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Review: 2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG G63

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The biggest problem with the G-Class is that people buy it for the wrong reasons. This is a vehicle that, much like Land Rover’s Defender and Jeep’s Wrangler, was originally developed for utilitarian and military purposes. But now it is being bought by B-list celebrities, app developers, and athletes with freshly signed professional contracts. It stopped being an expedition vehicle and it became an accessory to a Prada dress, and that is rather sad.

Mercedes G-Class was launched in 1979. Since then, it has been offered in countless body, chassis, and powertrain configurations. It was a globetrotter, fire engine, and light military vehicle before becoming a character on the Kardashians. Because the appearance of the G-Glass has remained rather unchanged, with time it became iconic. It has undergone a constant evolution rather than a complete revolution every five years like all other vehicles.

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The G-Class is so boxy that it looks like it was dreamed up by a child. The windshield does not have any curvature to it. The side doors are simply flat. Windows, doors, even fenders, are all simply square, or at least angular. Personally, I think that is great but I do question some of the choices Mercedes-Benz made with the AMG G63. The brush guard and other chrome bits look tacky. Side mirrors look like they came off another model. LED running lights look like they came out of Pep Boys. Finally, the wheel and tire sizes, while a necessary evil (read on), are just wrong.

With the unchanged appearance, several other things have also remained unchanged. Specifically, the G63 kept its two live axles, a slow steering rack designed to reduce kickbacks off road, and a body that’s attached to a frame. With its full-time all-wheel-drive system with two-speed transfercase and locks for all three differentials, it has the essentials of a proper, capable, off-road vehicle. Strength, axle articulation, weight capacity, towing capacity, they are all there thanks to that setup.

Those same features that make the G-Class an amazing off-roader make it a rather poor riding road truck. The short wheelbase limits interior space. The slow steering rack and large turning radius make small parking lots tricky to navigate. Live axles constantly transmit road imperfections to the cabin. Basically, the AMG G63 chassis has the same road manners and ride comfort as the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.

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When Mercedes decided that this vehicle needed 563 horsepower, because that is what the market demanded, their chassis engineers had to fight physics. Adjustable shocks, slightly lower ride height, big twenty inch wheels wrapped in wide sport tires, and conservative stability and traction control systems do their best in keeping this massive truck with old suspension geometry going in the direction the driver intended it to go. It’s amazing in the straight line but curves require respect and early braking. Not surprisingly, understeer comes in fast and furious.

I hate to say that 563 horsepower is too much but it certainly does add to insanity of the AMG G63. Coupled with a seven-speed transmission and all wheel drive, that power turns this breadbox into an amazing hot rod that kills the quarter mile in thirteen seconds. The power is in abundance all the time.  The side exhaust pipes make some great noises, WHROOOMMM!!!, but they could be even a bit louder – after all, if the point of a huge matte black truck is to be seen, it might as well be heard.

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The thirty-something-year-old design makes for an interesting interior, too. The trim, the dash, the seats, the infotainment system, quirky electronic shifter, and the quality of materials are top-notch modern Mercedes stuff. The only problem is that it all feels like it has been retrofitted in, because it has. The climate controls are down in the center column. There is one really bad cup-holder and two circles on the inside of the glove box lid. There is no one-touch closing of windows – one has to inhumanly hold the button.

The seats are very comfortable and there is more headroom here than in any other vehicle. Unfortunately due to the short wheelbase there is less legroom than in many compact sedans. The rear bench folds down but to tumble it and maximize the cargo area, head rests need to be removed and the front seats need to be moved forward. The result is a perfectly flat floor and a huge amount of vertical space.

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With the old comes the interesting and perhaps unique. There are real ashtrays in the rear doors and a real cigarette lighter in the center console. There is a modern version of an old ignition switch on the dash. There are door lock pulls on the door frames just like there were in my ’83 300SD. And the sound those door locks make is alone worth the price of admission. The way everything is bolted together, the way the carpet is placed; it all has an amazing feel that simply cannot be had on any other new car.

The seating position is perhaps why many owners like driving the G. The seat cushions are about three feet off the ground, which makes watching kids climb in almost hilarious. The windows are big, and the dash and the belt-line are low. Amazingly thin roof pillars surround the flat windshield. The doors are equally thin and the seats are right against them, with the sill becoming the perfect armrest. This yields great visibility, both to see out of and to be seen in.

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It would be unfair to neglect the fact that the G63 is actually useful. The trunk is big and taller than any other SUV but the cargo cover is a flimsy piece of retractable vinyl. The AMG G63 can tow 7716 pounds, with up to 562 of it over the hitch. Oddly, the owner’s manual and a door jamb sticker say not to load anything onto the roof but the aftermarket does offer cross-bars and full expedition racks. Finally there is the off-road stuff: excellent ramp angles, axle articulation, and those aforementioned locking differentials. There is a little known sequence to locking them – the center diff must be locked first as it will then send equal amount of power to the front and rear axles. The rear diff must be locked second, sending 25% of power directly to each rear wheel, followed by the front diff. But what matters most on an off-road rig are tires and these Yokohama Advan S.T.s are best suited for L.A.

