Lacey Elliott: When asked if I wanted to review the new Mercedes G550, it was not an immediate yes. Because, let’s be honest, it’s the iconic G Wagon: a vehicle that has been nearly unchanged for 40 years and has an interesting history of military application. It’s a Lego-brick-looking beast that in the past has been described as clunky and heavy with very little to provide luxury or comfort. This does not appeal to what I generally want in a vehicle that I will be driving.
However, on the other hand, it is a Mercedes Benz G Wagon! An aggressive unicorn that many aspire to own. Donning the Mercedes badge, it is the most recognizable vehicle in the lineup and has been shown off by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Megan Fox, Britney Spears, and even the Pope.
Dan Heyman: “Not an immediate yes”. Really, Lacey? As soon as this opportunity was presented to me, I was all over it. After all; it’s not every day you get to drive a legend and cult hero like this – it’s not every day you get to do so because there aren’t that many left; the Mustang, I suppose, is one, as is the Porsche 911, Mazda MX-5 and Jeep Wrangler. You mention the stars that have driven it, Lacey; that’s all cool, but you have to ask yourselves why the stars chose this when they could have any number of more practical rides. The answer? It’s a legend. Simple as that.
LE: The Mercedes website says, “How do you follow up an icon? By not following anything but what made it an icon in the first place.” This new G550 looks almost identical to the one it is replacing, as the exterior sees very subtle changes. The exposed hinges, flat panels and clamshell hood remain unaffected. I love that some of these familiar details get a modern twist. The classic round headlamps now integrate active LED technology and the sunroof has heat-rejecting glass.
With a lofty starting price of $134,000 and the Mercedes logo proudly displayed on its grille; I want to love this timeless boxy shape – but I don’t. I prefer something with softer curves and a more aerodynamic form. Despite the fact that I don’t personally love the style, it is evident that many other people do. The imposing size and unique shape turned heads and started conversations wherever I went.
Mercedes did a mind-blowing job of changing just about every component of this G-Class, while keeping its original character intact. The iconic door handles are the same push-button latch assembly that has been used for decades. The driver’s door operates with bank vault precision and takes some extra effort to close. I prefer the simplicity of other modern Mercedes that just unlock when you touch the handle. But, these doors are a strong character piece that stays true to the original truck and I respect what Mercedes is doing with this updated design.
I have to climb just to get inside (literally) as the ground clearance on this thing is high and the running boards are narrow. The extra effort it takes to get inside and close the door is rewarded though. In true Mercedes fashion, behind the wheel is the only place to be. The power adjustable seats offer heated, cooled, and/or massaging programs and are covered in supple Nappa leather. It is an interesting feeling, as if I were a queen driving a tank.
This new G Wagon has all the latest technology and a 12.3-inch infotainment screen that sits confidently in the centre console. Surrounded by wood accents and brushed aluminum, the interior is every bit a Mercedes product. Each touch point, even the smallest button on the intuitive steering-wheel controls, is exquisite. Looking at this lavish interior, the only thing that gives away its off-road abilities are the buttons in the centre dash used to adjust the three locking differentials.
DH: Everything about the G 550 is loud. The colour, even though it’s a dark-ish, purpley navy is loud. The V8 is loud (but not the loudest; the AMG G 63 with its side-exit exhaust gets that honour). The hi-fi system is loud. The sounds when you slam the doors is loud. Even the remote lock activation is loud, sounding more like a rifle bolt than a car lock.
Which, of course, I love. You’re not buying one of these to be subtle; you’re buying and driving one of these because you’re loud and proud (did someone say obnoxious? Didn’t think so) and are ready to show it. Which means I’m a bit biased because when I picked up some friends to go watch a movie – John Wick 3, if you’re asking – they unanimously agreed that rarely does a vehicle fit its driver as much as this fit me.
As Lacey explained the stylistic changes are minimal, but those new headlamps actually do a lot more for the G than you might think. For starters, they look somewhat imposing when they’re in LED-only mode; the best way I can describe it are the hollow eye sockets of a skull. Not terribly appealing, maybe, but genuinely unique and eye-catching. Also notable is how the latest Jeep Wrangler employs a similar look, so obviously when it comes to redesigning icons, these are a safe – yet noticeable – bet.
ON THE ROAD
LE: Having never driven any of the previous G-Class vehicles and also being aware of some of the complaints made regarding the older models, I got behind the wheel with zero expectations.
Built with less than ideal road conditions in mind, I seriously doubt that many people purchasing this mammoth SUV will spend much time getting it dirty. Parked in high-class suburban areas, driving to premium shopping centres, or maybe towing a boat to Muskoka for a long weekend will be the majority of kilometres put on this wagen.
Pushing the ignition button is immediately met with a fantastic low growl from the engine. With this impressive sound, something shifts in my attitude towards the truck. I know what is under the hood, but hearing it in person is completely different.
This G550 comes with the Mercedes twin-turbocharged 4.0L V8. Generating 416hp and 450 pound-feet of torque, able to move this beast from zero to 100km/h in just 5.9 seconds. This is quicker than both the entry-level Porsche Cayenne (6.2 seconds) and the Range Rover (7.3 seconds). The impressive power is transmitted to all four wheels through a slick shifting nine-speed automatic.
Steering is a bit on the heavy side, but it is very precise. The large size did make me feel like I was driving a tank; however, the ride can only be described as smooth and laid back.
Navigating crowded city streets, maneuvering in my quiet neighbourhood, and parking in the busy Costco lot proved to be simple tasks even with this big machine.
