- Great all-around visibility
- Authentic SUV shape
- Awe-inspiring off-road talent
- Heady luxury features--and a warm mbrace
- Massive twin-turbo torque
- Military-contractor prices
- Gas mileage low, even for the class
- Sits so high, it comes with its own steps
- Requires off-road skill, for better or worse
- Side-swinging rear door is heavy, awkward
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is basically a last-generation S-Class interior riding on one of the most off-road-worthy chassis out there; it makes almost no sense, which is why people seem to gravitate toward it.
The 2015 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)—a ridiculous anachronism that gets a smile from whoever's driving it, even if onlookers don't quite get the brash, boxy, menacing look. The G stands for "Geländewagen," though in some quarters it might as well indicate "gangsta"—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 said that the G-Wagen was originally designed in the 1970s for the Shah of Iran's military; since then, it has only evolved when absolutely necessary–to meet safety regulations impossible to envision when it launched about four decades ago, and to add 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 also one of the most luxurious, most capable and most expensive SUVs on the market, with a base price starting north of $100,000.
The 2015 G-Class is offered in base form as the G550, powered by a 5.5-liter V-8 with 388 horsepower, and coupled to a seven-speed automatic, with power channeled through its four-wheel-drive system, low and high ranges, and three locking differentials—front, center, and rear. A twin-turbocharged version of the same V-8 nets 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 nearly identical (and abysmal) gas-mileage figures.
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. The steering doesn't have much self-centering assist, meaning you'll have to unwind the wheel when coming out of a turn, something that either engine will help you do in a hurry. 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 is 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. If you plan serious off-road excursions, though, you'll want to replace the G's road-oriented rubber for something a little more rock-friendly.
It's softer inside, though, with Designo leather appointments, matte wood trim, and a big LCD display for its infotainment features. 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—though running boards come standard—and cargo loading through the side-hinged rear door takes a higher lift than in today's car-based crossovers. High-quality materials and an excellent finish mark the cabin, and the doors close with a solid bank-vault-like thud.
Neither the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested the G-Class, partly because t is so expensive and partly because it sells in such low volumes. We would expect, given Mrcedes' safety history and the overengineered feel of this big box, that it would be safe for occupants in the case of an accident. Anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution along with stability control are standard in the 2015 Mercedes-Benz G-Class, as are side-seat and curtain airbags. A rearview camera is also 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 also on the safety list.
This current-generation G-Class has more options—particularly 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. 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.