2016 Mercedes-Benz G Class

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Kirk Bell Kirk Bell Senior Editor
June 21, 2016

Buying tip

If you're looking for an SUV with typical Mercedes refinement, the three-row GL and two-row GLE are far more modern than the G-Wagen, at more affordable prices, and with more space and better fuel economy.

features & specs

4MATIC 4-Door AMG G 63
4MATIC 4-Door AMG G 65
4MATIC 4-Door G 550
MPG
12 city / 14 hwy
MPG
NA
MPG
13 city / 14 hwy
MSRP
$139,900
MSRP
$217,900
MSRP
$119,900

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is an ancient off-roader with modern mechanicals, a luxurious interior, and astronomical pricing. It makes almost no sense, which is why people seem to gravitate toward it.

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz G-Class has come 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. It's 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 $120,000.

For 2016, the G-Class is once again updated with a modern engine. The base G550 is powered by a new twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 that produces 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, numbers that are up 38 and 59, respectively. The G63 AMG model features a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8 that churns out 563 hp (up 19 horses from last year) and 560 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes also revives the G65 AMG this year; it is motivated by a 6.0-liter V-12 that makes a whopping 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque. All three engines are mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission, and they channel their power through a four-wheel-drive system with low and high ranges, and three locking differentials—front, center, and rear.

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The new turbocharged base engine offers a little more pep than the outgoing engine, launching the G550 from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds versus 6.1 seconds for the old naturally aspirated 5.5-liter V-8. This engine delivers smooth power with a hint of turbo lag at low revs and a throaty burble appropriate of a V-8. The G63 AMG is faster yet, cutting the 0 to 60 mph time to 5.4 seconds and sounding even more menacing. We haven't driven the G65 AMG yet.

Considering that this is a 5,700-pound truck, the 0-to-60-mph times are very quick. But given that this vehicle is so tall and cumbersome, maybe all that power isn't a good idea.

On-road performance is, well, cumbersome. The top-heavy feel and hefty controls demand attention. The steering doesn't have much self-centering assist, meaning you'll have to unwind the wheel when coming out of a turn. Ultimate grip is often tempered by aggressive traction and stability control, and that's necessary to manage the G's plentiful body roll. Ride quality is managed well enough for such a rugged 'ute, though with solid front and rear axles it's predictably jittery and bouncy. Noise levels also climb on textured pavement and gravel paths.

The G's real appeal is its amazing off-road prowess. 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, Wranglers, and a few 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. You'll also want to steer clear from the AMG models—rocker mounted exhausts probably aren't the best for fording or crawling, in our estimation.

Despite its off-road prowess the G-Wagen is softer inside. High-quality materials with excellent fit and finish mark the cabin, and the doors close with a solid bank-vault-like thud. The G-Class is tall enough that some people will want to use the running boards to get in. It impresses with all the headroom you're likely to need, but it's so narrow that the driver can touch the passenger door pretty easily and the driver's door is so close that you can hit your left elbow on the top of the door when making turns. The seats themselves are typically firm and power-adjustable, with multi-contour adjustments, but they are fairly flat and have short bottom cushions. The lack of width also makes the rear seat far more hospitable for two than three.

The rear cargo area is smaller than the SUV norm. Thanks to the tall roof, the G-Class still has 45.2 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up and 79.5 cubic feet with them down, but unless you want to stack stuff high, this space won't be nearly as useful as the 82.8 cubic feet in the wider Land Rover Range Rover. The tailgate also opens like a door instead of a liftgate, and has a skinny aperture and a high load floor. The cargo area is finished out nicely, though.

Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS have crash-tested the G-Class, partly because it is so expensive and partly because it sells in such low volumes. We would expect, given Mercedes' safety history and the over-engineered feel of this big box, that it would be safe for occupants in the case of an accident. Then again, this is an old platform, so it probably wouldn't perform well in the newer IIHS small overlap front crash test. It certainly has plenty of safety features. Side-seat and curtain side airbags are standard, as are a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, and blind-spot monitors. The camera is 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 is also available.

