2018 Mercedes-Benz G Class Review

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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz
May 7, 2018

Sure, crossovers make more sense as luxury vehicles. But that's not why you want a 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class in your garage.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a soldier in a business suit. This boxy SUV icon has survived volatile fuel prices and war zones for more than 40 years, but a new model is just around the corner.

For now, the G-Wagen, as it’s affectionately known, is available in G550, G550 4x4², G63, and G65 forms, all of which are way more SUV than anyone needs. And that’s just fine with us, which is why the brash 2018 G-Class scores 5.4 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

So outdated that it’s cool once again, the anachronistic G-Class is somehow menacing, charming, and opulent all at once. The G in its name stands for “Geländewagen,” German for “off-road vehicle.”

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This year, the G-Wagen lineup sees a few minor color changes before it is fully redesigned for the first time since being suggested as a military off-road vehicle by the Shah of Iran (then a major stakeholder in Mercedes-Benz) in the 1970s. If these walls—or these galvanized steel panels—could talk.

The G-Class is largely hand-assembled in Graz, Austria, and it is as loaded with luxuries as it is with off-road goodies. The few who will explore its tremendous capabilities will no doubt be wowed by its solid axles and trio of locking differentials, features you won’t find on the brand’s far more consumer-oriented GLS-Class.

The lineup starts with a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 rated at 416 horsepower in the G550, but the 563-hp Mercedes-AMG G63 is the most popular. Hedonists can keep going with either the outrageous V-12-powered G65 or the G550 4x4² with its military truck-grade portal axles and factory lift kit. No G-Wagen is for the faint of heart, so why not go all in?

All three engines are paired to a 7-speed automatic and full-time four-wheel drive. Off-road, the G-Wagen comes into its own. Of course, most owners will stick to pavement, but these inherently basic underpinnings do little to isolate the outside world. The G-Wagen can be hurtled into a corner far faster than its top-heavy looks might indicate, but it relies as much on grippy tires and heavy doses of traction and stability control as it does the driver’s enthusiasm.

Inside, the G-Wagen is softer than its boxy proportions suggest. It’s not roomy—in fact, it’s a foot and a half shorter than the GLS-Class—but it is draped in leather and wood and a smattering of modern switchgear. The driving position is close to the windshield and offers a commanding view out, but nautical ride motions and constant steering corrections mean it’s not exactly a great highway cruiser. You’ll stop often for fuel, too—especially in the 12 mpg combined G65.

The G-Wagen isn’t modern in terms of safety tech, either, although it does have the requisite suite of airbags and stability-assist features. It lacks automatic emergency braking, something the next generation will no doubt rectify.

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2018 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Styling

The G-Class still looks like the box it came in and that’s just fine with us.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a reminder that everything comes back in style. Except maybe that polyester leisure suit you were wearing when the first consumer-grade G-Wagens hit the road back in 1979.

Today’s G-Class looks like nothing else in the car park, unless it’s parked at the Austrian Army’s long-term lot. We rate this menacing brute at a 7 out of 10, with two extra points awarded to its exterior. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Don’t look for sleek lines here, although Mercedes has softened the G-Class a little in the last 40 years. Updates a couple of years ago extended to a new front bumper with more air intakes plus widened wheel flares. AMG models have special mesh grille finishes plus 20- and 21-inch wheel options. A brush guard swathed in chrome is a no-cost option, but the only brush these SUVs will likely see is an errant paparazzo.

The wild G550 4x4² deserves its own mention with its 17 inches of ground clearance and massive tires wrapped around bead-lock tires. It’s just as unlikely to be found on the Rubicon Trail as its siblings, but the G550 4x4² certainly has the chops to go where its driver points it.

Open the G-Class’ doors—which have latches that sound like a Swiss bank vault when activated—and the boxy theme continues. Its military origins are hidden behind a veneer of thick wood and fragrant leather. Look closely and you’ll see exposed hinges, flat panels, and tall glass panels that are reminders of the 1970s more than they are of the 21st century.

Mercedes’ latest switchgear is scattered about, but retro hints like dual rear ashtrays are there if you look hard enough. Mercedes offers a wide degree of customization that extends to even more lovely leather available in a number of hues. If you’re ordering, you’ll want to spend some time picking out just the right G-Class.

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2018 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Performance

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is ill-suited to everyday use, but its anachronistic attitude is ultimately endearing.

We give the 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class a point above average for its engines and another for its off-road ability, but we’ve dialed back two for its rudimentary steering and the choppy ride caused by a short wheelbase. That brings it to a 5 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The base G550s use a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 rated at 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to sprint this tall SUV to 60 mph in less than six seconds. Most buyers step up to the G63 AMG, which uses a hand-assembled twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 rated at 563 hp and 560 lb-ft that slices the 0-60 time by half a second and pumps out a menacing growl through chrome exhaust pipes located just ahead of the rear wheels. The 621-hp flagship G65 AMG’s V-12 engine delivers an intoxicating level of thrust comparable only to a jet. All three engines route power to all four wheels via a 7-speed automatic transmission.

The G-Wagen’s body-on-frame design and its solid axles endow it with tremendous off-road ability. In a pinch, a trio of locking differentials accessed via chrome-emblazoned buttons on the dashboard make it even more capable. Tread carefully, though: the AMG models have stiff suspensions and sporty tires that make them poorly suited to traversing rougher terrain. The G’s 8.3-inches of ground clearance isn’t as impressive as its approach and departure angles of 36 and 27 degrees and its ability to ford nearly two feet of water.

In terms of four-wheeling prowess, the G-Wagen’s flexy suspension and relatively compact dimensions are assets against bulkier, more modern ‘utes like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Range Rover. What the G-Wagen lacks, however, are off-road modes for its traction control.

Realistically, most G-Wagens live on-road. They’re fast, but hardly sporty. With limited self-centering assist to their steering and a ride that’s jittery under any circumstances, the G-Wagen is far from enjoyable to drive. Push hard into a corner and you’ll induce considerable body lean and the stability control system will quickly intervene. The short wheelbase provides a choppy ride, while the solid axles that help the G-Wagen off-road deliver a ride quality that tosses heads from side-to-side over rougher pavement. Substantial sound deadening quells the outside world fairly well while still letting in just enough exhaust growl from higher-power variants.

Don’t look to the G-Class for its towing prowess, either. The 3,500-pound capacity is par with many V-6 crossovers thanks in part to the G-Class’ short wheelbase.

Still, there’s an undeniable charm to the way Mercedes has paired quirky handling with the mountain of underhood thrust on every model.

The G550 4x4²

We don’t have seat time in the comical G550 4x4², but a brief ride-along was surprising. The G550 4x4² discards with the standard model’s axles in favor of portal units that allow for far more ground clearance by tucking running gear above the hub centers. Dual springs at each wheel and adjustable dampers combine with tall sidewalls to deliver a ride that’s pleasantly plush.

The G550 4x4² excels off-road, of course. It stands ready to conquer just about anything drivers may throw at it and is certainly the most capable four-wheeler available at any price.

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2018 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class shows its age inside more than anywhere else.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class forces us to rethink our notion of quality. The simple clunk its doors make when they are slammed closed reminds us of a different era, when lightweight materials took a back seat to engineering for the ages.

Today, the G-Wagen’s interior is compromised for passengers against more versatile crossovers. We’ve dialed back points for its tight second row and for its narrow front seat area, while adding one back in for the substantial, upscale feel that mostly fits its sky-high price tag. That brings the 2018 G-Class to a 4 out of 10 here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The G-Class’ front seats are wrapped in luxurious leather and they offer a wide degree of adjustment. They’re firm without being too stiff, but the narrow cabin means that two wide occupants up front may brush their shoulders against one another.

The rear seat is a challenge to get into thanks to narrow door openings. The bench itself is flat, but heated, and is positioned higher than the fronts for a stadium-style view out. There’s not much leg room, though, and three abreast is kids’ business at best.

There’s not much cargo room, either, despite the G’s boxy looks. It’s not a big SUV, at least by today’s standards, and its 79.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo room is barely ahead of the Honda CR-V. The cargo area itself is finished beautifully with thick-pile carpeting, but it is narrow and is accessed via a side-hinged door that’s heavy thanks to the exterior spare tire and not power-operated. A high load-floor complicates matters further.

The cabin offers some small-item storage, though the cupholder is a comical ad-hoc affair that looks more like a basketball hoop than anything substantial.

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2018 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Safety

The 2018 G-Class hasn’t been crash-tested and it lacks some key safety gear.

Bigger isn’t always better, but the 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class certainly has mass on its side. This 5,800-pound SUV is easy to see out of and has most, but not all, modern safety features. However, it hasn’t been crash-tested by federal or independent testers so we cannot assign it a score here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The G-Wagen comes with a full complement of airbags plus adaptive cruise control, a rearview camera, parking sensors, and blind-spot monitors. The view out the windshield is stellar thanks to its high seating position, short dash, and narrow roof pillars. To the rear, the tailgate-mounted spare tire impedes vision to a degree, however.

Additionally, permanent four-wheel drive and Mercedes’ TeleAid emergency telematics are standard equipment.

What the G-Class lacks is automatic emergency braking or forward-collision warnings, something vehicles a tenth its price now include as standard.

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2018 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Features

It may be retro outside, but the 2018 Mercedes G-Class brims with modern amenities.

Befitting its hefty price, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is well-equipped and is available with an exceptionally high degree of customization. Our 8 out of 10 score here takes into account its luxurious base content, its wide number of optional interior and exterior trims, and its legendary off-road ability. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

A large infotainment system that uses an 8.0-inch screen is standard, but it’s cumbersome to operate and feels a step behind more modern systems.

The base G550 is outfitted with leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, a steel sunroof (not a glass moonroof like you’ll find in other new cars), automatic wipers, and 19-inch alloy wheels. The G63 builds mostly on the G550 under its hood but also subs in upgraded nappa leather and a synthetic suede headliner. The tony G65 features four more cylinders and 21-inch alloy wheels, plus a diamond-patterned leather interior that’s several steps beyond tacky.

Mercedes doesn’t force buyers to add too many optional features aside from a heated steering wheel and a rear-seat entertainment system. Instead, the massive degree of customizability comes courtesy of the brand’s Designo department that lets buyers select from an array of interior and exterior hues including this year’s new Orange and Ocean Blue metallics.

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2018 Mercedes-Benz G Class

Fuel Economy

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is famous for a few things; fuel-efficiency isn't one of them.

One look at the 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class and it’s obvious that this SUV isn’t going to be miserly. It’s a 3 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

You’ll wind up on a first-name basis with the clerk at your local Shell station with any 2018 G-Class. The G550 checks in with 13 mpg city, 14 highway, 13 combined. 

It only gets worse from there.

The G63 comes in at 12/15/13 mpg, aided in real-world driving ever-so-slightly by standard stop-start technology that cuts out the engine at stop lights to reduce fuel wasted while idling.

The worst? Well, it’s not the V-12-powered G65 at 11/13/12 mpg. It’s the G550 4x4² at 11/11/11 mpg. Hey, it’s consistent.

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$123,600
MSRP based on G 550 4MATIC SUV
 
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5.4
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 4
Safety N/A
Features 8
Fuel Economy 3
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