The German automotive brand makes its iconic G-Wagen an unapologetic joyride
by HANNAH ELLIOTT
WITH a top roofline nearly eight feet high, the US$349,000 (RM1.52 million) Mercedes-AMG G63 4×4² is too tall to drive under the entry gate at the parking garage I use. It won’t fit on the curves of the ramps in the parking garages around Beverly Hills, where I like to window shop.
It takes strategic footwork and big oomph even for me — at 6 ft, 2 inches or more in my heels — just to climb into the cabin. (It has nearly 14 inches [35.6c m] of ground clearance.)
When I look back through the rearview mirror, I can’t see anything. The entire rear end is obscured by a black wall created by the shell that holds the spare tyre up against the back gate.
With obnoxious black fender flares, tinted headlights and taillights, mud flaps and enough carbon fibre plastered across its hulk to appease any 21-year-old male, it sticks out like a wolf among sheep trying to fit in the drive-through line at In-N-Out.
With permanent all-wheel drive (AWD) and that literal box shape, the “Squared” moniker is rather on the nose.
Does any of that make me love this menacing beast any less? Absolutely not.
The next-generation 2023 Mercedes-AMG G63 4×4² screams disruption. Driving it feels honest, unapologetic and very bossy. I loved it.
Birth of the Cool
I should really start this review with an ode to the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen (G-Wagen for short), because that’s the genesis of the 4×4 version I drove for a week recently around Los Angeles.
First developed in the early 1970s, G-Wagen is pretty much as close to a pure vehicular embodiment of form following function as you can get. Intended for both military and civilian use, it came with a narrow wheel track, locking differentials, dominating (downright domineering) ride height, rugged components and, on convertible variants, even a folding windshield.
The Shah of Iran was a famous early adopter; upscale Germans, Brits and Americans soon followed in loving the square rig that would take them anywhere safely and with a certain style.
The G has been in production since 1979. Despite its notoriously small legroom in the rear, lack of a decent dashboard, mortifying fuel efficiency (a combined 8mpg in the one I drove) and the road habits of half the yokels who drive them, it has become an icon, changed only subtly since its debut. A true prototype of the modern SUV, it was decades ahead of its time and set the tone for today’s beaucoup six-figure rigs.
I will never forget the debut of the modern form of the G at a crumbling Regal theatre in Detroit in 2018. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dieter Zetsche were there in cowboy hats. There was a lot of pyro. It was the best automotive debut I have ever attended.
The new Mercedes-AMG G63 4×4² costs a lot more than the standard G Wagen’s base price of US$139,000 (US$179,000 for the higher-tuned Mercedes-AMG G 63) and more even than the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, which is probably its closest factory competitor, at around US$342,000. It offers more, too — a lot more when you add in social status such as I felt parking in front of Bijan on Rodeo Drive one evening on my way to a party at Piaget.
Yes, the 4×4² will go off-road with its 41.3 degree-approach angle and 36.8 degree-departure angle; its break-over angle of 42 degrees beats both Jeep and Bronco.
But judging from the flock of people who photographed the G — and themselves in front of it — in Beverly Hills that night, its natural habitat is in wealthy urban environs. Contrary to what I expected, I received only thumbs-ups and unabashed drooling from fellow road hogs while I drove it — not hate. Maybe that’s a commentary on LA, but I digress…
The 4×4² is bigger, more powerful and more capable than its predecessor, with a V8 twin-turbo engine that gets 577 hp and 612 lb-ft of torque. It can sprint from zero to 60 mph in five seconds.
Its wheel hubs have been swapped out for portal axles, basically wheel shafts that attach at the top of the wheel rather than the centre and are then geared downward. (This creates additional ground clearance.)
Its wheels have been enlarged to 22 inches, and the tyres are wider, too. A carbon fibre light rack rests on the roof, along with the black hole of a spare tyre carrier, a rear bumper that basically hits at my waist.
The whole thing weighs 6,315 lb — more than the Cullinan. But here’s the magic: It drives great. Like, really fun.
I don’t know how Mercedes figured out how to create something that’s as tall as a UPS truck but does not bobble and roll around corners, but it did. The thing sticks to the ground like tar.
I don’t know how Mercedes figured out how to make the nine-speed automatic transmission so seamless when it also has such off-road complexities as three locking differentials; sand-, trail- and rock-driving modes; a transfer case for 4-Low driving modes; and the aforementioned AWD.
Somehow, it did. Barreling down US Highway 101, I could pick off anything I wanted in front of me. The SUV just grunted a bit and did it.
I also have no idea how Mercedes claims this 4×4² is significantly lighter than the last one. After confirming that it is, a spokesperson wouldn’t say by just how much and how. I’d rather believe it’s some sort of alchemy.
The 4×4² dances on its wheels as nimbly as a hippo on skates. I drove it everywhere, painting delightful tyre-tread pirouettes from the Arts District to West Hollywood.
Whatever they did to it, I want more. I’m thinking of changing my shopping habits just to accommodate. — Bloomberg
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition