IT’S A VEHICLE that doesn’t make sense however you look at it. A two-tonne, high riding 4x4 wagon with military heritage that’s fitted with a twin-turbocharged V8 powerplant from one of Europe’s most respected sports saloon tuning houses.
Yet you can’t help but be amused by AMG’s G63 off-roader from the time you lay eyes on its chiselled, purposeful body, to when you first hear the rumble from the side-exiting exhaust outlets and experience the brain-scrambling performance.
We say this is AMG’s off-roader, but those massive 22-inch forged alloy wheels and low profile asymmetrical tyres are hardly the kit you’d equip for an adventure on the Canning Stock Route or through the Sahara Desert. They are more relatable to the bellowing 430kW engine that is snuggly wedged in-between the front pair of oversized wheels and tyres.
The G-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s hard core off-road wagon with nigh-on 40 years of heritage as a military and NGO vehicle, and it can take people to all corners of the globe and back again. The high-performance gurus at AMG simply dial back the off-road practicality and wind up the go fast dial to create something truly unique. It’s akin to a Land Rover Defender fitted with a Range Rover’s luxury interior and supercharged V8 petrol engine, or a Lexus take on the LandCruiser 70 Series.
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Not that the G63 isn’t off-road capable; it’s just that at more than $250,000 and with wheels that each probably cost the price of a new Jimny, we weren’t about to take it any place where we might scratch it. Even that stunning red paint is a $3900 option.
If you’re thinking this G-Class looks a bit different – a little rounder on the edges, wider across the beams and slightly more aerodynamic – you’d be right, because the 2018 G-Class signalled the first major model refresh of the distinctive wagon.
Much of the refresh centred on passenger comfort and drivability and, as such, the body is both longer and wider than the 40-year-old originals to give 68 more millimetres of elbow room on the front and 150mm more legroom in the back.
Being familiar with the old G300Cdi Professional, the windscreen of the new G63 is noticeably broader between the A-pillars, and it’s a longer stretch from the driver’s seat to the passenger door; not that you need to operate manual winders as you do in the G-Professional.
The 2018 G-Class has an all-new interior with large screens for displaying the gauges and sat-nav/entertainment systems. In this G-63 spec it’s all luxury with, the type of trim and equipment befitting a quarter-million-dollar prestige car.
In fact, the whole of the 2018 vehicle is all-new; although, there are a few items carried over from the 40-year-old icon. The exterior door handles are one of them and give that G-Wagen familiarity when you operate them with push-button actuation.
The doors themselves, despite being made of lighter materials, still close with a solid thump you won’t find in many other modern vehicles; and the sound of the door locks is akin to securing a bank vault. The other carry-over parts are the windscreen wipers and the rear-door-mounted spare-wheel carrier.
The ladder-chassis design is retained, but it’s a new chassis mounting new suspension configurations (front and rear). The rear remains a live axle riding on coil springs, but it’s now located by a redesigned five-link set up for improved stability and handling while retaining axle articulation. The biggest change is at the front, where an independent suspension design using wishbones replaces the live axle that has been a hallmark of the vehicle since its inception.
It all comes together well to deliver a G-Class that handles and drives like no other G-Wagen before it. The steering is lighter yet more direct, with less turns lock to lock and a tighter turning radius. The independent front end is more precise and accurate when driving with intent, better befitting a vehicle wearing the AMG badge; even if it remains the most truck-like vehicles from Affalterbach. It might be the sportiest G-Wagen ever, but the G63 is no sports car.
The twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine’s 430kW and 850Nm of power might sound like sports car figures, but it’s still fitted to a ladder chassis under a tall wagon body. Yes it pumps out a sound that suggests AMG has angered the gods, and it propels the G63 with cannonball-like drive.
It’s amusing that such a mean-spirited wagon is fitted with auto idle stop to save fuel and reduce emissions, but fortunately the button to switch that system off is positioned right next to the start button.
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Drivers of the G63 will want to revel in the engine’s audible delights when they’re at idle or bellowing at full throttle between the mountain bends. The start-up procedure always goes: ignition button (start), auto-stop (off), exhaust system (loud)! Yes, those side-exiting exhausts are tuneable to deliver a low rumble or offensive bellow, and the latter is the typical selection.
The engine, nine-speed auto transmission and AMG-tuned suspension also have selections to tailer the drive experience to the driver’s preference. We found that switching from Comfort to Sport in the suspension settings helps control the fore and aft pitching under acceleration and braking without any of the harshness of the Sport+ setting, while the Manual setting in the transmission is best for holding the gears when carving along mountain roads.
Mountain roads really are the home ground of the G63. We did take it on a rough gravel road and were surprised at the ride compliance for such a sporting wagon on low profile tyres. We also ventured off-road for some light work with some wet tracks and mud, and the G never struggled for traction or grunt. But we limited the off-roading to that due to the type of the vehicle this is.
For now, the AMG G63 is the only version of the new G-Wagon available in Australia. The old, live-axle G300Cdi Professional is still available here, but it really is an agricultural vehicle by comparison. The non-AMG enhanced G350d has been launched in Europe and features Benz’s slick, new straight-six cylinder diesel engine.
Due to the demand of the G63 here, it will be last quarter of 2019 or later before the more off-road-suitable G350d reaches our shores, if at all. That would be a shame if it doesn’t arrive, as the ‘new’ G-Class is a step above the old and, while the G63 is a lot of fun, the G350d might be the best of the breed.