2014 Mercedes-Benz G Class Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 15, 2014

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz G-Class looks and feels more luxurious than ever, but it's still a hardcore rock-crawler under all that leather.

Brash, boxy, and often blinged out, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz G-Class has come far--very far--from its roots as a utilitarian vehicle for soldiers. Dating back several decades, it's now so archaic and old-fashioned that it's hopelessly hip (though hardly hipster). The G stands for "Geländewagen," though in some quarters it might as well indicate "gangsta"--but either way, you'll be hard-pressed to mistake it for anything else.

The G-Class is pure old-school SUV from every angle. It's all straight lines and no curves. It's said that the G-Wagen was designed in the 1970s for the Shah of Iran's military, and it's since only evolved when absolutely necessary–to meet safety regulations impossible to envision when it launched 33 years ago, and to add current luxury technologies equally unimaginable back then. It's an automotive piece of amber jewelry–nearly prehistoric, but in a way that makes it that much more desirable in a modern world.

It's one of the most luxurious, most capable and most expensive SUVs on the market, with a base price starting north of $100,000. The G-Class only has one real competitor with equal celebrity-magnet-status, the Range Rover, though the Lexus LX or Toyota Land Cruiser make for interesting alternatives, too. It's a small segment, and the G-Wagen stands out in the crowd with its flat sizes, tall roofline and relentlessly rectangular profile. It's softer inside, though, with Designo leather appointments, matte wood trim and a big LCD display for its infotainment features.

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The 2014 G-Class is carried over in base form as the G550, powered by a 5.5-liter V-8 with 388 horsepower, coupled to a seven-speed automatic, with power channeled through its four-wheel-drive system, low and high ranges, and three locking differentials. The twin-turbocharged version of the same V-8 nets out at 544 hp in the G63 AMG, shaving almost a second from the G550's 0-60 mph time of 6.0 seconds--down to 5.3 seconds--though they share a limited top speed of 130 mph and abysmal gas mileage of 12/15 mpg, and possibly less.

On-road performance is about what you'd think. The top-heavy feel and hefty controls demand attention, though electric steering feels lighter than the former recirculating-ball setup. Astonishing ultimate grip gets tempered often by aggressive traction and stability control--and it has to, to manage the G's plentiful body roll. Ride quality's managed well enough for such a rugged ute, though noise levels climb on textured pavement and gravel paths. The G's appeal is all about the latter, and once it's off any kind of graded path, it shines. Locking any or all of the differentials exposes the real SUV underneath the layers of refinement, and it just keeps clawing its way over rocky paths and plugging through muddy bogs, places where you'll only find Defenders and other endangered species.

Inside, the G-Class impresses with all the headroom you're likely to need. It is somewhat narrow, though, and front-seat passengers will notice the width the most since the center console is fairly tall and bulky. The seats themselves are typically firm and power-adjustable, with multicontour adjustments. The second-row bench has some bottom-cushion tilt to soften the flat cushion. It's a five-seat SUV with plenty of cargo room, but passengers will notice it takes a good climb to get into the G-Class, and cargo loading through the side-hinged rear door takes a higher lift than in today's crossovers. High-quality materials and an excellent finish mark the cabin.

This current-generation G-Class has infotainment features than ever. Each G-Class has Bluetooth connectivity, a sunroof, a navigation system with 40GB of hard drive space for maps and music, a six-DVD audio system, satellite and HD radio, real-time traffic, an iPod interface, a wood-and-leather heated steering wheel, and heated and cooled leather seats in front, with heated second-row seats standard as well. Now, both the G550 and G63 AMG also have mbrace2--a mobile-app connectivity suite that enables apps like Yelp and Facebook through the G's COMAND controller.

Neither the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested the G-Class. Anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution along with stability control are standard in the 2014 Mercedes-Benz G-Class, as are side-seat and curtain airbags. A rearview camera is standard, and it's useful since visibility is constrained at the rear, where a wide frame surrounding the rear window blocks out most of the view. A lane-departure warning system and blind-spot monitors are new additions to the safety list.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Styling

The outline is truly iconic, without abusing the word, and the G-Class has a price-appropriate interior.

Timeless and T-square-drawn, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz G-Class stands out in any crowd, unless the crowd has its own strike authorizations and U.N. peacekeeping force. Based on a military vehicle from the 1970s, like the old HUMMER lineup, the G Class has hardly altered its flat sides, nearly vertical windshield, and strikingly boxy greenhouse. Today the G Class still stands angular and perfectly taut, just like some of its Beverly Hills test pilots, only without the telltale creases and scars of repeated touch-ups.

G-watchers might have noticed last year's modest changes, like LED daytime running lights, new sideview mirrors, and chromed brush guards. The G63 AMG wears a louvered grille and its own bumpers, with optionally red brake calipers, 20-inch five-spoke wheels, and subtle AMG badging on its flanks and down its standard stainless-steel running boards.

At one point in its 34-year career, it had to land in the "dated" pool. But at a certain age, even boxy shapes that show real legs get put back on the A-list with the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award: the "icon" label. The G Class probably passed that milestone when it still could park in the shadow of the Berlin Wall.

