- Authentic design and heritage
- Stellar off road
- Luxuriously updated inside
- Phenomenal powertrains
- You could buy a fleet of Jeep Wranglers for this money
- Dated in every possible way
- Sits so high, it comes with its own steps
- Requires off-road skill, for better or worse
A Mercedes-Benz G-Class isn't a logical buy, but that's just why it has endured so long. Not everyone wants an economical sedan, after all.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz G-Class has moved far from its roots as a utilitarian vehicle designed with soldiers in mind.
It's available in G550, G63 AMG, G65 AMG, or new G550 4x4² (that's "four-by-four squared") configurations, all of which are decadent and way over the top.
Overall, the G-Class scores a 5.6 out of 10 in our ratings, which isn't half bad, all things considered. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Dating back nearly 40 years, it is now so old-fashioned that it has become hip once again. It is a ridiculous anachronism on four wheels that's as brash and menacing as it is stylish. The G stands for "Geländewagen," which translates from German as "off-road vehicle," and it is known in most circles as the "G-Wagen."
For 2017, the G-Class adds a new G550 4x4² trim level that serves as an over-the-top flagship. Although there are more powerful G-Wagens, the 4x4² is the most outlandish ever offered to Americans thanks to its heavily lifted suspension and portal axles that give it 17 inches of additional ground clearance over the standard model.
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, and since then, it has only evolved when absolutely necessary—to meet safety regulations and to add more luxury and technology. 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.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class styling and performance
Looking like the box it came in, the G-Class is squared off and simple—and that's not a surprise since it was originally intended as a go-anywhere vehicle that put function way above form. Its interior has seen the bulk of its appearance updates, and it now boasts most of Mercedes' more modern switchgear and an infotainment screen that sprouts out of its dash. Narrow proportions and a short dashboard, however, reveal that this SUV's shape has changed little since 1979.
But a slew of advancements over the last few years have helped the G-Class keep up with the times.
Last year, the G-Class received a modern base engine, a new twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 capable of churning out 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. The most popular model is the Mercedes-AMG G63, which utilizes a 5.5-liter V-8 rated at 563 hp and 560 lb-ft, but hedonists should tick all the boxes and order the G65 with its 6.0-liter V-12 that makes a whopping 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque.
All three engines mate exclusively to a 7-speed automatic transmission and they deliver power to all four wheels. A trio of differential lock switches engage, in order, the center, rear, and front diffs for maximum off pavement traction; only the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon offers a front differential lock.
Like the Jeep, the G-Wagen's suspension is from another era with solid front and rear axles matched to coil springs. Adjustable dampers are optional, but they do little to quell the suspension's inherently basic design aimed more at delivering substantial articulation for rutted terrain. Off road, of course, the G-Wagen really comes into its own, but the automaker admits that only a handful of these vehicles are exercised beyond a gravel driveway.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class comfort, safety, and features
Despite its off-road prowess the G-Wagen is softer inside than you might expect. High-quality materials with excellent fit and finish mark the cabin, and its 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 reach over and touch the passenger door easily and there's not really room for three adults to ride abreast in the second row. The seats themselves are Teutonically firm and power-adjustable, with multi-contour adjustments, but they are fairly flat and have short bottom cushions.
The rear cargo area is smaller than the SUV norm, owing to the G's vintage design. 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 barn door instead of a liftgate, and has a skinny aperture and a high load floor.
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. The safety accouterments one expects at this price point are not all present. Side-seat and curtain side airbags are standard, as are a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, and blind-spot monitors. But there's no automatic collision avoidance tech, a glaring omission at this price point.
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.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G Class
A billy goat in a tuxedo, the G-Class looks like nothing else on the road.
It's the box it came in—just the way it has been since 1979.
The G-Class stands out from any crowd, unless that crowd has its own air cover and tank escort. This menacing brute scores a 7 out of 10 for the way it looks inside and out. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
But we could have said that in 1979, since it's not really all that different today.
Updates last year included a new bumper with additional air intakes and wider wheel flares to match a new base V-8. 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. A brush guard is a no cost option—because, you know, you need to keep the paparazzi at bay.
Then there's the positively outlandish G550 4x4², which looks as though it was tuned by Tonka. Boasting 17 inches of additional ground clearance over the G550, it is sky high and is available in a neon yellow shade that rather suits it.
Dressed more for success than for tackling lunar landscapes, the G-Class cabin hides its rugged origins beneath a thick 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. Much of the interior, including its dual rear ashtrays, hasn't changed since the 1970s, but Mercedes has done a good job adding its latest switchgear and features into the mix.
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.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G Class
Mind-bendingly fast but still hugely capable away from pavement, the G-Class is nonetheless ill-suited to daily driving.
Back in the 1970s, the G-Class featured an anemic, tractor-grade turbodiesel. That's definitely not the case any more since Mercedes has reached into its proverbial parts bin to shoehorn its latest V-8s and V-12 under this truck's hood.
But although the G-Class rides and handles well for what it is, there's no ignoring its short wheelbase and rudimentary underpinnings, which is why it scores a 5 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
G550s utilize a turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 base engine with 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet, which can launch this brick to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds.
The G63 AMG, which significantly outsells the base model, features a hand-built 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 as the truck's aerodynamics eventually come into play. We haven't driven it yet, but other V-12 Mercedes models have provided a jet-like thrust that is intoxicating.
