Pros: World-class engines; go-anywhere skill set; steeped in tradition; plenty of modern technology
Cons: Basic design is over 30 years old; possibly the worst vehicle on the market for going around corners
What's New: The 2013 G-Class receives a revamped interior, not to mention a new G63 AMG version that pumps out 536 twin-turbocharged horsepower for, oh, about $135,000 as a starting price.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV lineup, consisting of the 2013 Mercedes G550 and the utterly insane G63 AMG, has been dramatically refined, the company says.
Right. Kind of like Los Angeles' iconic Hollywood sign was dramatically refined by its 2012 repainting.
Or like Italian big shot Silvio Berlusconi was dramatically refined by his recent experiments with cosmetic surgery.
Truth be told, the venerable G-Wagen made its name long ago as a Cold War-era German military vehicle that was converted for civilian use. Its first year of civilian production was 1979, to be precise.
Since then, the G-Wagen has earned a worldwide reputation for exceptional durability, toughness and class. It also has been stuffed full of the best engines Mercedes has to offer, including the glorious 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged 536-horsepower V8 that powers this year's new G63 AMG.
But let's be clear. If you buy a 2013 G-Class, you'll be dropping six figures on a glorified German Jeep that debuted during the Carter Administration.
Here's the real question, though: Is there anything wrong with that?
Not if you ask Hollywood celebrities, who gobble up G-Wagens the way reasonable folk buy Honda Civics. And not if you ask genuine G-Wagen fans, who will tell you that Mercedes got most of the details right back in the day -- and that most of the shortcomings have been addressed by regular powertrain updates and this year's interior overhaul.
As such, we'll concede that the 2013 Mercedes-Benz G550 and G63 AMG have solidified their spot at the top of the automotive heap. This boxy Benz may be a relic from a bygone era, but for buyers with the requisite means, it still doesn't get much better than a G-Wagen.
Comfort & Utility
The 2-row, 5-passenger G-Class is offered in two trim levels based on engine choice: G550 (regular 5.5-liter V8) and G63 AMG (twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8).
The G550 comes fully loaded with niceties like 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, LED exterior accent lighting, leather upholstery, multi-contour power front seats with extensive adjustability, heated front and rear (outboard only) seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof, a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, iPod/USB and Bluetooth compatibility, 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio and the COMAND multimedia interface with a 7-in touchscreen, navigation, comprehensive portable media connectivity and an 80-GB hard drive with 10 GB of digital music storage.
The G63 AMG steps up to the twin-turbocharged engine and offers specialties such as 20-in wheels, AMG suspension tuning, various AMG styling cues and a unique shift knob.
By the way, if there's a feature you want that's not listed either here or on the G-Class website, just tell Mercedes. They may accommodate special requests, within reason, from G-Class buyers.
In our interior evaluation, we had to give the 2013 G-Class props: This beast really does squeeze the best of modern Benz luxury and technology into its 34-year-old body. The standard multi-contour seats are fantastic, the Harman/Kardon stereo is sublime and the hard drive-based COMAND system is fully up to date.
Have you ever heard of resto-mods? In brief, they involve classic cars being reconditioned with (among other things) new interiors that have the latest technology. The 2013 G-Class strikes us as perhaps the ultimate factory-built resto-mod. It goes back a long way, for sure, but now it has Mercedes' finest modern accoutrements inside to keep it fresh.
The G-Class model's second row seats are relatively flat in terms of contours, but there's plenty of adult-grade room back there, and the outboard seats are heated -- a nice standard touch. For better or worse, the G-Wagen does not offer a third-row seat.
Should you ever wish to haul any stuff, the G will swallow almost 80 cu ft of it behind the second-row seats, which is satisfactory for a vehicle of this size.
What can we say? With its new interior for 2013, the G-Class has been thoroughly modernized. It comes standard with all the high-tech gadgets that a 6-figure vehicle should have. From the 7-in COMAND interface to the premium stereo with iPod/Bluetooth integration, it's all included in the purchase price. This is more than enough tech for most tastes.
Performance & Fuel Economy
Every G-Class features a 7-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles, permanent all-wheel drive and selectable low-range gearing with three, count 'em, three locking differentials: front, center and rear. There are also over eight inches of both ground clearance and wheel travel. In short, if you want to take your 6-figure SUV into the bushes, chances are it'll conquer them without breaking a sweat.
Under the hood, the base G550 is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 rated at 382 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque. This is a lovely engine that's immensely satisfying in both force and refinement; plus, it's slowly being phased out in favor of smaller turbocharged V8s, so the G550 offers one of the last opportunities to experience it in a new vehicle. If we're honest, this is more than enough motor for the G-Wagen.
But there's nothing wrong with turbochargers -- not when two of them team up to produce 536 hp, at least, as in the new 2013 G63 AMG. It's also got 560 lb-ft of torque on tap. The result is that the G36 is downright fast: Mercedes estimates that the sprint to 60 miles per hour will require just 5.3 seconds. Not bad for a 5,622-lb utility vehicle.
Fuel economy? Oh, it's bad. Both G models are rated at 13 miles per gallon overall by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If you're keeping score at home, the G550 noses out the G63 on the highway, 15 mpg to 14 mpg, but both return a dismal 12 mpg in urban driving.
On the bright side, maximum towing capacity is a handy 7,000 pounds.
The 2013 Mercedes G550 and G63 AMG come with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, and just four airbags: two in front, and two full-length side-curtain units.
The available electronic safety aids are numerous, including the new Mbrace safety/telematics system that connects with compatible smartphones and computers. Rather than go through each high-tech safety feature here, we'll simply suggest visiting the Mercedes website for more information.
There have been zero crash tests of the G-Wagen on our shores thus far, and this trend is not likely to change.
The G-Class feels a lot more elevated than it looks, if you can believe that. This is obviously a tall and narrow vehicle, but these qualities are somehow magnified when you're behind the wheel. So if there's a tight corner ahead, take it slow. The G-Wagen is more like the Mercedes Sprinter cargo van than an ordinary Benz in this respect.
However, the G excels at highway cruising, limited only by its terrible aerodynamics and the significant wind noise that results. And it's even more adept off-road, provided you haven't gone and installed 22-in chrome rims with low-profile street tires (you wouldn't do that, right?).
Fact is, people generally don't buy a G for the way it drives. But we think that the fortunate few who take up the keys will be pleasantly surprised by how well this Benz handles the road.
Other Cars to Consider
Infiniti QX56: Based on the excellent overseas Nissan Patrol SUV, the QX is a legitimate off-roader and its styling rivals that of the G-Class model for sheer audacity. Plus, it costs tens of thousands less.
Land Rover Range Rover: Treated to a true redesign this year, the new Range Rover is much lighter than its predecessor, enabling it to run circles around the portly G-Wagen. But does it look as hardcore as the Benz? You be the judge.
Porsche Cayenne: If you like to take the occasional aggressive corner, the G-Class won't get the job done, but Porsche's athletic crossover just might. Definitely the driver's choice in this class.
We would really be just fine with the cheaper G550. That V8 is a thing of beauty, and it feels ultra-responsive, too. Plus, the AMG model's styling cues can be a bit gaudy.