By Andrew Ganz
Wednesday, Oct 23rd, 2013 @ 11:45 am
 
Bonkers. There's no other way to describe the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG. The way it looks, the way it drives and, of course, its spec sheet.
Bonkers.

Let's start with the latter. For 2013, Mercedes-Benz updated its box-on-wheels, military spec-style G-Class with its AMG division's latest hand-built powerplant. Displacing 5.5 liters and boasting a pair of turbos, the G63's big V8 cranks out 536 horsepower and 560 lb-ft. of torque, enough to catapult it to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.

That might not sound all that fast - and, in absolute terms, it isn't - but it's worth remembering that the G63 AMG weighs over 5,600 lbs. unladen. That's heavy for any SUV, but particularly plump when you consider that this one is heavier than the much larger Cadillac Escalade. Clearly, there's a whole lot of mass going on here. You're not going to find much application of advanced weight-saving materials in the g63.

But that's just what the G63 is all about. Still very clearly derived for military use at its core, the G63 rides on a separate ladder frame and sends power to all four wheels via the kind of goodies bound to thrill an off roader: Solid front and rear axles and a trio of locking differentials.

Of course, all that mud plugging stuff is completely pointless on a vehicle massaged by Mercedes' in-house tuning firm, AMG. In addition to slotting in the same engine used in the wicked C63 AMG, the boys and girls from Affalterbach, Germany, battened down the hatches with a stiffened suspension, brakes bigger than dinner plates at Golden Corral and enough pleated black leather inside to satisfying just about any Russian mobster.

A few styling tweaks outside for 2013 subtly set the G63 apart from its siblings. Admittedly, there's nothing subtle about this vehicle - especially the matte black paint of our test car.

For those who want to make an impact but perhaps spend less, the non AMG-ized G550 stickers for around $20,000 less than the G63's $135,700. And Leftlane readers elsewhere can go whole hog with the V12-powered G65 AMG, a vehicle clearly intended for the nouveau riche in Russia and the Middle East, not housewives from suburban St. Louis.

Recipe for success?
A big engine and a stiffer suspension do not automatically make a better car. That said, given that AMG started with something as archaic as the G-Class, which was designed to fulfill a military contract in the 1970s, the transition is nothing short of remarkable.

Obviously, there's ferocious straight-line acceleration. And the sound, pumped out via chrome tailpipes that exit just ahead of the rear wheels... oh, the sound. Staccato at idle, the G63's pipes let out a mellifluous roar as the tachometer skyrockets toward redline. Of course, with each gear change offered by the seven-speed automatic transmission, it seems as though the G63's fuel tank supplies one more gallon of premium unleaded to the V8. At 13 mpg combined on the EPA's cycle, this is one thirsty vehicle.

For 2013, the G63's ride quality has been improved by some careful retuning, but it is still lumpy and trucky, amplified by its low-rolling resistance tires wrapped around 20-inch alloy wheels. Steering, via the off road-oriented solid front axle, is of the "point it and see where you wind up" variety.

Still, the G63 proved a hoot to hurtle down a lonely stretch of highway, as we did in the desert outside of Palmdale, California.

The G63's interior is more appealing than you might expect: The aura is straight out of a military surplus store, albeit one that has been updated with most of Mercedes' latest electronics items and enough leather and wood to supply any house of ill repute. The gang's all here, so to speak, but the smattering of exposed screws and the goofy ergonomics that give passengers top hat head room and midget legroom are reminders of this vehicle's heritage.

Bonkers. Bless it for its absurdity.

Leftlane's bottom line
Canceling out the efforts of thousands of Toyota Prius owners every time its gas pedal is depressed, the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG is an ultimate must-experience vehicle.

Borderline useless off road thanks to its sticky road tires and stiff suspension, it isn't exactly a canyon carver. But like that crazy uncle who comes to every family reunion with a bottle of booze hidden in his sock, the G63 is endearing yet frustratingly embarrassing before the night is over.

Still, he's family, and you invite him back. So too the G63.

2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG base price, $135,700.

Photos by Andrew Ganz and courtesy Mercedes-Benz.