For 2019, this G-Class now has a double-wishbone front suspension, replacing the old stick-axel. Pairing the updated suspension with a new electric power steering rack and strut tower brace delivers remarkable road manners.
Cruising on the highway at 120km/h with this box on wheels should have resulted in a massive noise inside the cabin. To my surprise though, very little wind noise made its way into this Mercedes.
Another pleasant surprise was the minimal amount of body roll. This is a tall, narrow truck, so some lean in the corners was expected.
Easily available through a toggle switch in the centre console are four unique drive modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Individual. The default setting is Comfort mode but Sport was where I spent most of my time behind the wheel. This selection delivered a seriously lively ride with sharp control.
Off-roading is not my thing, but I could not resist getting this wagon a little dirty. I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. Soft sand dunes, gravel, and rugged terrain were no issue for the G-Class. Able to forge 27.5inches of water and able to handle a 45-degree incline; It would take a lot of work to get this thing stuck.
DH: For me, the strangest-slash-most interesting aspect about the G Class is that even though it’s considered – and is priced like – a top-tier luxury vehicle, the ride is pretty far from that. Indeed, pretty much everything else in the Mercedes line-up (pretty much in any other mainstream luxury line-up, if we’re honest) is going to provide a better ride than this. And we’re not talking a somewhat rough ride that is in contrast with what a luxury vehicle should be; we’re talking a rough ride in the context of what any other modern vehicle should be.
Yet, somehow, your neighbourhood Russian oligarch or rap star still loves these things. Why? Well, it’s because when you’re driving something this ostentatious and wild, you wouldn’t want it to drive like some plain old luxury sedan, right?
Plus, a look at the centre console and its trifecta of differential toggle switches (not to mention its military background) and you can see that people like the G because they know they’re driving something that could drive over anything they come across. Which is nice, and that kind of world-beating attitude means we allow for a rough ride over railway tracks. Or road paint.
Plus, you still have that bloody great big V8 up front and while you’ll be drinking fuel like a drunk man on St. Paddy’s Day (I saw 22L/100 km – ouch) it also doesn’t matter because this is a G-Class, baby! If I want to be able to hop that median to get around traffic (we don’t recommend this) then I’m going to have to pay for it. Sam goes if I plan on letting that big V8 stretch its legs, which it does with frightening ferocity, even on just half-throttle.
Plus, having experienced the G on some pretty hardcore off-road courses in the past, I can safely say that while most treat it like a luxury mall barge these days, it can do one heck of a lot more than that. You can gussy it up with as much leather and wood as you want, but it’ll still cut a swathe over a rocky mountain pass like a mountain goat, and through a muddy field like a John Deere.
So while the ride I can cope with, I have a harder time doing so when it comes to interior room. The G looks like it could fit the whole Manchester United roster (even though it would most likely only have to fit one player’s wife), but it can’t. It looks that way thanks to its boxy shape and all, but since so much of its powertrain is mounted so high so as to not affect ground clearance, it does affect interior space. And everything is so upright that there really isn’t any room to stretch out. The rear cargo area, meanwhile, has a flat floor but it ends abruptly to meet the rear seats. That means that when folded, there’s a foot-high ledge between said floor and the folded seatback. What, if I may, is the point of even having folding seats, then?
SAFETY AND TECHNOLOGY
LE: For 2019, this G550 is loaded with all the modern comfort and convenience features anyone could need. The infotainment system is controlled by a combination of touchpad and rotary dial. It is intuitive and the touch pad is quick to respond to input.
Safety technologies were all updated as well. Key standard features include Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Spot Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Active Parking Assist, and Trailer Stability Assist.
Fancy hotels, camping in the woods or taking your boat to the lake, this 2019 G550 is up for any and all of it. Towing up to 7700lbs, and with 80 cubic feet of cargo, the sky is the limit.
Connectivity is easy. Once connected, you can control vehicle features, get help in an emergency, or set up service appointments through your smart phone.
I assume anyone spending this kind of money on a vehicle is not concerned about the fuel economy, but I was curious. It’s rated at 18L/100km in the city and 14.1L/100km on the highway, and don’t forget that it takes premium.
Adding on a few incredible options like the AMG Night Package, Seat Comfort Package Plus, Designo Mystic Blue Paint, and Adjustable Dampers brings the total to cost of this Mercedes G550 to $153,640.
DH: Safety features? Pssshaww. I’ll just drive over everything. And as far as the cost of adding all those extras goes: let’s be honest; how many people that are buying one of these actually going to worry about the cost of adding that paint hue or interior colour the way they so desire? Very few, if any. Such is the life of a luxury car buyer.
Allow a second, however, to comment on just how crazy it is to see a full-length digital dash and paddle shifters – paddle shifters! — in a vehicle like this. If that’s not a sign of the times, then I don’t know what is.
LE: This industry is filled with consumers who complain about change. Manufacturers build something great, then years later it gets updated or completely replaced. But if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Though the boxy shape isn’t for me, I loved every single minute behind the wheel of this impressive vehicle. I appreciate the major effort Mercedes made to keep this truck true to its roots. Consumers who can afford the impressive price tag will have nothing to complain about with this new G550.
DH: Cool as they are, Mercedes doesn’t sell a whole lot of these. There were only about 250 of these sold last year in Canada; only the niche SLC-Class and uber-expensive AMG GT sold less for Merc, and only by about 50 units each. That means that if you were to go with one, well, you’d have a pretty unique off-roading beast in your hands. It’s just yet another feather in the cap for the big G – as if it needed any more of those. It probably isn’t the smartest buy for inner city work, but it’ll remain one of the most heart-beats-brain trucks until Mercedes decides to kill it off.
Like, you know, when hell freezes over.