How good is the 2018 Mercedes G-Class?

An icon made even better
by Ollie Kew | Oct 8, 2018
PHOTO: TopGear.com
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A Mercedes-Benz G500 already has 447hp?

Yes.

So what the blazes does a G63 produce?

Thanks to the same 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8, albeit with the wick doused in napalm, you get 577hp and 849Nm. The engine is effectively identical to the powerplant of AMG's current flagship, the GT R. Note that this is a G63, too, not a G63 'S'. No hierarchy semantics here. Good.

That power output choice is significant, because it tells you just how thorough the new G's architectural overhaul has been. The old Gs, magnificent though they were, always got detuned V8s because their archaic ladderframe chassis would've origami'd themselves if presented with a full-fat arsenal of AMG firepower. For the 2018 G63, you're not short-changed.

Even though there's still a low-range crawler mode, and locking diffs selected by a trio of metal buttons in pride of place atop the dashboard, ultimate power is handled by a modern transmission. AMG's nine-speed automatic, as proven in the GLC63 and E63, gets the nod.

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Sounds a tad over the top.

Oh it's much sillier than that. Mercedes could've stuck with, say, the C63's tune and gone for 503hp with no ill effects, but they've gone for it properly and the results are spectacular. And not just the raw urgency, which calls up 0-100kph in 4.5 seconds, despite a curb weight on the wrong side of 2.5 tons. Nor is it the top speed, which despite fighting the aerodynamics of a multi-storey car park, is dangerously close to troubling a 250kph limiter.

The G63 has one of the most stupendous, drenched-in-theater power deliveries of any modern car. It's the incongruity of it—the razor sharp AMG hot-vee throttle response, the savage side-piped bellow, the almost hyperactively keen, short-geared nine-speed 'box—matched to physics from the Industrial Revolution. Request full warp and there's a moment of glorious alarm as the rear squats down so far you half expect to hear the spare wheel cover, held shut by a beautifully machined clasp that could've been designed to mimic Kendrick Lamar's wristwatch buckle, grinding along the ground. Meanwhile, the indicator turrets—vital for spotting the offside wheelarch extremities—rear up to the heavens. I'm convinced Mercedes could've engineered some sort of air suspension compensation to counteract the squat-thrust wheelie the G63 wants to pull, but it didn't. Probably because the test drivers couldn't stop giggling.

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The V8 doesn't sound quite as crisp as it does in say, an E63, but the sensation of your ears detecting noise spewing from under your hips, rather than behind your head, makes up the shortfall. Take any distraction you can get from noticing the pin-sharp digi-dashboard is reporting your expressway economy of 7km/L has just dropped to, um, five. And decreasing.

Good luck with that.

I expected the reaction to the G63 to be the same as my assumptions—that this would be an over-muscled, sub-talented, vacuous anachronism.

But just as the G63 was melting my frostiness, it set about winning over hearts and minds. Two passing snapback wearers reliably inform me that the vehicle is in fact 'sick.' Couldn't agree more. From my lofty vantage point, I clocked grown men cracking grins, and ladies pushing strollers pointing the source of the thunder out to their young. The elderly are less impressed, mind.

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How does it handle rubbish road surfaces then?

If you're stepping in from an old G-Wagen, very handsomely indeed. It's rid of ungainly axle tramp, the steering is more positive and obedient, and the motorway ride doesn't thunk jolts through the cabin like the chassis is stubbing its toe.

However—and be honest, you knew this was coming—compared to a more rational (if such a thing exists) super-SUV like a Range Rover Sport SVR or Porsche Cayenne Turbo, it is not 'surprisingly car-like' or 'uncannily chuckable,' or any of the other inappropriate phrases that modern suspension and electronics have blessed upon other ultra-tanks.

The G is still a galloping pantomime of a car, careering at the horizon with unstoppable momentum. The steering's got a reassuring meatiness to it, disguising a generous dollop of play that makes no odds on your general heading. Every prod of the throttle or brakes pitches the G around on its springs like a fairground rodeo—though crucially, it never feels like it's top-heavy. Understeer and the humorless traction control intervene long before that body roll becomes an actual somersault.

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Unwieldy it may be, but the ride is a bit of a revelation for the new G. I discovered the other day that AMG set up the suspension and steering for all new G-Classes (obviously making this thing corner was a job for the maniacs who think a family wagon needs 600hp and a drift mode, gawd love 'em.) The adaptive dampers are best set to Sport, tightening up some of the more lollopy motion but without concreting the ride quality. Again, compared to a Cayenne or Urus, it's kind of all over the place, but it's a gigantic improvement on the old G, and there's space for your elbows to live this time.

Can it possibly be worth £143,000 (P10 million)?

For raw performance, yes. For breadth of ability… no. It's surely fabulous off-road but there's too much expressway drone and too little handling finesse to make this a truly all-occasion vehicle. And there's not as much room inside the boxy cabin as you might expect, with the rear seats short on legroom.

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But it's a fabulously high-quality item, rich in tech, more livable than any G before it, and most of all, it's a giant occasion of a car. You'd need a device with a mid-mounted engine, a roofline adjacent to your belly button, and active aero to turn as many heads, or feel as special.

Even unlocking the G, and hearing those whipcrack locks slam open makes the hairs on your nape prickle. No one else makes a car like this, so authentic and yet so silly. In a way, this heavy, thirsty, unnecessary machine distills everything we should hate about modern cars, but the G63 is pretty much everything that makes the automobile worth loving instead.

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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