It's fast, but it certainly isn't a sports car. There's not much self-centering assist to the steering, meaning you'll have to unwind the wheel when coming out of a turn. 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. 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 G550 rides better than its siblings thanks to its taller side tire profiles, and, frankly, it's the rational model to buy. But if you wanted to be practical, you'd buy a Toyota Land Cruiser.
The appeal of the G-Class clearly rests in its extreme off-road talent. 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 a trio of 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.
The G550 4x4²
We haven't yet driven the goofy G550 4x4², but a brief ride-along revealed a better ride than we ever would have expected. Credit there is due to dual springs at each corner and driver-adjustable dampers. It sits up so much higher than a standard G550 thanks to its portal axles, a design generally found only on military and extreme use vehicles.
The portal axles allow for far more ground clearance as they put all of the axle's running gear well above the center of the hubs. Though few drivers are likely to explore the 4x4²'s capability, it is certainly the most off-road-ready vehicle money can buy.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G Class
Comfort & Quality
Pure old-school Mercedes inside, the G-Class is from another era in every way.
Once upon a time, Mercedes-Benz truly belt the world's most uncompromising vehicles. The G-Class is a last vestige of that era, and nowhere is that more obvious than the clunk its doors make when they are slammed closed.
But the G-Class is severely compromised by its age and its dirt road-oriented design, as its cramped accommodations suggest. We give it a 5, mostly for its quality and not for its comfort. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The G-Class is tall enough that passengers will use the standard running boards to get in. It impresses with top hat-rated head room, but it's so narrow that the driver can touch the passenger door easily; two abreast is fine, but perhaps not as acceptable in big winter parkas. The seats themselves are firm and power-adjustable, with available multi-contour adjustments, but they have short bottom cushions. The standard leather is nice, but opting for the softer Designo hides spruces things up substantially.
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 themselves 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 G's rear cargo area is smaller than the SUV norm, with 45.2 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up and 79.5 cubic feet with them folded—but unless you stack items high, this space isn't 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 opens 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 available at a third the G's base price.
The cabin has reasonable small-item storage, at least, though its cupholder is a laughably ad-hoc affair; it's a mesh bag hanging on a plastic ring to the right of the center console.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G Class
Don't look for the G-Class to be rated by the IIHS or the NHTSA.
While there's something to be said about bulk and weight, the G-Class comes up short on active safety features.
It hasn't been tested by either the IIHS or the NHTSA, and probably won't be, so we can't assign it a score. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Every G comes standard with radar cruise control and blind-spot monitors, as well as a rearview camera and parking sensors. Those last two are essential thanks to constrained rear visibility by the wide roof pillars and the rear tire. Looking forward, however, the G's thin roof pillars and its short dashboard afford stellar visibility.
And an added benefit to the SUV's off-road ability is its permanent four-wheel-drive system, which requires no driver input unless the going gets especially tough. More advanced drivers can extract themselves from a bad situation with the three locking differentials and the shift-on-the-fly low-range.
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.
What's lacking, however, is automatic emergency braking—something standard on cars a tenth the G65's base price.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G Class
It may look like 1979 outside, but the G-Class is (mostly) 2017 inside.
A look at the standard features list on the G-Class isn't the step back into the late 1970s that the rest of the vehicle is.
It's not missing much, which is why we score it an 8. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The base G550 hardly lives up to its name. Leather seats that are heated at all four outboard seats and offer ventilation up front are standard, as are a sunroof (with a steel panel and not glass like most new cars), 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.
The G63 doesn't add that much—aside from power. It comes with nicer Nappa leather and a faux suede headliner, while its shifter is an AMG unit that's a little quirky to use. Piano black trim comes in place of wood, but Mercedes will customize any G-Wagen as a buyer with a (big) check sees fit.
Opt for the G65 and you're mostly paying for the V-12, but you also get 21-inch wheels, carbon fiber trim, and a gaudy diamond pattern leather interior.
For entertainment, Mercedes includes on all Gs a Harman Kardon audio system with the brand's COMAND control knob to run a range of systems via a 8.0-inch high-resolution screen. There's also a six-DVD changer with video-playing capability, a 40GB hard drive containing standard navigation 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 and certain vehicle functions can be accessed via a smartphone app.
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.
Mercedes hasn't yet detailed the G550 4x4²'s exact feature count, but it likely will be on par with the G65.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G Class
Few vehicles short of a military tank guzzle fuel at the same rate as the G-Class.
You'll be on a first name basis with your local gas station if you buy any variant of the G-Class, which is why it scores a mere 3 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Fuel economy figures are predictably low for the hulking V-8 with barn-door aerodynamics. The G550's turbos don't make it any less thirsty than its predecessor, as it checks in at 13 mpg city, 14 highway, 13 combined.
That's bad. Like supercar bad. And it gets worse.
The 563-horsepower, twin-turbo G63 is rated at 12/14/13 mpg, aided in the real world somewhat by standard stop-start technology can soften the blow on the G63 AMG's city-cycle economy.
The V-12-powered G65 guzzles at a rate of 11/13/12 mpg.
But supercars can't carry five people in (relative) comfort or climb a mountain, so there's that.