This current-generation G-Class has more equipment than ever. Standard features include leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats, illuminated door sills, ambient lighting, and a sunroof. Tech and entertainment features include a Harmon Kardon surround sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, 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 information, and an iPod interface. Also standard is mbrace2, a mobile-app connectivity suite that enables apps like Yelp and Facebook through the G's COMAND controller. A variety of Designo packages with nappa leather upholstery are offered, as are exclusive full-leather Designo packages with diamond-pattern nappa leather upholstery on the seats and doors and smooth leather on the dash.

If you're looking for fuel economy, look elsewhere. The G-Class is about as low as it gets. The new G550 has been rated by the EPA at 13 mpg city, 14 highway, 13 combined. The 563-horsepower, twin-turbo G63 AMG is rated at 12/14/13 mpg, aided somewhat by standard stop-start technology can soften the blow on the G63 AMG's city-cycle economy. The V-12-powered G65 AMG is rated at 11/13/12 mpg.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Styling

A military-inspired off-roader with bling inside and out, the G-Class is a billy goat in a tuxedo.

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz G-Class stands out in any crowd, unless that crowd has its own air cover and a tank escort. It started life as a military vehicle from the 1970s, like the old Humvee lineup, and has hardly altered its flat sides, nearly vertical windshield, and strikingly boxy greenhouse in all that time. 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.

Updates for 2016 include a new bumper with additional air intakes and wider wheel flares. The G63 AMG wears a black mesh grille and its own bumpers, with optional red brake calipers, 20-inch five-spoke wheels, and subtle AMG badging on its flanks and down its standard stainless-steel running boards. The G65 has 21-inch wheels and chrome mesh in the grille and bumpers.

Dressed more for success than for tackling lunar landscapes, the G-Class cabin hides its rugged origins beneath a nicer veneer of wood and leather The regular shapes, exposed door hinges, flat door panels, and tall glass areas keep the bygone flair intact, but you won't be hosing out this interior after a day playing in the mud, not with all this finery.

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. The cut-tube gauges are even more handsome this year, with a new look that adds a bit of design flair and red needles instead of white. A large LCD panel is stacked on top of the dash, looking for all the world like an iPad.

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6

2016 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Performance

Mind-bendingly fast and uber capable off-road, the G-Class relies on electronic aids to make it competent on the road.

The three G-Class models are defined by their powertrains. The new turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 base engine in the G550 offers a little more pep than the outgoing engine with 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet, launching the G550 from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds versus 6.1 seconds for the old naturally aspirated 5.5-liter V-8. This engine delivers smooth power with a hint of turbo lag at low RPM and a throaty burble appropriate of a V-8.

The G63 AMG features a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8 that makes 563 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. On the road, it is almost frighteningly quick, cutting the 0 to 60 mph time to 5.4 seconds and sounding even more menacing.

Mercedes says the 621-hp G65 AMG is even faster yet, but only by a tenth of a second in the 0 to 60 mph run. We haven't driven it yet, but other V-12 Mercedes models have provided a jet-like thrust that is intoxicating.

Considering that this is a 5,700-pound truck, the 0-to-60-mph times are very quick. But given that this vehicle is so tall and cumbersome, maybe all that power isn't a good idea.

The G-Wagen's top-heavy feel requires attention on the highway. The steering doesn't have much self-centering assist, meaning you'll have to unwind the wheel when coming out of a turn. The vehicle's 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. Ride quality is managed well enough for such a rugged 'ute, though it's predictably jittery and bouncy given the fact that it has solid front and rear axles. Noise levels tend to climb on textured pavement and gravel paths.

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 3,500 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, 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, especially when compared to the electronically controlled driving modes of the latest Lexus LX 570 or Range Rovers.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Comfort & Quality

Skinny for an SUV, the G-Class is somewhat cramped but the interior materials are top notch.

Though it still resembles a military-grade personnel carrier on the outside, the G-Class' interior is every bit deserving of its Mercedes-Benz nameplate. High-quality materials and an excellent finish mark the cabin. Wood, leather, and metallic trim dress up the angular basics well. The doors close with a solid bank-vault-like thud, and at least some of the road noise is muted out, though the rumble of the AMG V-8 engine and some air rushing around the high A-pillars whistles into the cabin. 

