Long before the 2014 Mercedes-Benz G-Class hit showrooms in October 2013, the venerable G-Wagen made its name 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 2014 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 a recent interior overhaul.
As such, we'll concede that the 2014 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.
What's New for 2014?
There are no major changes to the Mercedes-Benz G-Class for the 2014 model year.
What We Like
World-class engines; go-anywhere skill set; steeped in tradition; plenty of modern technology
What We Don't
Basic design is over 30 years old; possibly the worst vehicle on the market for going around corners; crude ride quality
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates both G models at 13 miles per gallon overall. 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.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is available in two trim levels: the G550 and the high-performance G63 AMG version.
The G550 ($114,200) is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 and comes with a rich list of standard items, including adaptive cruise control, blind spot assist, a Harmon Kardon Logic7 surround sound system and heated and ventilated seats. As such, the G550 model's only available options are a yearly mbrace package with enhanced mobile app functionality ($280 annually, following a free 6-month trial); mbrace PLUS concierge service ($20 monthly, following a free 3-month trial); and Mercedes-Benz apps with Internet browsing ($14 monthly, following a free 3-month trial).
The G63 AMG ($135,700) is motivated by a 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8 producing 536 hp. In addition to the same mbrace, mbrace PLUS and Mercedes-Benz apps options found in the G550, the G63 AMG can be ordered with a $4,950 designer Exclusive Leather Package, which offers diamond-stitched Napa leather.
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.
Behind the Wheel
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-Class 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-inch chrome rims with low-profile street tires. (You wouldn't do that, right?)
Fact is, people generally don't buy a G-Class 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 QX80 -- 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 -- The recently redesigned 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.
The cheaper G550 delivers a reasonably competent drive, and its V8 is surprisingly responsive. But for those seeking snorting, thrilling performance, the gaudy yet potent G63 AMG is the G-Wagen of choice. Either way, spendy SUV shoppers are treated to a uniquely stylish driving experience when they opt for a Mercedes-Benz G-Class.