In the wide world of off-road-capable SUVs produced all over the planet, pedigree is everything. Here, the Jeep Wrangler is perhaps the top icon of adventure-minded, go-anywhere potential. In Australia, my money's on the Japan-produced Toyota Land Cruiser, whereas in the UK, the Land Rover Defender is king. For Germany, it's the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, affectionately referred to as the G-Wagen (as in, Geländewagen) or G-Wagon.
Or maybe not-so-affectionately. While it might have begun life as a military vehicle, today’s common trope is that G-Wagens are only driven by anyone's synonym for a dickhead, or that they're simply a status symbol of new money. (And aren't those ones and the same?)
Regardless, I think the car gets misunderstood; there's far more to the G-Wagen than meets the sensation of being cut off by one on Rodeo Drive. Like the Defender, LC, and Wrangler, it too has a long and illustrious lineage when it comes to off-road prowess with iconic looks to match. I'm here to report that after spending a whole week with a 2021 Mercedes-AMG G63 (Mercedes PR's press pool was a little thin due to shortages, but almost everything about it is unchanged for the 2022 model year), I was reminded that we can’t always judge a car by its buyers, because it was one of the most entertaining vehicles that I've ever driven.
2021 Mercedes-AMG G63 Review Specs
- Base price (as tested): $156,450 ($184,500)
- Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 | 9-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 577 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 627 lb-ft @ 2,500 to 3,500 rpm
- 0-60 mph: 4.5 seconds (but definitely felt faster)
- Off-road angles: 27° approach | 29° departure | 25° breakover
- Ground clearance: 9.5 inches
- Fording depth: 27.6 inches
- Curb weight: 5,783 pounds
- EPA fuel economy: 13 mpg city | 16 highway | 14 combined
- Quick take: The best all-rounder for anyone who can afford it and some of the most fun I've ever had behind the wheel.
- Score: 9/10
The G-Wagen's had all kinds of badges affixed to its boxy bodywork since its inception in 1979. Its original design intentions were for military use, and over the years it's been available to both governments and/or civilians as a Puch, Steyr Daimler Puch, Mercedes-Benz, and was even built under license by Peugeot. This latest, second generation hasn't changed much since 2018 when it got independent front suspension, and is split between the normal Mercedes-Benz-badged G550 and the more focused, AMG-engineered G63.
No matter which model prospective buyers choose, they both feature iconic, slightly-ugly-yet-also-quite-handsome styling with purposeful sturdiness built in. For instance, the door handles require pressing a big button and take more-than-average effort to close due to the immense amount of weather sealing. Opening and closing them is among the most satisfying experiences, ever. The G63 has massive fenders, exposed hinges, a rear gate that swings open rather than lifting up, and thick trim bits thrown on for added protection. The tester came equipped with the $3,050 AMG Trail Package, which includes all-terrain tires on 20-inch wheels, mud flaps, and blacked-out under guard protection. Oh, and the massive bull bar comes as standard—I was well-prepared for the immensely hazardous mall parking lots of Southern California.
Inside, the G63 is beautifully adorned in rich Nappa leather and Alcantara, with a healthy helping of carbon fiber and piano black trim thrown in for good measure. The front seats are heated and cooled, feature massaging and very customizable adjustment, and fit tall folk extremely well. At six-foot-three and a little out of shape, I found this to be the most comfortable front seating area of any vehicle I've ever driven, and the upright driving position and widescreen forward view was second-to-none. Despite not quite being the dimensionally largest thing on the road (though feeling definitely among the top 20%), this rig has quite the commanding driving position.
The G63 also features a laundry list of modern Benz infotainment and driver-assistance technology, which is all generally easy to configure once you've taken the time to page through screens and figure it all out. On the road it can be tedious—it took a day or two of a learning curve to swiftly page between Apple CarPlay and SiriusXM. Though, the 63's navigation is quite intuitive and easy to configure via voice command, as is utilizing Bluetooth to make phone calls. The Burmeister sound system absolutely cranks, too.
One of the G63's top qualities is its powertrain, which is the legendary, hand-assembled, 4.0-liter biturbo M176 V8. A curb weight butting up against 6,000 pounds is no big deal for this mighty engine's specs, and dear Lord is it a riot to rev out. It's got power all over the rev band, and having dual exhaust side pipes directly behind the doors ensures optimal aural enjoyment during all of it.
The M176 is generally always loud, but louder when it's put in its designated loud mode, dubbed "Powerful" by AMG. If you're going to roll around in a big, menacing SUV that's often shrugged off as a car for … certain clientele … you might as well flaunt it. In this mode, every sweep of the tachometer’s needle results in a baritone V8 bark, and I couldn't help but always have it on by default.
Getting the product of this bark to the ground is Mercedes' nine-speed AMG SpeedShift automatic transmission that couples the front and rear axles via a two-speed locking transfer case. It's a rear-biased 40:60 setup, with the front axle cradled by fully independent suspension and rear being a good ol' fashion straight axle. Both differentials are lockable, too. Finally, it all bolts up to a body-on-frame layout—just like the Land Cruiser, Wrangler, and previous-generation Defender.
Driving the Mercedes-AMG G63
On the Street
The G63 is such an excellent daily driver. Its boxy shape, massive windows, and upright driving position give it excellent visibility, which pairs perfectly with its performance-oriented chassis which gives it excellent maneuverability. It's a big truck, though somehow feels slimmer than something like a Ford Ranger or four-door Jeep Wrangler. The G is 78 inches wide without factoring in its mirrors, while the Wrangler and Ranger hit 73.8 and 77.8, respectively. However, squeezing past people on tight streets and in even tighter parking lots is never an issue, which is boosted by comfortably light electromechanical, rack-and-pinion power steering.
Because of the G's body-on-frame construction and AMG Ride Control sport suspension with adaptive dampers, it also rolls up and down basically anything that the paved world can throw at it. It's comfortable in all modes, and no hints of its rear straight axle make their way into the cabin. Speed bumps barely translate to the driver seat, and SoCal's infamously steep driveways can be taken at any angle and almost any reasonable speed. Though, I wouldn't advise playing pretend trophy truck driver.
Highway driving was similarly comfortable, however the G's boxy bodywork and big, very flat windshield brought on some pronounced wind noise north of 75 mph. It wasn't bad all things considered—this mild inconvenience simply goes with the design's territory.
Perhaps what surprised me most about the AMG G63 was how well it tackled twisties. Its hiked-up ride height, Pirelli all-terrain tires, and portly curb weight were all reigned in nicely by its AMG-tuned sport suspension on curvy roads around northern San Diego County. It wasn't C63-level, but still had shocking composure in Sport and Sport Plus modes, which tightened up the dampers, sharpened up the throttle response, and served up some glorious Sturm und Drang in the way it carried itself along. The powerful and fast-revving V8 and accompanying noise was intoxicating, and facing the reality of a speeding, 5,783-pound truck was never scary with its massive, 15.7-inch front and 14.6-inch rear rotors with six-piston front and single-piston rear calipers.
Less surprising was how it handled itself off-road. During my time with it, I sadly could only find enough time to drive it up a rural San Diego County truck trail somewhere between the Salton Sea and Pacific Ocean. There was enough travel in its suspension and clearance to tackle some decent-sized bumps, mildly threatening grades, and menacing ditches, though I must admit that I never got anywhere near its limits. Still, it was enough of an introduction that I had no problem believing that it could also tackle more focused environments like Anza-Borrego or Hungry Valley.
Yet, the trail features I was able to scramble over gave a solid indication of how the G-Wagen handles itself. Even in Sport mode, with none of the differentials locked and in the high gearset, it brushed off a lot. Part of the trail included a hilly spur with some deep ditches and menacing rocks that'd wreck its Pirelli Scorpion all-terrain tires in one fell swoop, and required some creative approach angles. But the G's articulation and sure-footedness made it anything but concerning. Switching between the two gear sets, as well as locking and unlocking the differentials was a breeze as well, and it was almost a pity that I didn't have to put them into action. Nor did I bother with its off-road-specific Sand, Rock, and Trail drive modes—I made perfectly good do with just a careful right foot and either Comfort or Sport mode.
Thankfully, the G63 never made contact with the terra firma, despite working with somewhat milder approach, departure, and breakover angles. The 63 is less capable here compared to the non-AMG 550's 31, 30, and 26 degrees, respectively.
The Lows and Highs
Let's start with the bad news. Overall, my only real qualms with the G63 were rooted in its overly sensitive proximity and parking sensors that seemed to have a mind of their own at times. While sitting at a light at a nondescript intersection, the sensors went off randomly like a fighter jet's missile lock warning system. I couldn't figure out why—perhaps they weren't a fan of the nearby curb that I'd pulled up alongside a few seconds prior? Similarly, if so much as an errant tree twig came anywhere near its front grille while pulling a multi-point turn, it acted like a murder of MIGs had me in their sights. Which is sort of hilarious for a big truck sporting such a big bull bar. But then, it does have an optional $6,500 Monza Grey Magno paint job—maybe its overprotectiveness is a good thing.
As far as the G-Wagen's high points go—besides its seating position and ride height (hehe)—it's such a fun all-rounder. The power is great, it's quite comfortable, the sound system bumps, and it fits four to four-and-a-half adults with plenty of room, plus a commodious cargo area. It's good fun off-road, and it makes all the right noises. Between its premium interior materials and sturdy door handles, the touchpoints are second-to-none as well.
2021 Mercedes-AMG G63 Features, Options, and Competition
While the lower-tier G550 might beat out the G63 in off-road capability, the AMG special sauce makes for a more thrilling and all-encompassing experience. It starts at $156,450, but my tester had a healthy helping of options added on, such as its Monza Grey Magno paint ($6,500), Saddle Brown leather ($400), and AMG carbon fiber interior trim ($3,700).
But wait, there's more. It also sported a heated steering wheel ($250), AMG Performance steering wheel ($900), leather grab handles ($550), plus the G Manufaktur Interior Package ($8,050), AMG Trail Package ($3,050), and AMG Night Package ($3,600), and a $1,050 destination and delivery charge, the total all-day price was $184,500. Personally, because the base equipment is so good, I'd only opt for the added off-road-ready AMG Trail Package, plus Night Package for improved aesthetics and call it a day.
The G550 also sports the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8, albeit it's not assembled by hand like the AMG and produces a far less 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. Its price undercuts the AMG by $25,000, as does its weight by 200 pounds, but the AMG still seems like more of a deal in the new car market for the amount of luxury, AMG brand prestige, and thrills that you get—and at the expense of slightly less off-road capability. This level of pricing discrepancy doesn't seem too large for those who can fork it over.
As far as how it stacks up against other high-end luxury truck fare, it's the best all-round package compared to the Defender 90 and Lamborghini Urus, two cars I drove last year and really enjoyed. Especially the Defender 90, which is a little painful to proclaim as a die-hard Land Rover fan. The Mercedes features the best interior and looks, has almost as much focused off-road capability as the Defender—without air suspension—and nearly the same on-road thrills as the Urus.
One word summarizes the G63's fuel economy: Ha! It's rated at 13 mpg city, 16 mpg highway, and 14 combined—I saw a hair under the combined figure at 13.8 mpg, spread across 600 miles of three-point star motoring. This is pretty darn low, but then, what do you expect from a near-6,000-pound truck with a high-output, near-race engine?
For those who are throwing down over one-fifty-large on one, and want all the thrills and comfort, I'm not sure it's much of a concern. It essentially matches the Lamborghini Urus' 14 mpg city, 19 highway, and 16 combined and the V8 Defender's 14 mpg city, 19 highway, and 16 combined. Want a sustainable Benz? There’s a whole line of EQ cars for you to choose from.
Value and Verdict
Is the 2021-and-newer Mercedes-AMG G63 a good value for most folks? Absolutely not.
But for those who are in the market for something in this price range and want top-level comfort, capability, and performance all wrapped up in an easy-to-live-with package, it absolutely is. Depending on where you live in our big, beautiful country, it either sticks out or doesn't—perhaps that's why it's such a Beverly Hills tractor.
It doesn't look like anything else on the road, and shares its platform with no other vehicle. The AMG G63 was seven-whole-days of Gelände fun, and while I mentioned the negative tropes that these things carry—who cares? If you can get one of these, do it.
Life's short. By that same token, even though it's reasonably safe to say that most owners won't take these for a spin off-road, they really should find opportunities to do so. Three locking diffs is almost unheard of in any off-the-production-line vehicle, and be sure to spring for the AMG Trail Package to get the good tires (which still have a lot of grip on twisty tarmac). It'll be the most calming and low-stress trail-ripping experience ever.
By the power invested in me as an automotive journalist, I hereby forgive every G-Wagen that's ever cut me off or tailgated me within the city limits of Los Angeles, Culver City, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. Their drivers notwithstanding, they’re certifiably excellent cars with incredible hardware that can do some amazing things. I get it now.
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