There's nothing like taking a G-Class out on the trail to serve as a reminder of how capable these vehicles really are. Despite the jaw-dropping price tag -- last year's base G had a six-figure MSRP -- and despite the fact that most buyers in the U.S. will never see time in the back country, this is still an iconic vehicle for Mercedes, one that we're glad is still alive and kicking. Yes, it still seems weird that there is an AMG version of this at all, but it works.

Model-year 2013 marks a significant year for the G-Class. There are changes in the interior and under the hood. While the United States will not get the G65 AMG, we do get the G550 and the G63 AMG. The G550 is mostly carryover, with a 6-hp increase to 388, and the same amount of torque, at 391. The seven-speed automatic transmission carries over as well, but unlike the rest of Mercedes' SUV line, the shifter is still floor-mounted. The G63 AMG uses a 5.5-liter V-8 that puts out 544 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque, and, like the G550, uses the seven-speed auto.

Also new for the full line of G-Class is new styling inside and out. The most noteworthy new interior design features are the steering wheel and the 7-inch HD screen. The vehicle uses a new electronics architecture that adds many safety features as well as infotainment. The upgrade to COMAND, which includes a knob-based controller for the nav system, changes the look of the center stack. The architecture also allowed Mercedes to include features that are new to the G, such as blind-spot assist, Distronic Plus, and Parktronic. Both models now have electromechanical steering and hill-start assist. On the outside, there are new LED daytime running lights, and the G63 wears a new grille. The AMG G also comes with the option of red brake calipers.

To highlight the wide range of customers Mercedes appeals to with the G-Class, as well as to serve as a reminder that this is still an incredibly capable vehicle (despite the decidedly on-road nature of most of the people who buy them), we drove a Professional model -- the bare-bones off-road version sold to peacekeeping organizations and adventurers around the world -- on a tight trail and drove a G63 on twisting roads through the countryside. Both use the same 4WD system and three locking differentials, which has been the traditional trademark for the G, but the Professional doesn't receive the new architecture. It's set up to appeal to buyers who want their G-wagens to be as uncomplicated as possible. That model isn't sold in the U.S.

As you would expect, the G excels off-road. It has short overhangs and easily conquered mud, off-camber sections, and rocks. It was easy to turn activate the locking diffs. The G practically cruised over fairly tough terrain, and it's encouraging to know that every G out there still has this same off-road prowess.

Driving the G63 back to back with the Professional truly highlighted the difference in interior amenities. All the same capability was there, but we were much more comfortable taking the more basic model on the trail than we would've been taking the AMG on the rocks. The G63 has a nasty, deep engine growl, the transmission responds quickly, and it and the engine help make the 'ute feel like a lighter vehicle than it is (not light, but definitely lighter.), The AMG treatment makes this big, blocky body-on-frame truck genuinely fast. Its engine uses start/stop, which transitioned surprisingly well between the two modes. The ride is compliant, but there is no question you're driving an old-school truck.

Mercedes has worked hard to add new features to an already existing platform, one with origins that predate some of the crash and emissions that exist today. And the company still manages to keep the right balance of capability and luxury. At first, it may seem amazing that people spend six figures on a vehicle like this when they know they're never going off-road, but when you shut the vault-like doors and hear the rumble of the big V-8 and then the mechanical "clack" of the power door locks as you accelerate, it starts to make sense.


2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG
BASE PRICE $130,000 (MT est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 5.5L/544-hp/560-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 5700 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 112.2 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 184.5 x 76.3 x 76.0 in
0-60 MPH 5.3 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON Not yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently