Review: The Mercedes-Benz G550 Is Your Entry into High Society
We find social clout during a week with Merc’s super 4x4.
You probably won't be surprised to know that those of us in this automotive journalism industry look at most vehicles within a given segment—outside of perhaps sports cars, supercars, and hot hatchbacks—as thinly sliced examples of similarity. There are certainly class leaders and losers, but stepping from a McLaren 720S Spider into a Nissan Versa is what's jarring; going from a Toyota Highlander into a Ford Explorer is not.
And so unique automotive experiences aren't readily available in new-car showrooms, especially if you don't have the financial wherewithal to drive away in Maranello or Sant'Agata's latest. I say all of this to emphasize just how special the all-new 2019 Mercedes-Benz G550 feels. In the whole of autodom, there really isn't anything quite like the Geländewagen.
There sure used to be. Before the G was heavily reworked for the first time in 1990, it was a rough-and-tumble, mil-spec, granny-geared 4x4 built for cross-terrain excursions with hard plastics, painted metal surfaces, and not much in the way of sound deadening, passenger comfort, or overall refinement. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, this utilitarian experience wasn't entirely dissimilar from that of a Land Rover Defender or even a domestic Chevrolet S10 Blazer, to some extent.
As most SUVs gradually transitioned from dingy, dented, weatherworn tools into cushy, unibody commuters, the G-class remained upright and aggressively utilitarian, even as its leather and wood-lined interiors clashed with the warfront-ready running gear and rubberized exterior trim. Finally fully redesigned for 2019 for the first time in history, the newly refined and much more livable G550 still remains in a class of its own. It's equal parts Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Land Cruiser, with the glue being Mercedes-Benz fit, finish, and appointments. In some regards, it's the Hummer that everyone actually wanted.
With its big 'ol tri-pointed star up front and a price tag that doesn't dip beneath the $125,000 mark, any G wields some serious social clout. Forget the hushed whispers and silent resentment that accompany the sight of a rounded, soft-cornered Bentley Bentayga or the uptight long-wheelbase Range Rover; everyone's happy to see a G-class. Over a week spent with a 2019 G550, everywhere myself and two buddies traveled in the Emerald Green Metallic box, we were met with massive amounts of attention and recognition by bystanders. You'd think in a city as overrun with Benzes as Los Angeles, a non-AMG G-class wouldn't garner much attention, but between constant thumbs up on the highway to the craned necks on crowded city streets, the G550's swag is real.
Inside, we're having just as much fun. You've no doubt heard by now the new G is better and more comfortable than the previous generation, but I cannot stress how much the ergonomics are improved. A few years ago, after a week in the then-new Mercedes-AMG G65, my Achilles tendon was sore from the severely upright pedal placement, not to mention the lack of fore and aft seat adjustment. Inside, everything was slab-sided and only tangentially luxurious thanks to top-shelf materials; considering the age of the platform, Mercedes did an admirable job of gussying up an interior originally designed for muddy combat boots and sweat-stained fatigues.
I'll always love the old G's, but the new truck makes it hard to look back without a chuckle. The old rig's veneer of luxury is replaced with full-bore finery, as the new platform allowed Mercedes engineers to superimpose the current top-tier Merc interior language onto the G's cockpit. No more pinched nerves for me—as far as two-row SUVs go, it's as roomy and passenger-friendly as most people will need. However, while my average-built buddy didn't have any complaints about rear accommodations, it was a little more cramped than the exterior size suggests.
Whatever. Suffer for beauty, I suppose—there are worse places to develop knee pain than in the back of a G550. Nappa leather, soft-touch surfaces, and both metal and wood trim more than lived up to the six-figure tag, and Mercedes' excellent available dual display screens create an effortlessly sleek and modern environment. Fine detail finishing is perfect, right down to the backlit metal steering wheel buttons and wooden insert on the passenger-side dash grab handle. I'd say the recent purchasers of the 2018 G550 are feeling pretty down, but if you're in that tax bracket to begin with, I'd imagine you upgraded to the new truck before you had time to take the 2018 in for its first service.
Here's some more clout; even if you find the basest base G550, it can't be had with anything other than eight-cylinders in the U.S. In an industry phase dominated by downsizing and hybridization, the G is quite conspicuous in its consumption. The fabulously smooth M176 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 grumbles happily under the trapezoidal hood, backed by the latest generation of the 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission. Output figures of 416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque deliver a zero-to-60-mph sprint somewhere in the mid-five-second range, an impressive scramble for something weighing more than 5,500 pounds.
Though ours lacked any AMG hardware, it did arrive wearing the popular AMG Line appearance package, which among other things, adds a sport exhaust system. This turns the muffled rumble into a slightly aggressive growl, and we singed the egos of GTI and Focus ST drivers when our green brick charged away from stoplights.
It really is the best of all worlds. If you need to survey mineral deposits on your new desert property in the morning, pick up the kids from private cooking lessons in the afternoon, and make it to the orchestra and its red carpet in the evening, the G has you covered. It's still a bit of a blunt instrument when the road turns curvy, but if the last-gen was a river rock hot-glued to a splintery stick, the new W463-gen truck is a well-balanced, hand-polished, iron-tipped cudgel.
Ours had the optional adaptive suspension, which battened down the hatches (and body roll) as much as it could without stepping on the chrome wheels of the bigger, badder Mercedes-AMG G63. Really though, G-wagen owners should focus more on scaling canyons rather than how fast you can slice through them. Besides, you don't need to be capable of high lateral g's when your primary function is being parked in the valet lot of the local Neiman Marcus.
Really, the only issues we ran into were height and weight, but that was more operator error. First, we navigated a tight (and low) DTLA parking garage with literal centimeters to spare, necessitating both passengers to spot me as I passed through each threshold. The next morning, a trip to a local food festival found us right up against the weight limit of a different garage. Again, this was a "me" problem, but if you live in a congested city, perhaps give the new-for-2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB-class a look instead of this tank. It's smaller and less cool, but also provides a similar fun boxy vibe for a lot less money.
But this is a great truck. Mercedes managed to recreate the magic of the world's favorite tacti-cool luxury off-road romper for a new generation without sacrificing a milligram of what made it such a darling in the first place. It's rare that redesigns of automotive icons don't send someone home crying, but the G is one of the special ones—and it makes a driver feel special, too.
2019 Mercedes-Benz G550 Specifications
|PRICE||$125,495/$141,545 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8; 416 hp @ 5,250-5,500 rpm, 450 lb-ft @ 2,250-4,750 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||13/17 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||189.7 x 85.7 x 77.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.4 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph|