G-Wagon retains iconic looks after first full update in four decades

By Paul Borden

(January 26, 2019) Frankly, you can’t tell much of a difference at first glance, and maybe even second or third, but for the first time in 40 years Mercedes-Benz has put its iconic G-Class SUV through a myriad of updates and changes for 2019.

Yes, it still has the boxy profile reminiscent of the 1950s era Willys Jeep Wagon my grandfather once owned, and its aggressive stance and in-your-face front fascia still pays homage to its military roots. (It was developed as a military conveyance at a suggestion by the Shah of Iran back in the 1970s. He never really got to use it, but that’s another story.)

You’re not going to confuse the G-Wagon with say the more gentile GLC, GLE, or GLS SUV/Crossovers out of the German automaker’s stable. If you want an idea of what polarizing styling can look like in an automotive vehicle, you still may have no better example than the Mercedes G-Class

Most of the updates have gone toward making it even more impressive in the way of performance.

It is more rigid than its predecessor with a body shell of various grades of steel and the generous use of aluminum for the hood, doors, and fenders for a weight-saving of around 375 pounds.

An extra 2.1 inches in length and 2.5 inches in width give occupants 1.5 inches more legroom and 1.5 inches of shoulder room up front and an addition 5.9 inches of legroom in the second row.

The G-Wagen, as it is more familiarly known, comes in four trim levels starting with the G550 and topping out with the G550 4x4. My test vehicle for the week was one of two models getting AMG treatment, the AMG G63, the other being the AMG G63.

Among other touches, the AMG G63 gets distinctive styling elements with an AMG-specific radiator grille, flared wheel arches, side pipes for the exhaust system, and wheels up to 22-inches in diameter.

A handcrafted AMG 4.0-liter V8 biturbo engine replaces the 5.5-liter biturbo V8 in the previous G63. It generates 577 horsepower and a whopping 627 pound-feet of torque ranging between 2500 and 3500 rpm.

That engine is mated to an AMG Speedshift TCT 9G transmission that can be shifted manually via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters or run as a automatic in Comfort, Sport, or Sport-Plus modes.

As you know doubt suspect from the AMG designation, the overall setup is performance-oriented with a top speed of 137 mph or 149 with the AMG Driver’s Package.

Fuel economy figures fall into the you-don’t-really-want-to-know category. They weren’t even available for my test AMG G63, but the numbers provided by the government for the G550 are 13 miles-per-gallon city, 17 highway, and 14 combined, using premium, of course.

The AMG G63 gets numerous standard features expected in a luxury vehicle, like push-button start, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, multicolor ambient lighting, rain-sensing windshield wipers (that often pause and then go like crazy), active lane-keeping assist (sometimes too active), blind-spot assist, a rearview camera, a 12.3-inch screen for the COMAND system, and parking assist included in the base price of $147,500.

What you don’t get are usual luxury features like keyless entry (you have to push a button the key fob to unlock the doors), a power liftgate, and a surround-view camera that actually is of use.

You also get doors that won’t close without some effort.

The Cardinal Red Metallic paint job added $2,300 and the “Black Flame Open-Pore Ash Wood trim” another $1,300 to the base MSRP of my test G63, but there was no charge for the black Nappa Leather interior. How generous!

The extras didn’t stop there. The optional Interior Design Package that includes a Nappa leather dash and multi-contour seats with massage function plus an AMG Performance steering wheel, carbon-fiber engine cover, and a 12.3-inch wide instrument cluster ran the total to $166,095 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

That puts the G-Wagen in rare air for sure.

What I liked about the 2019 Mercedes-AMG G63: Despite its size, this is no lumbering elephant going through town or cruising the highway. It is almost a second faster than its predecessor in getting from zero-to-60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Mercedes-AMG G63: Getting in and out of the G-Wagen can be a chore. The running boards are so narrow to be barely helpful. I’ve gotten used to the COMAND system for infotainment functions, but there are much easier ways to adjust audio, climate control, and navigation systems. Rather than give you a picture of what is around you, like another car, the surround-view camera gives you a depiction in graph form, which is not as useful.

Would I buy the 2019 Mercedes-AMG G63? In a word, no. I can think of better places to put down high six figures for a vehicle. But if you just won the lottery or hit it big as a hedge fund manager and want a vehicle that stands out from the crowd, the AMG G63 could be for you!