2015 Mercedes-AMG G65 Review
The Rap Train Storms Germany
EngineTwin-Turbo 6.0L V12
Power604 HP / 738 LB-FT
0-60 Time5.4 Seconds
Top Speed130 MPH (limited)
Curb Weight5,676 LBS
Cargo79.5 CU-FT (max)
MPG10 City / 17 HWY (Euro)
Base Price271,915 euros (Germany)
I had no idea what it meant, but the name stuck. Her reasoning was that I would be taken for an American rapper, because what other black American would be cruising south, East, and west Germany for ten days in a 272,000-euro, 5,676-pound chunk of... well, let's just say it: bling.
Mercedes created the G65 by installing its 604 horsepower, 6.0-liter, twin-turbo V12 in the G-Class engine bay, and laying oodles of quilted leather inside the cabin. Introduced to markets outside the US in 2012, it sat above the twin-turbo, V8-powered G63 that remained the top-of-the-line here. After years of denial, US buyers will finally get their chance to buy the G65 in November for $217,900.
A grandiose, body-on-frame SUV with a price as momentous as its horsepower might appear silly, but Mercedes can point to plenty of good reasons to bring it here now. In the abstract there's customer demand, AMG boss Tobias Moers having said, "There are AMG fans for whom our V12 biturbo engine is the measure of all things."
It's a 272,000-euro, 5,676-pound chunk of... well, let's just say it: bling.
Concrete justification is in the sales numbers: in May 2010 the G-Class sold 99 units in the US on its way to 919 units for the year. In May 2015 US buyers took home 302 G-Classes, and only five months into this year the brand has sold 1,448 of its ultimate off-roader. The G63 outsold the less expensive G550 in the US in both 2013 and 2014. In 2013 the G63 was the best-selling AMG product in the US, and the G lineup posted its best-ever sales year globally during what was its 35th year on the market.
Competitive reasons are likewise substantial. The Bentley Bentayga, Range Rover Sport SVR, Lamborghini Urus, and a Rolls-Royce "that can cross any terrain" will soon join the retail celebration of six-figure SUVs. By getting the G65 here first, Mercedes gets the head start.
In spite of its price, the Rap Train isn't ostentatious – the sample I was given to drive wearing a beautiful coat of muted satin gray. Because Mercedes is going for a more elegant look for the top of the line G-Wagen, the US-market G65 comes without bull bars. The cleaner front end is one of the few ways its differentiated from the G63 on the outside. Aside from the G65 badge on the rear, the other visual giveaway is a special chrome mesh grille. If you pay close attention, you'll notice that the burble dripping from the quad pipes just forward of the rear wheels is quieter on G65 than the G63.
The burble dripping from the quad pipes is quieter on G65 than the G63.
I spent three days in Munich checking out the latest in lederhosen during the day, visiting G65-appropriate venues in the evening like Tabacco, a classic bar with celebrity-chef fare and a cocktail menu as thick as The Iliad, and Schumann's, a 33-year-old institution among the cocktail set that also boasts a stellar schnitzel.
As outrageous as it is, the G65's narrow track is perfect for touring urban European streets, and it rides like a big, high-horsepower sedan in a straight line. It gives itself away as a dedicated off-roader in sharp turns, however, when you need to crank on immense amounts of lock to get around a 90-degree bend. So long as you corner at speeds appropriate to a military vehicle that works its magic with old-fashioned mechanical engineering as opposed to electronic driver aids, the G will contain body roll gracefully through about the first ten degrees. Breach that mark and its composure evaporates, that tall G body flopping over so quickly that you'll remember to slow down the next time.
Chemnitz, in the former East Germany, was my second destination, to the astonishment of every Münchner I told. "Why are you going there?" they'd all ask. Because Karl Marx, that's why. I had to visit family in Werdau, a miniscule village in East Germany that offered me nothing for my layover. The city of Chemnitz was formerly known as Karl Marx Stadt, and the city center still features a colossal bust of the Das Kapital scribe in front of a building embossed with the words, "Workers of the world, unite!" in various languages. I figured if I was going to go to East Germany I might as well pay a visit to the shepherd of the proletariat. Forced to pose with the Rap Train, I think I saw him wince as I snapped my photo.
I was driving the world's most luxurious cinder block, and there was something deep-down compelling about it.