The G-Class is tall enough that some people will want to use the running boards to get in. It impresses with all the headroom you're likely to need, but it's so narrow that the driver can touch the passenger door pretty easily and hit his/her elbow on the top of the door when making turns. The seats themselves are typically firm and power-adjustable, with multi-contour adjustments, but they are fairly flat and have short bottom cushions.

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.

The rear cargo area is smaller than the SUV norm. Thanks to the tall roof, the G-Class still has 45.2 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up and 79.5 cubic feet with them down, but unless you want to stack stuff high, this space won't be nearly as useful as the 82.8 cubic feet in the wider Range Rover. Opening the tailgate for cargo loading exposes a design detail that marks the G-Class as an old-school 'ute. Instead of swinging up and out of the way, the heavy rear door swings out to the left, under the weight of a heavy spare tire. The door opening isn't as large as the rear of the vehicle and the load floor is high, both of which make it less useful than some seven-seat crossovers we've pressed into temporary U-Haul duty.

The cabin has better small-item storage, at least, though the cupholder 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.

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7

2016 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Safety

The G-Class won't be crash tested, but it offers a rearview camera and other modern safety tech.

Every G comes with radar cruise control and blind-spot monitors. A rearview camera and parking sensors are standard, and they are quite useful because visibility is constrained at the rear, where a wide frame surrounding the rear window blocks out most of the view. Visibility is great, otherwise. The G-Class was designed for hardcore off-roading (which is not really the case anymore), and 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, though the wide turning radius can require an extra maneuver at times.

Anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution along with stability control are standard in the 2016 G-Class, as are curtain and seat-mounted side airbags. 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.

Mercedes also includes its Tele Aid system, which provides emergency and theft-tracking services. 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.

Neither of the organizations that crash-test vehicles to assess their safety have rated the 2016 G-Class or any of its recent ancestors, but we give it a good rating thanks to its sheer mass and long list of safety features, as well as a long history of Mercedes models engineered well for safety.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Features

Despite its 1970s roots, the G-Class features the latest entertainment and communications technologies—a disco-era 'ute that's hip to the latest features.

The G-Class is effectively a 1970s SUV with modern technology and amenities.

Standard features of the base G550 include leather upholstery, a 10-way power-adjustable front seat, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats that fold in a 60/40 split, ambient lighting, a sunroof, a power-adjustable steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, a universal garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, stainless-steel running boards, a sunroof, and 19-inch alloy wheels. For entertainment, Mercedes includes a Harmon Kardon surround sound audio system and the brand's COMAND controller that runs a range of systems through a 7.0-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, and 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; and real-time traffic, weather, news, and restaurant information delivered via satellite radio. Mercedes' mobile-connectivity suite, mbrace2, is also fitted, which means in-car versions of Yelp and Facebook are accessible through COMAND.

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 (faux suede) material. The shifter is AMG's design, covered in wood and leather, the gauges are have metallic trim, and the wheels are 20s. Piano-black trim is specified in the place of wood, though it's possible to order your G63 as you want it. The G65 AMG has 21-inch wheels, carbon fiber trim, and full Nappa leather upholstery with a diamond pattern on the seats and door panels and leather on the dash.

There are very few options available on the G-Class, among them a heated steering wheel and various trim and leather options for the interior. Adjustable shocks are offered for the G550, and buyers can opt for a rear DVD entertainment system and all-season floor mats. You can also order yours with matte paint from the factory, as well as a series of new and carryover colors.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Fuel Economy

Big V-8s and a heavy old school body-on-frame platform make the G-Class a thirsty machine.

Don't buy a G-Class if you are concerned about fuel economy.

Fuel economy figures are predictably low for the hulking V-8 with barn-door aerodynamics. The outgoing V-8 was rated at 12 mpg city, 15 highway, 13 combined. The new G550 has been rated roughly the same by the EPA: 13/14/13 mpg.

The 563-horsepower, twin-turbo G63 AMG is rated at 12/14/13 mpg, aided somewhat by standard stop-start technology can soften the blow on the G63 AMG's city-cycle economy. The V-12-powered G65 AMG is rated at 11/13/12 mpg.

With such low ratings, we've given the G-Class a Green score typically reserved 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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7.4
Overall
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Styling 7
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 7
Features 9
Fuel Economy 3
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