Ask for opinions on the Mercedes-Benz G-Class and you’ll likely get a variety of strong responses: “These are unbelievably capable military machines“, “This car couldn’t drive in a straight line even if you had four hands“, and “Doesn’t Kim Kardashian own one?“
It’s actually a testament to Stuttgart that in its entire existence since 1979, there’s surprisingly only been one, best-selling generation of the G-Class. Now, nearly 40 years later, a new one has arrived in both G500 and G63 AMG form, and it’s the latter of which I’m driving around the clean streets of Carcasonne in France and on some rugged surrounding terrain.
To prove the point on just how much has changed, let’s run through the list of what’s been carried over from the first generation. The spare wheel cover remains, as do the sun visors, the door handle and the headlight washer nozzles. And that’s it. Only four parts.
What’s amazing then is how the G-Class manages to maintain its trademark boxy, upright posture on top of an all-new chassis, suspension, engine, gearbox and steering.
In fact, why don’t we start with the steering. Having piloted the previous-generation G63 in a bright orange hue (Mercedes-Benz call it the ‘Sunset Beam Metallic’ Colour Edition with a fully-loaded price of £162,530) only the weekend before this launch, what was fresh in my mind was the sensory experience of driving it. Namely, the throaty roar of the AMG exhaust, the tiring need to constantly correct course thanks to a recirculating ball steering system and the visual reminder that you are indeed driving a three-tonne literal block of metal.
In what will be music to the ears of any aspiring owner, and indeed any enthusiast who has always dreamed of a G-Class, gone finally is the recirculating ball and welcomed in is an electromechanical rack and pinion system that provides the same level of accuracy as you find in most new road cars these days. Plus, there’s now independent suspension at the front. In real world terms, that means the car finally goes straight when you want it to, and gives you just the right amount of feeling that is important when you are chucking a 577bhp monster round some tight French right-handers.
Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the sheer weight of the machine. Even though the new G-Class has shed around 170kg thanks to the use of aluminium on the wings, bonnet and tailgate, the car still weighs 3.2 tonnes gross and at speed, you can feel the on-board computer systems scrabble to brake inside wheels and keep you from wildly careering into oncoming traffic lanes.
Despite this, acceleration is mind-blowing. The G 63 houses AMG’s hand built 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine that churns out a vineyard-crushing 626lb ft of torque. That’s enough to catapult the SUV to 62mph in a brisk 4.5sec and on to an electronically-limited top speed of 137mph. An optional AMG driver’s package increases that to 149mph, at which point the number of flies you will mercilessly be slaughtering on your front windshield will automatically place you onto an RSPCA watchlist.
And then there’s the ‘challenging terrain’ ability of the G-Class. While those of us in the UK are still eagerly anticipating news of whether the popular off-road G350d will make it to our shores, in the meantime rest assured that the G500 and G63 have more than enough torque to get you where you need to go.
Ground clearance has increased by 6mm to 241mm and every single angle of departure and approach appears to have improved. And should the British weather continue its barrage of rain, rest assured that your six-figure car has an increased maximum wading depth of 70cm. I spent 45 minutes traversing rocky roads, steep inclines and sharp drops and the most amazing part is how you can essentially have the three locking differentials (centre, front and rear) on standby and point and shoot. Not once did the G63 struggle, not once did it feel like it was being over exerted and not once did I think the now-expired Defender would’ve been the better vehicle to tackle the mountainous French terrain. And that is possibly one of the best compliments that can be paid.
So having received what can only be described as full invasive surgery instead of a mere makeover, is the G63 AMG now the perfect all-rounder? Well, obviously, you need to consider the cost. Prices for the Mercedes-AMG G 63 start at £143,305 and by the time you option it up, you’ll be looking at an eye-watering £160,000.
But what you get for that is a car that is quite content scaling mountains. A car that’s finally able to utilise all the power from AMG’s brilliant engine. And a car that, if all other plans get cancelled, is quite capable of sitting in traffic in Knightsbridge, mounting a few kerbs, side exhausts burbling away in traffic, looking every inch the celebrity its tag commands. A true all-rounder indeed…