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The 2016 G550 with only 416 horsepower starts at only $119,900 and I am sure it is a damn fine vehicle. The AMG G63 pictured here stars at $139,900. No one has ever bought a German vehicle without any options and the G-wagen is no different. This one had a $3950 Designo® package that consisted of matte black paint, porcelain Nappa leather, and champagne white piano wood trim. Rear seat entertainment [Ed. Note: Stop giggling] is $2650, floor mats are $200 (just like on a Toyota), and the heated steering wheel is $250. Add the delivery charge of $925 and you’ve got yourself a $147,875-costing, 563-horsepower having black box.

That money can also buy a loaded Range Rover Supercharged, an AEV Filson Edition Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon with every single option, or a perfectly restored Land Rover Defender 110. Other parts of the world get the G350d Professional, a diesel G-Class with all-terrain tires on 16” wheels, steel bumpers, a winch, a safari rack, and none of the bullshit. It costs less than the U.S.-spec G550 and would appeal to many enthusiasts in U.S. who spend their money on those old Defenders.

The price of the AMG G63, which most people will have trouble justifying, dictates that only very wealthy eccentric individuals can afford it. That is really a shame because the Mercedes W123 and W126, considered by many some of the best cars ever made, similar in build and feel to the current G-Class, were developed around the same time. The AMG G63 offers that touch of old school that so many classic Benz owners lust after. We should therefore appreciate the G-Class as it is, a classic machine among modern ones.

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Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2016. Below graphic supplied by Mercedes-Benz. 

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  • CraigSu

    “Because the appearance of the G-Class has remained rather unchanged, with time it became iconic. It has undergone a constant evolution rather than a complete revolution every five years like all other vehicles.”

    So, what you’re saying is the G-Class is M-B’s version of the Porsche 911.

    • I think it’s fair to say that.

    • I’d say that the current G-Class is M-B’s version of Singer’s version of the Porsche 911.

  • marmer

    $150K ought buy you more than ONE backup light. Just sayin’

    • cap’n fast

      well, is it at least an LED lamp?

      • Yes. But… do back-up lights really illuminate what’s behind you or do they just tell others that you’re in reverse?

        • outback_ute

          For an off-road vehicle in particular, you do want the former! How else are you going to see what is behind you in the dark?

          • Even if there were four of them, it wouldn’t be bright enough to truly illuminate the road when reversing. And camera image looked good in the dark. 🙂

            • outback_ute

              Well you aren’t going to melt bitumen with reversing lights, but having two on a vehicle that will be expected to go away from street lights etc surely isn’t two (sic) much to ask?

  • Ross Ballot

    Off-roading in comfort seems like an awfully fun thing to do. Oddly though, as much as I want to, I can’t actually say that I like the G63.

  • G63 makes me angry. Actually, the G-Class makes me angry.

    Even the G350d doesn’t do anything any better than the less expensive, infinitely more modern GLE and GLS do, apart from being old fashioned. It be’s old fashioned better than modern cars do. It’s more good at feeling old and archaic. It’s better at costing far too much for its limited abilities than less extortionately priced modern cars. The G63 is phenomenally good at using 563bhp inappropriately. Slow golf clap.

    There’s no more of an excuse for people to be still buying G-Wagens new than there is for Mercedes to be still building them. If you like the design (and I seriously do), buy an old one. Get an ’80s G300d and don’t cruise down douche street with the aroma of conspicuous consumption trailing behind you.

    • jeepjeff

      Except there is something they do better. Take a GLE or GLS somewhere with rocks and ruts and see how far it goes. Not that anyone does that with any of those vehicles, but there is something the G-wagon does much better.

      • As you say, it’s a moot point really, though the GLE is surprisingly capable if you’ve ever taken one on an off road course. I seriously doubt than an unmodified current-spec G-Wagen is much better.

        The G63 is like a Swarovski-encrusted Swiss army knife. It can still be useful, but you just wouldn’t.

        • jeepjeff

          Some of us might also have an unhealthy love of stick axles.

        • outback_ute

          It would be interesting to see a comparison! I’m with jeepjeff in that live axles and locking diffs would be hard to beat when push comes to shove. Credit to M-B though for offering an off-road package that includes a low range ratio for the transfer case.

  • jeepjeff

    When I read this, what I hear is, “This is clearly the best thing Mercedes makes, but I’m still going to be happier with my old Jeep.”

    • Ayreonaut

      me too!!!

  • CraigSu

    From a purely business standpoint I would simply add that M-B is making the absolute most out of the G-Class. If you recall, the G-Class was intended to be replaced in 2006 by the GL but the hue and cry that erupted from the automotive public caused M-B to reconsider. It’s certainly been a boon for Magna-Steyr who build it. AFAIK only the Unimog has been in production longer. As long as they don’t make it a complete caricature by neutering its off-road capabilities I say let them make as many as will sell.

    • Syrax

      Much so that the G65 became AMG’s most profitable vehicle ever just after launch. It paid itself ages ago.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    It’s still ridiculously overpriced and in any market where you can get them the Toyota Land Cruiser 78 does a much better job of being a basic, unkillable, old school 4×4.

  • Rover 1

    “The AMG G63 offers that touch of old school that so many classic Benz
    owners lust after. We should therefore appreciate the G-Class as it is, a
    classic machine among modern ones.”

    And witht extra cubic horsepower.

  • Ayreonaut

    1. thats seriously the cupholder?
    2. recaro child seats exist?
    rich people. guess ill never get it.

    • 1. Yes.
      2. Yes. I have two of them. They’re not much more expensive than conventional seats but are better quality and provide better side impact protection. Britax seem slightly better all around.