There's nothing quite like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class sports-utility vehicle. How many vehicles can say they were designed at the request of the Shah of Iran, have served as the official transportation device for the Pope, are used as military vehicles by nearly every major country in the world and are sold brand new fully swathed in luxury from car dealerships in North America?
Only one that we can think of: the G-Class. The G has been around for more than 35 years, although only since 2002 has the G-Class been officially imported by Mercedes-Benz. Previously, North American importation was through Santa Fe, New Mexico-based grey market importer Europa International. Since 2002, the G has been available new from Mercedes-Benz dealers, despite brief hiatuses.
The lineup includes the G550, the mid-level Mercedes-AMG G63, and the range-topping, V12-powered G65.
For the latest model year, the G gets minor visual tweaks and a more efficient twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 engine.
The G was once expected to be replaced officially in the consumer market by the GL-Class sports utility vehicles, but its fans protested and Mercedes-Benz relented. Thus, despite a history dating back more than a generation, the G-Wagen is still built by Magna-Steyr in Austria and sold new.
One of the most rugged vehicles ever produced, the "standard" G550 features full body-on-frame construction, solid axles front and rear, three differential locks and copious plating underneath to fend off rocks. Underhood is a 4.0 liter V8 engine that puts out 416 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 450 pound-feet of torque from 2,000 to 4,750 rpm. It features a seven-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift manual-style shifting.
The G550 takes 5.8 seconds to hit 60 mph from a stop, an impressive statistic considering it's about as aerodynamic as a 1970s Volvo and it weighs over 5,800 pounds. Fuel economy checks in at 13 mpg in the city and 14 mpg on the highway.
Inside, the G550 continues to show its age thanks to a flat, upright windshield, limited shoulder room and blocky design. Yet its exceedingly well built and now features a new instrument panel and a center stack that brings the secondary controls into the 21st century. Standard equipment includes Mercedes-Benz's latest navigation and infotainment systems, a powerful harman/kardon audio system, a multicontour driver's seat with pneumatic bolsters and extensive premium leather trim.
Electronic driving aids include blind spot detection, parking sensors on both ends, a rear-view camera, stability control, and trailer stability assist.
The timeless Mercedes-Benz G-Class is arguably in a class of its own given its very truck-like design, but it still faces competition from the Land Rover Range Rover, the Infiniti QX80 and the Lexus LX.