Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 23, 2020
Today’s automotive logic suggests that a boxy, thirsty, and rather absurd looking SUV with the aerodynamics of a brick shouldn’t exist, yet the silver star has been building the G-Wagon for 40 years, with each successive model year debuting more farcical options than the last. We’re talking about million-dollar six-wheelers, obnoxiously jacked up 4x4s, and bulletproof variants for the presidential elite. To put their popularity into perspective, last year Mercedes sold just as many G-Wagons in Canada as Porsche did with their iconic 911.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Russian gangster or a Russian gangster wannabe, the G-Class commands a kind of road presence and fan following that does not step into the shadow of any other SUV. It has a galvanizing personality, old-world charm, and there’s undeniable character. Frankly, it's an SUV that you either love or you hate. Lovers will swoon every time they hear those rifle-bolt latching doors, citing that it hits that mysterious and mythical G-Wagen-spot. Haters will say that a $50,000 Jeep can do the same job, but better and cheaper. They’re not wrong, but there’s certainly no DMZ separating the two camps either.
By the time you finish reading this review, you’ll discover that we lie in the former half. It’s difficult to boil our attraction down to an exact science but the G-Class emanates with such magnetism that you feel on top of the world when piloting one, both literally and figuratively. And it’s not just because of its high driving position, massive grab handle on the passenger-side dash, three differential lock buttons that 99% of owners will never use, or that it’s the SUV of choice for celebrities, but it’s because of the history and defiance of societal norms that makes it a status symbol amongst the public. It has become the quintessential automotive contradiction of an overengineered off-roader that will seldom venture out of the urban jungle.
The revisions to the G 63 were substantial enough in 2019 to carry over unchanged for 2020. Those changes included a swelling in both length and width, increasing interior volume, along with a 170 kg weight loss. There are new LED headlights, front grill design, and a stainless steel brush guard that is mounted differently on the G 550 (in front of the grill) and G 63 AMG (below the grill) as to not obstruct the 360-degree camera’s view. AMG models get that new vertical-slat Panamericana grill, a different front fender, wider wheel arches, side-exit exhausts running under each rear door’s running board, and a host of unique wheels. I would probably wet my pants if I saw one approaching me in the rear view mirror - it makes the sedated GLS look like melted ice cream.
And even though the new G retains its unmistakable design cues like the signature signal lamps on top of the hood, boxy roofline, and side-hinged trunk gate, the makers of the progenitor would have been flabbergasted to find out that four decades later, their army vehicle would turn into an iconic, luxurious, and pompous boulevard cruiser. Not to mention that it would be dressed in swaths of leather, come with preposterously effective massaging seats, and an equally monstrous price tag over $200,000, putting it just about in line with the Range Rover SVAutobiography and under uber-SUVs like the Lamborghini Urus and Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Be that as it may, the myriad of tempting and customizable options will easily make that price swell into the sky.
Inside you will find a Jeep-like upright windshield, shallow dashboard, grab handle on the passenger-side dashboard, and three differential lock buttons located front and centre. The G 63 AMG receives all the trimmings with a new steering wheel, dual 12.3-inch infotainment units stretching the dashboard width, and a beautiful marriage of carbon fibre, metal, and soft leather. You can add those little driver toggles budding out the steering wheel much like the GT 4-Door, but personally I would leave that box unchecked. While convenient especially when Sport+ mode is needed for those last minute overtakes, the buttons themselves feel exceptionally low-rent, they aren’t fixated to the wheel with the same solidity as other panels in the interior, and they squeak under operation like those old Hasbro action figures.
While much more spacious than before, the cabin in the new G is not as wide or as cavernous as you might expect given its substantial exterior proportions. The narrow door portals make ingress and egress tricky for larger folks, and while headroom is overwhelmingly generous due to the boxy roofline, legroom in the back is less than a Range Rover or even the familial Mercedes GLS.
The G 63 AMG utilizes a hand-crafted 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that produces 577 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque through a 9-speed automatic transmission, which is a significant 14 hp and 66 lb-ft over the previous G 63, and a whopping 161 hp and 171 lb-ft over the G 550. As a result, the new G 63 vaults from 0-100 km/h in a swift 4.5 seconds, quicker than the G 550 (5.9 seconds), and nearly enough to keep up with the smaller and more focused Jaguar F-Pace SVR (4.3 seconds), and BMW X3 M Competition (4.1 seconds). As expected, Mercedes has axed the V12-powered G 65 dinosaur, but that was more of a bragging right than a performance flagship anyways.
Keeping to its roots, the G 63 utilizes a ladder-type frame, which sounds like an artifact from the past but it’s able to withstand a great deal of twist, force, and damage during off-road excursions, crucially protecting the more tender parts of the powertrain. Ground clearance and wading depth have appreciably increased but the biggest news is the replacement of the old stick axle with a new independent front suspension with double wishbones. That gives the G 63 noticeably better road manners and with the front axle isolated, there are less vibrations and noise seeping into the cabin. Along with a new electric power steering system, Mercedes seems to have trained their G 63 to be less of a rudimentary tool and more of a civilized cruiser.
No, it does not exude the same kind of athleticism as the Urus or even the Bentayga, but the G 63 is much more affable and approachable than the outgoing model, where we always unnervingly felt that it would tip over at any second. You still get a bit of that aloof live axle feeling in the rear when hitting broken pavement, but it remains calm and sure-footed elsewhere, and loses little confidence in recreational blasts. The G 63 actually makes for a surprisingly effective daily driver given its stellar road comfort and mannerisms, especially when equipped with smaller 20-inch tires from the G 550 wrapped in winter rubber (as ours was), rather than the standard 21s.
Even with the upright windshield and square face, the heavily insulated cabin and double-pane windows keep wind noise to a minimum, and while it’s not on par with the Range Rover, the G 63 is still quieter than most road going SUVs. The electric steering also makes it easier to navigate around tight spaces without constantly fidgeting and correcting the trajectory. You also don’t need forearms the size of Schwarzenegger’s to maneuver a three-point turn, or the patience of a priest to get it going fast around town. Nevertheless, this is not an SUV masquerading as a sports car. This is possibly the only AMG that does not like corners. Yes, there’s less body lean than before but a slow-in and fast-out approach still applies.
But I would suggest rolling down the windows from time to time because the G 63 boasts a wicked exhaust. With the pipes mounted at the sides rather than the rear, there is actually more noise reaching the driver’s seat, and that close proximity allows you to get closer to the bellowing, rich, and deep-timbred V8 soundtrack. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above to hear it for yourself.
Chances are that if you’re shopping in this price bracket, I don’t need to talk to you about value but I can report that the G 63 AMG doesn’t lose any comfort or confidence over the standard G 550. The price premium may be substantial but the increased output is bewildering, the added road presence is undeniable, and the snarling exhaust is worth all the money in the world. The ethos behind the G-Class ignores all logic but I would choose one over the Urus or Bentayga due to its defiance of the status quo alone. Because even after forty years, Mercedes has managed to rewrite the textbook, and compound the best it has to offer into an unparallelled and unexpected road warrior.
Model: 2020 Mercedes-AMG G 63
Paint Type: Obsidian Black
Base Price: $195,900
Price as Tested: $212,000
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,873 / 2,187 (with mirrors) / 1,966
Curb weight (kg): 2,650
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 577 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 627 lb-ft @ 2,500 - 3,500 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 20.2
Tires: 20-inch Michelin Pilot Alpin 5