Dressed more for success than for grudge-matching it out with Mother Nature, the G Class cabin hides its rugged origins beneath a nicer veneer of wood and leather this year. The regular shapes, flat door panels, and tall glass areas keep the bygone flair intact, but hosing it out after a day completely off the beaten path? No, you won't be doing that, not with all this lush finery covering up the G-Wagen's formerly bare bones. The extreme price tag nets lovely leather trim on the seats and door panels, chrome on the differential-lock switches, and a choice of finishes to replace the burl walnut--carbon fiber-alike trim or piano black, if you like. The new cut-tube gauges are a handsome, worthwhile update, as is the large LCD panel now stacked on top of the dash. But as we felt with the latest BMW 3-Series, the screen's placement seems fragile, maybe more so here, in a vehicle where reaching for Jesus handles is almost part of the sales pitch.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Performance

Give thanks to the G's electronica: it's blazing in a straight line, and the e-brains keep it smooth and stable in turns.

The G's ride is generally composed on smooth surfaces, ready to rumble with tire noise when the texture turns to gravel, or worse. The amount of ultimate grip available is astonishing, and the G55 model can be hustled to its limits thanks to big, grippy 20-inch wheels and tires and upgraded six-piston brakes shared with the ML63. That is, until stability control intervenes--as it does quite often, and quite early, before the G Class' heavy doses of body roll trigger all sorts of red flags in the traction system, cutting engine power and engaging brakes to scrub off speed before it scrubs off tire tread. Or paint.

The appeal of the G-Class clearly rests in its extreme off-road talents. It looks heavy-duty-and it is--save for towing capacity, which is a distinctly European-sounding 3500 pounds, about what you'd get in a Ford Flex. An automatic four-wheel-drive system with three electronic locking differentials and low-range gearing keeps it clawing over rocky paths and plugging through muddy bogs where you'll only find Land Rover Defenders and Toyota Land Cruisers and other endangered species. The G has ground clearance of almost 8.3 inches, approach and departure angles of 36 and 27 degrees, and can ford almost two feet of water. It maintains its rugged character, in part, by dismissing the latest terrain-control systems adopted by many of its competitors. It's gone beyond the days of manually locking wheel hubs, what with its four-wheel traction control and hill-start assist, but not much more--not when compared to the electronically controlled driving modes of the latest Lexus LX 570 or Range Rovers.

Two G Class models are defined by their powertrains. The G550 sports Mercedes' widely used, smoothly stalwart 388-horsepower V-8 engine with 391 pound-feet of torque, coupled to a seven-speed automatic with a high degree of manual gear control. It's a well-sorted drivetrain, smooth in highway driving and docile until it's not. In the 5,600-pound G550, the normally aspirated V-8 and automatic combine for acceleration to 60 mph of 6.0 seconds; it'll reach a limited top speed of 130 mph, but it struggles to achieve a 12/15 mpg fuel economy rating.

The G55 AMG adds two turbochargers to the same engine for a net of 544 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque. It uses a paddle-shifted version of the seven-speed automatic to punch new barn-door holes in the atmosphere. The muscular, rorty engine pounces to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds, despite a curb weight over 5,700 pounds. Top speed is reined in to 130 mph. Gas mileage hasn't been calculated yet for U.S. models, but the G63 AMG will have stop/start technology as standard equipment--which should improve on the former supercharged G55's abysmal 11/13-mpg EPA rating.

The G550, we've found, keeps a very brisk pace, but on-road performance in the G63 AMG is impressive and even shocking, within logical boundaries. To that end, the AMG's top-heavy feel requires attention on the highway, though steering takes less upper-body strength than in the past, thanks to new electric setup that's lighter than the old recirculating-ball setup. The steering system still doesn't offer much feedback, since it's up against an electric motor, live axles, four-wheel drive, and massive 18-inch or 20-inch tires--any one of them, krypton to natural wheel feel. The gas pedal requires a hefty foot too, and so do the brakes. In other words, no multitasking allowed.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Comfort & Quality

Firm and sporty seats give the updated G-Class cabin better comfort; it's still cumbersome and comfortable, all at the same time.

If you're seeing a military-grade Jeep on the outside, then take a look inside for the real shocker–the G-Class' interior is every bit deserving of its Mercedes-Benz nameplate. No, it's not exactly easy to climb into, but if you're able to manage its extravagant price and dramatic rectangular exterior, our guess is that you can probably manage hopping into the driver's seat, too.

The cabin has better small-item storage, at least, though the cup holder is definitely an ad-hoc affair--it's a mesh bag hanging on a plastic ring to the right of the center console. It seems sturdy, though, and as a rule, the G Class interior is marked by a high degree of fit and finish. Wood, leather, and metallic trim dress up the angular basics well, and at least some of the road noise is muted out--though the rumble of the AMG engine and some air rushing around the high A-pillars whistles into the cabin.

