IRVINE, California — It’s no secret that we Russians are as drawn to Gelandewagens as we are to Adidas tracksuits (the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover are up there as well). As such, there was little debate as to who would be getting the keys to this $236,325 2017 Mercedes-AMG G65 first when it arrived at Automobile HQ. I’d driven several G-Wagens in the past, but a stint in the V-12-powered beast had eluded me.
As you can tell by the burning sensation in your retinas, it is extremely green. Mercedes calls the color “Alien Green,” but my brain dubbed it “Atomic Green” and refused to budge. Regardless, it’s a distinctive color that goes well with the black roof. I fully expected it to be the only G-Class west of the Mississippi to wear the shade—in part because it’s part of the $15,000 AMG Performance Studio Package that also adds the aforementioned black roof, as well as black fenders, bumpers, and spare tire cover surround, plus silver brake calipers (which clamp 14.8-inch discs up front and 13.0-inch discs at rear) and matching contrast stitching and carbon fiber trim inside. But Orange County has almost as many G-Wagens as Moscow, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when, through a glitch in the simulation, an Alien Green G63 happened to be in the same shopping center. One thing is for sure after that experience: I’m never doubting the odds again.
If you’re not keen on unwarranted attention, you’ll want to opt for the black, silver, or white shade chosen by most G-Class owners. It’s hardly a subtle vehicle to begin with, and the fit-for-a-Lambo shade makes it about as subtle as a punch to the face from Mike Tyson circa 1992. Depending on the situation, it may be visible from miles away; I certainly had no problem spotting it on shore while surfing a few hundred yards out at San Onofre State Beach, with even the quickest of glances immediately landing my eyes on the bright green Benz.
On the road, the aforementioned G63 and its aggressive twin-turbo V-8 are actually more noticeable. The G65’s twin-turbo V-12 does not growl, rumble, or howl. In fact, it’s quite drama-free for an engine that puts out 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque. But what it lacks in drama, it makes up in smoothness, sending almost zero vibration into the cabin. That power is sent through a similarly smooth seven-speed automatic, a long-overdue replacement for the five-speed auto that backed Mercedes’ V-12s for many years.
The powertrain’s smoothness belays the challenging job that it’s tasked with: moving nearly 6,000 lbs of brick-shaped sheetmetal with alacrity. It succeeds, somewhat, getting the big brute to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. Not that long ago, that would be considered “stupid fast” for an SUV, but even the G63 is a couple tenths quicker, while the 550-hp Range Rover Sport SVR will get there in 4.5 seconds for half the price, while the new 2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo can get the job done in just 3.7.
Add in the G-Class’ body-on-frame construction and twin solid axle suspension—and the shaky, trucky ride that results in—and one fact becomes immediately clear: when looked at rationally, as far as high-end SUVs go, it’s straight-up obsolete. Unlike before, those with a quarter-million dollars burning a hole in their pocket now have choices like the Bentley Bentayga, which offers levels of refinement and opulence the G can only dream of.
Then again, the Bentayga is kinda funny looking and has a goofy name, while the Range Rover Sport SVR can barely be distinguished from any other Range Rover. And they’re not built like tanks. Besides, how often are new vehicle purchases entirely rational, anyway, especially in this space?
That brings us to the irrational. The G-Class is so unique and rich in character that it’s easy to overlook shortcomings that would be unacceptable in any of its more-conventional peers. Take the dated center stack, the awkward seating position, the limited interior storage space (there aren’t any cupholders up front, for example), the challenging-to-fold rear seats, the imperfect cargo space packaging, and the need to slam the doors to get them to shut all the way—including the tailgate, which feels like it weighs close to 100 lb with the spare on it. Then there’s its absurd thirst, with a gallon of fuel lasting a mere 11 miles in the city and 13 miles on the highway.
Given all that, you’d be forgiven for expecting that sales have dwindled to volumes rivaling those of slow-sellers like the Chevy SS or Kia K900, but you’d be wrong—U.S. G-Class annual sales have increased every year since bottoming out in 2009; 2015 and 2016 were both record years, with the latter’s 3,950 units being a six-fold increase over 09’s 662, and 2017 being up 8.7% YTD.
No other luxury SUV on the road, not even the Cayenne Turbo or Bentayga, has the presence of the G-Class—and the G65 is the ultimate expression. And until the arrival of the Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Lamborghini Urus, the range-topping G is the best means of telling the world “I’m filthy rich and I want everyone to know it” without the risk of getting stuck in a mud bog on the way to your dacha.
2017 Mercedes-AMG G65 Specifications
|PRICE||$221,400/$236,324 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||6.0L twin-turbo SOHC 36-valve V-12/621 hp @ 5,000-5,300 rpm, 738 lb-ft @ 2,300-4,300 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||11/13 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||187.5 x 80.9 x 76.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.2 sec|
|TOP SPEED||143 mph|