There are some drive tests where we would love to have automated voice and sound transcription technology to be able to capture for you the thrills in real time. Don't let this plain ol' four-wheeled box fool you; the new Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG is so full of character it's fit to burst.
You would not be chastised for staring at the exterior of the G63 and noticing nothing different from the 2012 Geländewagen. The changes outside are just a few and deliberately so; redesigning this icon is just as sensitive an issue as redesigning a Porsche 911 for those rabidly enamored of the old school image. To be brief – there are now turn indicators in the side-view mirrors, LED running lights, and on this new AMG model, the bumper and twin-blade grille are different from those on lesser trims.
Seriously, that's it. And though not a true new-generation truck, this is what passes for a significant refresh of the 463-generation of G-Class that launched way back in 1990, the same year Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, Germany was reunified and The Simpsons first hit the air.
Things inside are more different, though. Mainly, the entire dash and center stack have been revamped to reflect a more familial look of the company actually commissioning the G's build. All G-Class units are built by Steyr-Puch in Graz, Austria, and have been since the range's start of production in 1979. The more civilian steering wheel and instrument cluster are also completely new. All you need to do is sit in one of last year's Geländewagens and you can see right away that the interior used to be very in keeping with the vehicle's military reason for being. Today, it's still pretty hard stuff, but quite a bit more premium.
At 5,622 pounds, there is not a lot of eco-friendly lightness engineered into the G63 AMG.
So, at 5,622 pounds of curb weight, there is not a lot of eco-friendly lightness engineered into this G63 AMG. And the twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 engine used all over the AMG lineup (536 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque here), when used properly, is not going to save this planet of ours anytime soon (although it might pull it into a new orbit to avoid an asteroid, say). Even so, officials insist that this G63 improves fuel consumption by 13 percent versus the 2011 G55. Even though Mercedes-Benz is quoting combined fuel economy of 17 miles per gallon, on our spirited reconnaissance loops over and through the French Alps we had a readout of just over 12 mpg. And actually felt pretty good about getting that much.
Versus the standard 18-inch wheel/tire set on the G550 – the only other G-Class coming to North America when deliveries start very end of August – the G63 AMG dons a 20-inch set of five-spoke AMG alloys. Treads are sturdy Yokohama Advan S.T. radials (sized 275/50R20 113W all around), and they handled everything beyond the call of duty, as well they should.
You need to re-learn the lost art of literal steering input to make it through successive curves without breaking a sweat.
Before we headed off-road in a G300 CDI diesel in Professional trim as a demo model in the muck and rock, our miles over sleek asphalt in the G63 AMG shed light on several things that remain vital parts of the G equation. First off, the 3.1-turns lock-to-lock hydraulic recirculating-ball steering that is so ideal in rugged stuff is pure old-school fatty on the street. You need to re-learn the lost art of literal steering input to make it through successive curves without breaking a sweat in front of your passengers. It would be good to revisit the steering of the G for these (let's face it) strictly street versions from AMG because it has a significant disconnect. But with total sales of Gs reaching 6,600 units in 2011, we doubt they'll re-engineer anything on this chassis anytime soon.
As truckish as the steering can be, the double-barreled chrome exhaust tips peeking out from under the running boards provide an absolutely nutso soundtrack, no matter what the rev count seems to be. Under harder throttle while trying to experience some of the 5.2-second 0 to 60 acceleration, the full-bodied rasping decibels of these four guns just fills every cranny of the skull with audio output – it's somewhat euphoric that way. But even while coasting and off throttle, the system is gauged to leave valves open and flapping. It's like an ear circus and definitely addictive. This is all so far from your typical E-Class sedan that the G63 doesn't feel like a Mercedes of any kind, more like a Kenworth. And that's what those few dedicated buyers pay for, dang it. They pay a starting price of right around $140,000 for the throwback rig experience – right around the cost of an S63 AMG.
The G63 doesn't feel like a Mercedes of any kind, more like a Kenworth.
This cabin is simply light years beyond the previous interior of the G-Class. The center dash gets properly stacked finally, with the COMAND module that used to sit down low in the shadows with its tiny buttons in front of the transmission lever getting moved up higher, and a real grown-up onboard screen included. Materials and air vents are all very AMG now, but the G63 keeps the massive and inelegant passenger grab handle, thank goodness.
Driving a properly outfitted Professional trim G300 CDI of the last generation over highly technical off-road bits was, again, an enlightening reminder that this is a military vehicle still used by many a government's armed forces. The three locking differentials and low-range transfer case work with the rigid axles and totally recalibrated ESP called 4ETS – for Four-wheel Electronic Traction System – to crawl you over any obstacle in its path. The 36-degree approach angle on the non-AMG G-Wagens is only slightly less on the Affalterbach specials. Staring directly down (it certainly seemed that way at least) on the rocks we were about to go over is an awesomely empowering situation.
But we all know that in the States, a G63 AMG, regardless of possessing all these rubble-subduing qualities, will almost certainly never go off road. That's a real shame, but thankfully the G-Wagen in AMG guise looks literally awesome on any street or highway. Besides, the seven-speed AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic transmission leans slightly more toward on-road living. And having a 7,700-pound braked towing capacity begs one to test it frequently, especially since trailer stability control sensors are now included standard with every G-Wagen.
A G63 AMG, regardless of possessing all these rubble-subduing qualities, will almost certainly never go off road.
It's not as though a G63 AMG needs to change a lot in order to keep us drooling over this whole G-Class legend. The new 5.5-liter turbocharged V8 from AMG and seven speeds are together so much finer than the old 5.4-liter supercharged with five speeds. And the more civil cabin is an acceptable upgrade that we're sure won't send the G cult into a tizzy.