengers don't know whether to laugh, cry, or urinate. They'll probably do all three; I did. [You'll be paying the cleaning bill, Cammisa - Ed.] The old 5.0-liter made 292 hp, this beast makes 382. I simply cannot imagine how fast the G55 AMG must feel with 469 supercharged horsepower.
There is definitely only one $100,000 truck for me. None of the offerings from Land Rover even come close to the Mercedes G... God, I love this thing.
Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor
Yes, that $101,125 sticker price is a bit shocking, but unlike an AIG bailout, you can sense where every cent goes. There's not a single part on the G550 that manages to feel anything less than rock-solid. Close the doors--you'll be forgiven if you think you've just sealed an entrance to Fort Knox. Cycle the door locks, and it sounds as if a platoon from the Bundeswehr just loaded their Heckler & Koch firearms. This certainly feels solid enough to hold its own off-road.
I sadly didn't have a chance to engage any of the three--three!--differential locks on muddy terrain, but I was amazed at how well this beast drove on the city streets. Sure, you feel the high center of gravity shift while cornering, but it's amazing that something that looks, feels, and weighs like a bank vault can move like a muscle car. The 5.0-liter V-8 has more than enough oomph to lug around all 5500 pounds and emits such a delectable sound. I can't see a reason to shell out another $18,000 for the G55 AMG.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
This was my first time behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz G-wagen, and I hope it's not the last.
The G-wagen's square-edged, love-it-or-hate-it styling provoked many double-takes from pedestrians and other drivers. The chrome brush guard hovering over the headlights gives the front end of the G550 an off-road look that matches the vehicle's capabilities. While I was sitting at a stoplight, the driver of a car next to me rolled down his window and yelled, "What IS that thing?"
The interior of the G550 is equally as appealing. There's plenty of front-seat headroom, and front passengers get an enormous, panoramic 180-degree view of everything. The A-pillars are skinny, and the windshield is so close you feel like you can reach out and touch the hood. Rear passengers don't fare as well, as rear-seat legroom is skimpy.
The 382-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 produces an amazing engine note during heavy acceleration, helped by the fact that the exhaust is routed to each side of the vehicle, just ahead of the rear wheels. Road noise and wind noise are minimal, especially for such a cube-shaped vehicle, and the G550 rides surprisingly well considering its solid front and rear axles. During my 130-mile round-trip commute, I found the EPA numbers to be spot on, as I saw 13 mpg in combined city and highway driving.
The G550 is definitely unlike any other passenger vehicle on the road. If you can get past the sticker shock, you'll probably love it as much as I did.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Editor
Seriously, how freakin' cool is this thing? I felt like the king of the world from behind the wheel, probably because you sit so high up in the air. Even though I had lots to do yesterday evening, I took the long way home, driving the G-wagen through downtown Ypsilanti (attracting a LOT of attention), and then blasting down some gravel roads, where I splashed through large springtime puddles, windshield wipers flapping hard.
The G-wagen is scary quick--sprightlier than such a tank has any right to be. I drove a G55 AMG in 2005, but I don't remember it being nearly this quick off the line. And as others have pointed out, the engine sounds great, too.
Like Evan, I must admit to playing with the incredibly well-wrought door locks and the doors. I can't think of another new car that has a door-closing sound this fabulous. It almost seems worth $101K on its own (particularly since I don't have $101K to spend anyway). The heated steering wheel is another of the many modern touches that help bring this dinosaur comfortably into the present.
This might be the perfect post-Armageddon car, provided that gasoline is plentiful. It just feels so darn solid. I'd write an even more extensive gushing review, but my arms are too tired from steering this monster up six levels of our parking garage (and actually ducking my head as the Benz narrowly cleared the concrete crossbeams). As for handling? I dunno, but I've driven grippier cars. It's almost as if the G550 is a bit top-heavy or something ...
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
It's clear that my colleagues love the G-wagen. I don't get it. However, even though I don't love it, I do find it to be a unique and interesting vehicle. It's quite a feat, in this day and age, to be able to build and sell what is essentially a 30-year-old SUV for more than $100,000. Kudos to Mercedes-Benz for pulling that off. Sure, the G-wagen has a modern powertrain--a new V-8 and a seven-speed automatic--but the rest of the vehicle looks and feels like it came from the previous decade - or maybe even the decade before that. The control layout is idiosyncratic at best, and the interior is a weird pastiche of modern conveniences and old-fashioned design. The cool thing about driving the G550 is that you don't see it coming and going, so it attracts lots of attention. And that modern V-8 means it gets you places in a hurry, despite its bricklike aerodynamics. If I had lots of money and a large vehicle fleet, the G-wagen would be an interesting addition to it, but if I were going to buy just one luxury SUV, I'd take a Range Rover over the G-wagen.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I only drove the G-wagen to pick up some lunch, but in that time got head nods and stares from a few hip-looking young people. For those of you keeping score, that's more positive attention than I got in three years of junior high school.
Like everyone else, I spent several minutes opening and closing the doors to hear the tank-like kathunk. The interior is a bizarre mix of $100,000 luxury, military functionality, and late-1970s design sensibilities. And yes, it's stupidly fast. I'm shocked and impressed that we were able to get double-digit fuel economy in this thing.
We've all long since become accustomed to huge luxury trucks, but the G-wagen is still something different altogether. Mercedes is smart to keep it in the lineup, if only for the air of legitimacy it adds to its other SUV and crossover offerings.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The G550 feels as if it was carved from a block of granite: heavy, solid, and so unique...oh, and really, really old. Yes, it's equipped with modern conveniences, but the interior is a strange brew of features and design elements from various decades and disciplines. The ergonomics are questionable and the placement of many of the controls, like the lumbar adjustors, seem like an afterthought. And what's with the aftermarket-esque cupholder? I realize that Mercedes' main concern when designing and engineering the G-wagen was not focused on where you put your Starbucks, but at more than $100,000, an integrated cupholder should be standard. As should an auto-up feature on the driver's side window.
But despite all this, the G550 is still one of the coolest, most interesting vehicles sold in America and, surprisingly, it's fairly easy to live with day to day. The shallow dash, thin A-pillars, and upright windshield and side windows make for an unobstructed view of the road making it less scary than you'd think to park and maneuver in urban settings, although, the heavy steering can be exhausting in these same situations.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
2009 Mercedes-Benz G550
Base price (with destination) : $101,125Price as tested: $101,125
Options: No extra options
Fuel economy: 11 / 15 / 13 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Engine: Size: 5.5L 32-Valve V-8Horsepower: 382 hp @ 6000 rpmTorque: 391 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Weight: 5510 lb
Wheels/Tires: 18-inch twin-five-spoke aluminum wheels265/60 R18 all-season tires