You had to be a screw loose to own the previous Mercedes-AMG G63. Not just because it was effectively designed in the 1970s, but also some lunatic had bolted in a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 with side exit exhausts. If it was the first time you’d ever heard of it, you’d think the G63 the creation of some mad German in his backyard – not an official factory vehicle from Mercedes-Benz itself.
But the thing is, the last G63 did drive like something someone made in their backyard. With a ladder-chassis, solid front axle, 2.5-tonnes and way too much power, it was a total laugh, but a right wobbly thing to drive. If it was flaws that made a car loveable, by giving it a human quality, the previous G63 was marriage-grade stuff.
Enter the brand new 2019 Mercedes-AMG G63, which MOTOR has just tested in Australia. Still looks like it was designed with a ruler, its slab-like exterior is the stuff of Adrian Newey’s nightmares (its 0.53 Cd means it produces more than twice as much drag as a new S-Class).
However the only carry-over parts from the previous model, we’re told, are the windscreen wipers, rear-door-mounted spare wheel carrier, and exterior door handles, which retain a charming click during opening and closing. Everything else? Brand new.
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The ladder chassis layout remains, which is partly why the new G63 still weighs 2.5 tonnes, but it’s out with the old live axle front suspension, in with a modern, independent double wishbone set-up.
The rear axle remains a solid beam but now located with four links and a Panhard rod. There are anti-roll bars front and rear, while connecting the wheels to the body is an air suspension system with adaptive dampers. The old recirculating-ball steering, through which you kind of made suggestions to the front wheels, rather than directly steered them, is now replaced by a new rack-and-pinion EPAS set-up with a variable ratio.
Under the bonnet, AMG has replaced the hard working old 5.5-litre with the increasingly ubiquitous 4.0-litre twin-turbo M178 V8. Outputs are up from 400kW/760Nm to 430kW/850Nm. Bigger news still, weight is down a staggering 170kg thanks to newly aluminium bonnet, front guards, doors and tailgate. Thanks to that, and also the punchier ratios of a new quick-shifting nine-speed torque converter auto, the claimed 0-100km/h time has dropped from 5.4 seconds to 4.5.
Inside, you sit high, the big, broad windscreen comically vertical, chunky bits of exterior bodywork visible all around you. But crucially, you’re no longer strangely cramped despite, with the previous G63, being in what you thought was an enormous car.
By making it quite a bit bigger than the old one (101mm longer, 121mm wider, 40mm taller), Mercedes-AMG has worked hard to expand legroom, shoulder and elbow room throughout the cabin, and it shows in that it now has the spaciousness you would expect for a vehicle this size. And bonus to those who want to wear their top hats or elaborate fruit bowl fascinators while they drive – headroom is still significant.
The interior represents a massive change on the old G63 – it’s now roomy, luxuriously appointed, easy on the eyes. Leathers, soft materials, stitching and beautiful screens make this a special place to sit, and with its high-tech aura, create an interesting contrast against the old-school doors and exterior styling.
There wouldn’t be another car on the road that looks as classic as this but hides as much tech inside. And for sure, the G63 has as high-tech an interior as any other Mercedes-AMG on sale.
There’s been a night-and-day improvement to how the G63 drives. At low speeds, on Aussie roads, it’s comfortable, quiet and refined, the ride more than acceptable, even if there remains an omnipresent chassis wobble over bumps reminding you you’re on a ladder chassis. It is also maniacally fast for how big it is and how much it weighs – recall that 4.5sec to 100km/h will match a Gen-F2 HSV GTS on its best day, and beat it on its worst.
There is a mountain of effortless turbocharged torque available at any point in the rev range, making the G63 an effortless cruiser – or a total madman under full acceleration. And yes, for those who loved the old G63 for the racket that came out those sidepipes, the reduction in engine capacity has not a bit diminished the decibel factory.
Or given it manners – it is just as bassy and raucous, the whole aural shebang enhanced further by a new E63-esque fake induction snarl coming through the interior speakers, but one that sounds realistic.
In the old G63 that monumental engine meant you could easily find yourself entering corners at grisly speeds only to have a panic attack when you started turning the steering wheel. It was a lumbering beast that felt to have twice as much power as it could handle, so it’s best to imagine that for the new car, it’s like Mercedes-AMG put it on a hoist and found about three dozen critical chassis bolts that needed tightening.