Inside, the G Class impresses with all the headroom you're likely to need, ever. It is somewhat narrow, though, and front-seat passengers will notice the width the most since the center console is fairly tall and bulky. The seats themselves are typically firm and power-adjustable, with multicontour adjustments, and heating and ventilation. The power-telescoping and power-tilting steering wheel extends quite far, and the result is a driving position less bus-like than some other heritage SUVs deliver.

The second-row bench has some tilt built into its bottom cushion, which softens the flatness of the seat, and it's also heated. The seatbacks fold along a 60/40 split, and can be flipped forward to open up more of the cargo area, though the space added isn't vast.

With the rear seat in its usual place, the cargo area measures just fewer than 80 cubic feet. Opening it for cargo loading exposes a design detail that marks the G Class as old-school ute. It's a side-loader--instead of swinging up and out of the way, the heavy rear door swings away to the left, under the weight of a spare tire and its heavy steel cover. The door opening isn't as large as the rear of the vehicle, which makes it less useful than some seven-seat crossovers we've pressed into temporary U-Haul duty.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Safety

No crash-test scores exist, but the G-Class has a rearview camera, lane-departure warnings, and adaptive cruise control.

Neither of the organizations that crash-test vehicles to assess their safety have rated the 2014 G-Class, but we're giving it high marks thanks to its sheer mass and long list of safety features.

A rearview camera and parking sensors are standard, and are useful since visibility is constrained at the rear, where a wide frame surrounding the rear window blocks out most of the view. Visibility is great, otherwise: since the G Class is designed for hardcore off-roading, its flat front end and sides leave almost no doubt where the corners of the vehicle are, and parking is easier than in almost any other big SUV as a result.

Mercedes also bundles more safety technology into the latest G Class, including its Tele Aid system, which provides emergency and theft-tracking services. LED daytime running lights are new, as are adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitors. Though it's not the first SUV that comes to mind when we recommend family-friendly vehicles, the G Class has the requisite front-seat airbag deactivation system and LATCH system for mounting child safety seats, and has a shoulder seat belt in the middle second row.

Mercedes-Benz fits the G Class with nearly all the safety gear it puts in other vehicles. Anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution along with stability control are standard in the 2014 G-Class, as are curtain airbags. Seat-mounted airbags are included, too.

The G Class' stability control and four-wheel-drive system provide more than an extra dose of safety when driving in heavy-duty or off-road situations. The stability system tailors its programming when towing, and of course, the G Class still has three locking differentials, which more advanced drivers can use to extract themselves from difficult terrain when lesser vehicles fail to proceed.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Features

Would anyone in 1979 have imagined a G-Class still alive--with built-in streaming audio, mobile Yelp listings, and a big LCD display?

Nearly every feature available from Mercedes is standard on the 2014 G-Class, making it a a high-tech and high-luxury vehicle no matter how you build it.

If you're going for broke, the G63 AMG has very few non-performance features, other than AMG-specific trim and badging. The leather trim is Nappa, and the headliner is Alcantara sueded material. The shifter is AMG's design, covered in wood and leather, and the gauges are AMG-spec, with metallic trim. Piano-black trim is specified in the place of wood, though it's possible to order your G63 as you want it.

There's a lot of standard equipment on the base G550, starting with power locks, mirrors and windows; AM/FM/CD player; and sunroof. It's upholstered in leather, with a heated wood and leather steering wheel, power-adjusted for height and telescopic length. The front seats are power-adjustable ten ways, have memory adjustment, and are heated and ventilated; the rear seats are heated, too, and fold 60/40.

The G550 also has ambient lighting; auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors; stainless-steel running boards; rain-sensing wipers; an integrated garage door opener; and walnut trim. For entertainment, the COMAND controller runs a range of systems through a 7-inch high-resolution screen: it controls satellite and HD radio, iPods and MP3 players, mobile phones via Bluetooth with some voice control for the phone and audio as well as the standard navigation system. There's also a six-DVD changer with video-playing capability; a 40GB hard drive containing maps with space reserved for music storage; harman kardon surround sound; and real-time traffic, weather, news, and restaurant information delivered via Sirius. Mercedes' mobile-connectivity suite, mbrace2, is also fitted, which means in-car versions of Yelp and Facebook, accessible through COMAND.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Fuel Economy

It's a supercar-style experience at the pumps, where the G-Class drinks exotic quantities of fuel.

The EPA hasn't yet rated the 2014 Mercedes-Benz G-Class for fuel economy. But, if you're concerned about gas mileage, you should probably shouldn't be looking for one of these in the first place.

In the past, the G550 model has been rated at a very thirsty 12 mpg city, 15 mpg highway. It hasn't changed mechanically, so there's reason to believe that the current model will maintain that rating.

That 12/15-mpg figure is the good news. The 544-horsepower, twin-turbo G63 AMG is likely to fare much more poorly on the gas-mileage tests, though standard stop/start technology could soften the blow on the G63 AMG's city-cycle economy.

The likely combined scores are the reason we've given the G Class a green score we typically reserve for supercars. It carries more than three times as many passengers as the average Lamborghini, but the G Class drinks gas just like an Italian exotic--or worse than one, depending on the model.

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