2015 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG

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 30 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.

Once expected to be replaced officially in the consumer market by the GL-Class sports utility vehicles, fans of the G protested and Mercedes-Benz relented. Thus, despite a history dating back more than a generation, the G-Wagen is still sold new. In fact, the venerable off-roader received an update for the previous model year that includes=d minor exterior tweaks, a more modern cabin and, of course, the new G63 AMG performance model discussed herein.

The G63 features a much more aggressive overall look than its predecessor, the G55, particularly due to a lower front fascia that is almost completely dominated by three enormous air intakes. Underneath the circular headlights are the same LED running lights seen on the G550, though a unique two-bar grille visually differentiates the G63 from its tamer sibling. Dual side exhaust pipes mounted ahead of the left rear wheel, a touch used on the G55, return.

Under the hood is AMG's twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8. In this application, the motor sends 544 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission. Bringing the heavy SUV to a halt are new perforated brake discs measuring 14.8 x 1.42 inches at the front and 13 x 0.79 inches at the rear. The front axle is fitted with a six-piston fixed-caliper brake system taken from the ML63 AMG, with a single-piston floating-caliper system on the rear axle.

Like the standard G-Class, the G63 features full body-on-frame construction, solid axles front and rear, three differential locks and copious plating underneath to fend off rocks. Mercedes tweaked the suspension/damper settings to give the G63 more capable handling than the old G55, although buyers shouldn't expect the SUV to handle anything like a sports car.

Inside, the G63 feels a bit like a 30-year-old vehicle thank to an upright windshield, limited shoulder room and blocky design. Yet it's exceedingly well built and now features a new to the G-Class instrument panel and a center stack that brings the secondary controls into the 21st century. Standard equipment includes Mercedes-Benz's latest COMAND navigation, a harman/kardon audio system, a multicontour driver's seat with pneumatic bolsters and extensive premium leather trim, while G63-specific touches include designo leather upholstery with fluted leather door paneling.

New standard safety features include DISTRONIC PLUS, Blind Spot Assist and the parking aid PARKTRONIC with reversing camera. The ESP stability control system has been revised and now includes Trailer Stability Assist.

Most G63s are special order items. All are built under contract by Magna-Steyr at an assembly plant in Graz, Austria.

Key competitors
The Mercedes-Benz G63 is arguably in a class of its own as a decidedly truckish performance SUV, but it still faces competition from more modern and car-like rivals such as the Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the BMW X5 M.