Thanks to the new suspension architecture, the handling has been transformed from loose to – gasp! – good. There is also a brand new accuracy and positivity about the controls which give you the confidence to guide the G63 through corners at speeds you wouldn’t dare in the previous car.
And one does not now call the chassis and compliance good because they remember the old one to be so truly terrible. It’s genuinely good. It handles way better than it ought to.
Of course, let’s not get carried away, this is, of course, no taut and precise sports car. While it encourages you to press on harder, it forgets its own weight and size and suddenly you enter a new realm of ESC intervention and unhappy SUV tyres as the hulking G63 leaves its comfort zone.
It is still no dynamic patch on other SUVs in the Mercedes-AMG stable, like, for example, the smaller GLC63. And where most other performance SUVs are becoming almost giant hot hatches, the G63 is a car you enjoy up to seven tenths, beyond which the law of diminishing returns sets in.
Where the G63 really excels is in creating a feeling. From the first time you see it and its boxy styling; the side-exit exhausts and huge wheels; the view out the windscreen and the burble and racket of its V8… no other car offers the unique experience of the Mercedes-AMG G63. And for that, we love it.
Like the old car, its lovability is increased by its flaws (of which there are significantly less than the predecessor model). Forget the diff-lock buttons and other rutted-road paraphernalia if you have the optional 22-inch wheels, as the 295/40 Goodyear Eagle F1 SUV tyres look like they’d lose a fight to even the bluntest of rocks.
Fortunately, for those still keen on some mud bashing, the standard 21-inch wheels come with more off-road friendly 285/45 Pirelli Scorpion Zero Asimmetrico tyres. For more off-road thoughts, read the review from our dust-loving colleagues at 4X4 Australia.
It’s worth mentioning that the G63 is very thirsty, showing 18.6L/100km on the trip computer based on 600km of what would be slightly harder than usual driving. Although fortunately its 100-litre fuel tank still permits somewhat normal range between fills, not having to spend half your life at a servo.
At $247,329 before on-roads and options, the G63 is also expensive, in part because it is effectively hand-built at AMG’s Magna-Steyr factory in Graz, Austria. Not that its owners care as Mercedes-Benz Australia has already sold all its allocation of approximately 100 cars per year, meaning if you do want a G63 in Oz, there’s a bit of a wait.
This won’t deter your typical G63 owners who are after a genuinely unique car. For these kinds of people, in a confusing sense there may be something newly boring about the dynamically much-improved G63 – there was something endearing about the old G63, what was probably the most woeful-handling model in the entire Mercedes-Benz range. But it was either put the big, boxy brute out to pasture or ready it for the 2020s – and as we eye further autonomy and electrification, we are desperately glad AMG chose the latter.
Tested and rated on MOTOR reviews
2019 MERCEDES-AMG G63 SPECS
Engine: 3982cc V8, twin-turbocharged, DOHC, 32v
Drivetrain: nine-speed automatic, torque converter; all-wheel drive
Power: 430kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 850Nm @ 2500-3500rpm
0-100km/h: 4.5sec (claimed)
Top speed: 240km/h (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 13.1L/100km (claimed, combined)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Likes: Retains its mad, side-exit exhaust, V8 personality; berserk acceleration; huge improvement to ride, refinement and handling; beautifully built; newly spacious and well-appointed interior with all the tech you’d ever want; still looks as cool as the old one
Dislikes: Expensive; thirsty; still not going to win gold at the Handling Olympics; still a bit wobbly
2019 Mercedes-AMG G63 S options – highlights
Night Package, $5900: Smoked and black bezel indicators, tail-lights and headlights. Other exterior bits painted in black. 22-inch wheels in matte black.
AMG Enhancement Package, $4000: Lifts speed limiter to 240km/h. Carbon-fibre engine cover.
"Fancy front seats" (our terminology), $5900: Dynamic bolsters, massage function, air-conditioning.
AMG Performance steering wheel, $900: Nappa leather and suede-like Dinamica microfibre.
AMG Carbon-fibre trim, $6500: Bits of the black weave on the steering wheel and elsewhere throughout the cabin.
22-inch forged wheels, $3700: Comes with 295/40 Goodyear Eagle F1 SUV.