Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG

By Mark Elias
Thursday, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 11:34 am
Nearly 35 years young, the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG is the latest version of the brand's off-road/high performance behemoth.

Wait - off road and high performance? That's right.

As the regular G550 model, it is a legend in its own time. As the G63 AMG, the G-Wagen (short for Geländewagen) is an improper, imposing, noisy conveyance that really exists for no good reason other than because someone at Mercedes-Benz's AMG skunkworks in Affalterbach, Germany, has a sense of humor..

And for all of these shortcomings, it is the reason why it is so beloved.

What is it?
Conceived in 1979 by a request from the Shah of Iran, the five-passenger, body-on-frame constructed G-Wagen has undergone constant improvement. Built under contract by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria, it was not officially imported in North America until about a decade ago. Since then, it has become a serious status symbol for those not of the Prius mindset.

Most recently refreshed inside and out for 2013, the G-Wagen is offered in standard G550 and special order-only G63 AMG.

At the heart of the G63 AMG beats a 5.5-liter, hand-built twin-turbocharged V8 engine with a magnesium two-stage resonance intake manifold. Producing power to the tune of 544 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, and 560 lb-ft of torque between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm, it does not suffer fools lightly. Newly along for the ride is a start/stop system to cut the engine while stationary to save fuel. Still, the EPA test rates the G63 at 12/14 mpg. We saw just 11.5 mpg overall.

All that power is sent to a seven-speed automatic transmission and all four wheels thanks. Three lockable differentials and solid front and rear axles ensure some form of off road ability, but the tightly-tuned suspension doesn't make this one the rock crawler you might expect.

What's it up against?
The Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged and Porsche Cayenne Turbo have swagger and power on their own, but it's hard to say that anyone really offers a direct rival to the G63 AMG.

How does it look?
Think Popemobile. Okay, don't, but this is a large, massively imposing rolling box with all the style of the Treasury building in Washington, D.C. And it has doors whose locking mechanisms sound as though they were pilfered from the same. Emitting a clacking reverberation, they close with the most imposingly solid thunk this side of a bank vault. So impressive when hitting the remote key fob, the sound can be heard from more than 50 feet away.

The AMG lower bumper features large cooling intakes that will help to keep all the underhood motivation in chill mode. The upright greenhouse can accommodate even the tallest of ten-gallon hat, if you were, say, a German cowboy (yikes).

Our example was equipped with the added bling of a chromed out brush guard to protect the front grille from all forms of urban foe, along with chrome running boards and 20-inch split-spoke wheels. Largely box-like, it includes such nods to progress like the addition of LED daylight running lights.

A rear-mounted full-sized spare tire and a side opening cargo hatch, for curbside safety while unloading, complete the G-Wagen.

And on the inside?
Even though military G-Wagens are still available, Mercedes-Benz's bespoke-style Designo interior treatment ensures that the G63 AMG undergoes a total transformation to full-on luxo-cruiser.

Heated and ventilated front seats offer bolster adjustments that accommodate the build of nearly every driver. The driving position itself is rather upright, but still allows full adjustments. Rear seat legroom can be challenging depending on the position of the front seats. Even though the G63 looks big, its footprint is smaller than a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The electronic suite has been uprated to the Mercedes-Benz COMAND infotainment system with MBrace2 telematics and concierge services. Press a button and the concierge can do everything from give directions to book a flight out of town. We thought about having a friendly operator send us to Tahiti for the weekend, but then we remembered that the airline tickets are not complimentary.

A console-mounted dial controls navigation and audio functions reasonably well, but COMAND is more menu-intensive than similar systems offered by some other automakers.

But does it go?
The 5.5-liter V8 features typical AMG refinement that we have experienced in many of the other AMG variants ranging from the SL63 to the CLS63. Power comes on after a brief shock whence the powertrain is being addressed ("You talkin' to me?!") Looking like il Papa's whip, and with 544-horsepower of Affalterbach heat beating under the hood, it is certain to garner many comments that begin with "holy" and end with something that might furl a Papal brow.

The V8 engine is responsible for pushing upwards of 5,600 lbs., so it will need to muster all the torque that it has available. And there are very few things that can compare to the intoxicating resonance of the G63's side-mounted dual exhausts.

The seven-speed automatic supplies quick gear changes at will, or through the added involvement of the paddle shift levers. AMG-tuned Comfort, Sport and Manual settings on the center console allow the driver to change shift points and suspension settings with the touch of a button. Switching to S-mode caused a subtle push backwards into the seat as the twin turbos spooled up ever-so-slightly.

In a phrase, the G63 goes like stink. Impressive overall, one must be mindful that the sheer mass and top heaviness of this hot-rod G-Wagen doesn't exactly lend itself to corner cutting as you would in an SLS AMG. Its suspension features lots of travel and will toss in some added nose-diving when brakes are applied in a rapid fashion.

Mileage is where it suffers, but if you are orbitting in this area of the stratosphere, fuel prices are the least of your concerns. This is not the car you want to continually push at 90 mph, all day, everyday, because with its size and heft at that speed, the G63 AMG requires your undivided attention.

But nothing else is quite like it.

Leftlane's bottom line
Sure, its design is ancient in car years. Its aerodynamic shape is akin to a Frigidaire side by side, and it never met a gallon of gas it didn't want to devour once every 11 miles or so. And it is most definitely not a vehicle for a shy, introverted owner.

But like a recent hotel ad, the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG possesses just the right amount of wrong.

2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG Base Price $134,300. As tested, $135,205.
Destination, $905.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.

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