My own call to arms would have been "Refineries of the world, unite!" because the G65 needs a lot of fuel. Upgraded for the 2016 model year, the US-market version will come with 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque, up 85 hp and 178 lb-ft over the 5.5-liter, twin-turbo V8 in the G63. The G65 is supposedly good for 10 miles per gallon city, 14 mpg highway on the European cycle, but with a featherweight foot and adherence to a 130-mph speed limit even on unrestricted Autobahn I was lucky to get 12 mpg on the highway. So far I was hovering around 9.7 average mpg four days into a ten-day trip, and had put 250 euros in the 25.4-gallon tank to go just under 500 miles.
I was happy to do it. I was driving the world's most luxurious cinder block, and there was something deep-down compelling about it. It had nothing to do with the stares – and there were a lot of them. I've liked every iteration of the G, but here it felt additionally brilliant to be driving the top of the food chain and not brag about it. Even those who know and appreciate the G wouldn't know what I was driving unless they got close to the rear hatch. And I dug that.
It didn't hurt that it's supremely comfortable as long as you're in the front seats. The G's roominess is mostly vertical, with slight horizontal accommodations made for the front seat passengers and cargo. Those in the rear seats need to sit bolt upright, and it will still be cozy.
I laughed every time I hit the throttle. And then I bought more gas.
Familial duties complete, I had a date with the Nürburgring 24-Hour race. After Chemnitz I dashed to Zwickau to see the Horch Museum, which has a first-rate collection of pre-War German automobilia, and a few Trabants. Then I booked it across the country to the Moselle Valley. The 550-km trip, with a stop in Nuremburg for coffee, meant another 200 euros in the tank, but the Rap Train is otherwise good on a road trip. The G65 behaves like a modern pickup truck at highway velocities, exhibiting controlled damping and rebound when you hit linear road imperfections at right angles. On certain kinds of staggered imperfections that get all four wheels dancing out of rhythm, the body sways because that's what it was designed to do – but at much lower, off-road speeds – in order to counter suspension travel. That in mind, as well as the aforementioned body lean, it is prudent to avoid sudden, high-speed changes in direction. Otherwise, the exhaust is velvet thunder and the stereo can fill all of Bavaria with music.
By the time I booked my hotel for the race, the Mosel-Landhaus in Briedern – about 50 km away from the 'Ring – was the closest decent option. What a find. The Moselle Valley is a fairy tale land of grape orchards first cultivated by the Romans 2,000 years ago, with medieval castles around nearly every bend. For three days I charged up and out of the valley to the 'Ring, through a gorgeous countryside cut up by quiet, empty roads perfect for repeated acceleration tests. Like everything else about it, the G65's quickness is absurd. I laughed every time I hit the throttle. And then I bought more gas.
When I dropped the Rap Train off at the Frankfurt airport before departing Germany, I'd driven 2,256 kilometers, spent 599 euros on gas, and achieved an average fuel economy of 12.4 mpg. Keeping my driving habits in mind, that's comfortably close to the stated 14 mpg combined fuel economy, even though I'm not sure "economy" is the word to use here.
It is another outlet for the buyer drowning in his disposable income.
As much as I enjoyed the G65 AMG's "Rap Train" nickname, I think it is the antithesis of rap. At least, ever since mainstream rap became almost entirely about the numerous ways Rapper A is better than Rapper B. Not only does the G65 AMG not boast, it barely lifts a lug nut to justify its price differential. The G63 starts at $137,150, the G65 in the US will start at $217,900, a difference of $80,750. The G65 is nearly indistinguishable from the G63 in terms of performance and exterior looks, and it costs more to run every single minute the ignition is on. The S63 and S65, by the way, follow the same formula: there is $80,550 in MSRP between the two.
If you can barely see and hear and feel that additional $81k, what is the point of the G65? The point is to satisfy customers that have been asking Mercedes – as well as Bentley, Land Rover, Lamborghini, and Rolls-Royce – for just such an SUV. It is another outlet for the buyer drowning in his disposable income, who chooses this SUV because it says G65 on the back, and Mercedes doesn't sell a G67. And after whooping it up for ten days and 1,400 miles of adventures all over Germany in this 12-cylinder paradox that makes no excuses for its martial looks and underpinnings, I wholeheartedly support his decision.
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