Somewhere deep in California’s Central Valley, the road flat and straight and empty for miles in every direction, I gave the new 2019 AMG G63 the spurs. Instantly, my large, luxury-laden SUV … exploded. That’s the word for it. Suddenly I was ground-zero at Chernobyl, the booming exhaust a runaway chain reaction of furious valves and cams and rods, my seat shaking in the sonic barrage, the lane stripes flashing under my wheels like incoming shrapnel, the clouds ahead seeming to bend down as the G63 squatted onto its rear tires and its nose pitched up into the sky. When I lifted off only a few moments later, I had to blink twice at the speedo. “No way,” I said to myself, shaking my head. “This rig weighs almost three tons!”
My reality had just been so twisted I felt like I was driving in a cartoon.
Before I even climbed behind the monster’s wheel I already knew the 2019 G-wagen—thoroughly redesigned for the first time since 1979—was a home run. I was one of the editors who awarded the “regular” Mercedes-Benz G550 a coveted spot on our 2019 Automobile All-Stars list. That rig had impressed us all with its improved spaciousness, modernized dash, genteel character, and rip-snorting, twin-turbo 416-hp V-8. But the AMG-massaged G63, with its performance-optimized upgrades and a handmade V-8 boosted to 577 hp, promised to deliver an entirely new form of G force.
It does. Mercedes claims a 0-to-60-mph time of just 4.5 seconds—but that’s laughably conservative. I’ve driven plenty of cars that actually accelerate at that pace, and the G63 would leave them all gasping in its exhaust fumes. Blasting its 627 pound-feet of torque through a slick-shifting 9-speed automatic and permanent all-wheel drive, the G63—I’m quite certain—is capable of scorching to 60 mph in under four seconds flat. The sound it makes while doing so—a fantastic crescendo of exquisitely interweaved parts screaming in heroic harmony—seems like it was stolen right off the Mulsanne Straight.
Despite this, some will complain that the G-wagen—a military vehicle at heart, for decades not afraid to be a little rough around the edges—has “gone soft.” The new model has twin 12.3-inch high-res color displays (the infotainment screen is standard but the digital instrument cluster is an $850 option), gorgeous “designo” black Nappa leather, three-zone climate control, a beauteous Burmester surround-sound audio system, and on and on. My tester (painted in $2,300 Mystic Brown metallic) upped the ritz with the AMG interior package ($7,200), which features even richer cockpit materials and such niceties as massaging and ventilated seats, plus the Night package ($1,800), which blackens the exterior trim. Also on board: black 22-inch AMG cross-spoke wheels ($4,450). The result is an SUV that stickers for north of $170K.
The naysayers are laughing. “Ridiculously expensive. Performance overkill. Way too luxe to get its tires muddy.” But they are entirely missing the point. Quite simply, Mercedes has delivered exactly what the market wants. Despite its clunky character and narrow proportions, the previous G was a blockbuster hit among the hipsters. In L.A., black G-wagens are as common as “Armed Response” lawn signs. But the new vehicle is better in every measurable and subjective way—roomier (especially the improved shoulder width), faster, more refined, better-riding, far more advanced in convenience and safety tech. Yet the “look” is essentially the same (the old-style pushbutton door handles carry over so you still get that famous “G feel” the moment you enter the vehicle). I suspect Mercedes won’t be able to build them fast enough. Indeed, a car dealer friend of mine in Los Angeles reports that 2019 G-wagens are so in demand, they’re currently selling for tens of thousands over sticker.
During its week in my hands, I spent an unusually large amount of time behind the G63’s wheel. A track test at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca took me from L.A. to Monterey and back over a three-day span—about 700 miles in total. The G63 proved itself a brilliant mount for the trip. First, it’s supremely comfortable, with heated/ventilated/massaging seats, a plush ride (especially with the adaptive suspension set to Comfort mode), and an engine that’s utterly relaxed, purring along the Interstate at a mere 1,600 rpm or so. The view is excellent (you’re sitting quite tall in the saddle), and the new controls and displays are as easy to use as they are gorgeous to look at. Need to pass a slow-moving 18-wheeler? Just give that right pedal a good squeeze and—boom!—you’re past and rocketing into the distance. The effortless speed is intoxicating. As fast as the G550 is, I can understand why some would gladly spend the extra $$$ to revel in the G63’s Marvel superhero persona.
My drive took me west across Highway 46, the same road where screen icon James Dean met his untimely demise in 1955. I stopped for gas at Blackwell’s Corner, the site where Dean made his final stop—for an apple and a Coke—before climbing back into his Porsche 550 Spyder and driving into eternity. There’s a large silhouette of Dean standing near the parking lot (the original convenience store is long gone, though). Further west, after descending the Antelope Grade to the valley floor, lies the intersection of highways 46 and 41, where Dean’s Spyder rammed almost head-on into the Ford Tudor sedan of 23-year-old Donald Turnupseed—who hadn’t seen the oncoming Porsche and crossed the highway directly in front of him. In a split-second, Dean was dead and his mechanic (riding shotgun) gravely injured (Turnupseed was unharmed). Look closely at the “Memorial Junction” photo and, at far right, you’ll see notes, photos, and other memorials in the barbed-wire fence left by fans at the spot where Dean’s crushed 550 finally came to rest.
The G63 carried me through this evocative stretch—and through a series of heavy rainstorms—with unwavering security and ease. Do not for a moment think this is a poseur’s plush-mobile. There’s 9.5 inches of ground clearance on tap and, as before, three electronically locking differentials to meet almost any off-road condition. You want to go somewhere, the G63 will get you there. And it is literally built like a tank (nothing short of a good slam will close the doors fully).
The G63 isn’t for everyone. Not given its near-$150,000 base sticker, its stupefying power, its massive bulk, its mere 13 mpg in the city (one fill-up of premium rang in at almost $90). But for those who want and can afford something truly special, the G63 delivers like few other machines on the road. It even handles incredibly well (I had a blast clicking it into Sport+ and banging off manual shifts with the paddles behind the wheel).
Yes, the rich are different from you and me. They have more money. And some of them get to own G63s.
2019 Mercedes-AMG G63 Specifications
|ENGINE||4.0L twin-turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8, 577 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 627 pound-feet @ 2,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
||13/15 mpg city/highway|
|L x W x H||191.9 x 86.1 x 77.4 in|
|WEIGHT||5,800 lb (est)|
|0–60 MPH||4.5 sec (mfr)|
|TOP SPEED||137 mph (mfr)|