There may be nothing as wonderfully illogical, as satisfyingly silly, and as beautifully irrational as the G63. Think about it -- this is a near-6000-pound SUV, built like a tank, that hasn't changed all that much philosophically (or physically) since it debuted in 1979. It is somewhat of an anachronism. It defies engineers' goals of improving aerodynamics to increase fuel economy. It offers incredibly good off-road capability, almost to the point of overkill. You want cupholders? There's one (up front); it consists of a ring and a net. This may be the most cube-shaped vehicle on the road -- even more so than the one named Cube. Pickup trucks have more curves.
Yet the G-Wagen, the low-volume SUV that has been handbuilt in Graz, Austria, since production began -- the same year ESPN was launched and "The Dukes of Hazzard" was on in prime time -- continues to be a strong seller for Mercedes. The strangest part is that the AMG version makes up more than 65 percent of G-Class sales.
The 2013 G63 AMG we sampled arrived in full, intimidating "don't give this truck a dirty look or it will hurt you" Magno Night Black, and it was a matte finish at that. Lose the truck's chrome accouterment, and this could be a menacing part of any small army's motor pool. Yet ours was more suited to urban life, with low-slung side steps, 20-inch wheels with short-sidewall tires, and side pipes that peeked out below the steps. We drove this one off-road and on, in the dirt at Hungry Valley off-road park, on the freeways, and in and around Beverly Hills, and while the G63 was right at home in all these venues, it also stood out wherever it went. There are a lot of sports cars in Southern California, and it isn't unusual to see Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, and Audi R8s on the road. Yet the G-Class is more unique than any of those. It turns heads.
We climbed into the five-seat sport/utility and realized that despite many of the aforementioned old-school elements, the cabin is more modern than we would've expected. There are redundant steering wheel controls, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, and satellite radio. The seats are covered in quilted designo black leather, the dash in designo nappa leather. We slammed the door shut -- this vault's doors will close the first time if you slam them -- and felt securely sealed in. There is an unquestionable feeling of security and safety in that cabin. It's as if this vehicle could survive the apocalypse.
As we headed out on the road, the door locks gave out a loud, solid "clack," and we were on our way. It was clear this vehicle is much faster than you would expect. Acceleration is brisk, and the engine gives out a low, guttural growl as you get to speed. The G63 sounds like an old-school V-8 hot rod, or as close to that as you can get with a German twin-turbo V-8. That feeling of speed was confirmed at the track, where it went 0-60 in 5.0 seconds flat, and got through the quarter mile in 13.4 seconds at 105.2 mph. That's faster than a (V-6) Mustang. Braking is equally confident; thanks to the AMG's 1.5-inch-larger brakes (and 2.3 inches bigger in back), the G needed only 113 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph.
If there are weaknesses on road, it's with noise levels and handling. Both reflect the trucky nature of this beast. It isn't quiet inside. In fact, it's a bit on the noisy side. But, really, this is such a cool vehicle -- who cares? It is proudly a truck, and it handles like a truck. You figure that out pretty fast, and it ensures that you won't enter a turn too quickly. On our drive loops, the G63 got 12.8 mpg, partially because of the Eco mode that this G-Class comes with.
We headed out of the city, and north toward the Grapevine to Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area, our favorite local off-road destination. We drove to the dirt, and went through the obstacle course that's available there, as well as trying out a hillclimb and a few trails. Of all the AMG SUVs we have driven, the G is the most off-road capable. It retains the G-Class' signature three independently locking differentials, but we only used two of them. To use the lockers, we put the G63 in low range, then locked the center diff. (That sent 50 percent of the power to the front, 50 to the rear.) We paid special attention to rocks on the trail, as we had to make sure we wouldn't do anything to pinch the low exhaust pipes, and we were well aware that the tires weren't even close to the right aspect ratio for off-roading. With all that in mind, the G easily got through the trail obstacles, with tires and exhaust fully intact. At one point, we used the rear locker as well. Unlike newer four-wheel-drive systems, this one used more mechanical elements and fewer sensors. Its off-road prowess reinforced the feeling that this vehicle could survive anything.
We love that this off-road icon continues to be popular. It's odd that a big reason the G is still around is because of the high-performance AMG version. As far as we're concerned, though, it doesn't matter why people still love the G-Class, or how many actually take them off-road. We're just happy it's still being made.
| 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG |
| BASE PRICE || $135,205 |
| PRICE AS TESTED || $144,305 |
| VEHICLE LAYOUT || Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV |
| ENGINE || 5.5L/536-hp/561-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8 |
| TRANSMISSION || 7-speed automatic |
| CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) || 5876 lb (51/49%) |
| WHEELBASE || 112.2 in |
| LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT || 187.5 x 80.9 x 76.3 in |
| 0-60 MPH || 5.0 sec |
| QUARTER MILE || 13.4 sec @ 105.2 mph |
| BRAKING, 60-0 MPH || 113 ft |
| LATERAL ACCELERATION || 0.56 g (avg) |
| MT FIGURE EIGHT || 31.7 sec @ 0.53 g (avg) |
| EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON || 12/14 mpg |
| ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY || 281/241 kW-hrs/100 miles |
| CO2 EMISSIONS || 1.51 lb/mile |