There are plenty of attendees at the over-a-hundred-grand hot-rod-SUV party -- BMW X5 M, Mercedes-AMG GLE63, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Range Rover Sport SVR -- but only one shows up wearing military fatigues: the Mercedes-AMG G63.
For 2019, however, G makes news: for the first time in 40 years its camo costume has been updated (though you'd have to be its mom to notice).
The G-wagen debuted across the pond in 1979 as an off-road/military vehicle. Now, admittedly, my German's a little rusty, but I'm told its formal name -- “Geländewagen” -- translates in English to “off-road vehicle” or “land wagon.”
In any event, the rugged G initially wasn't sold in the U.S., mainly because Mercedes had a tony stateside reputation to maintain. However, as the American sport-utility craze flowered into full bloom, Mercedes' suits concluded that a G-wagen gussied up with leather seats and a fancy stereo might appeal to upper-crust iconoclasts seeking something different.
And so, in 2002, the G-Class came to the U.S. -- looking exactly as it had in 1979. But with leather seats and a fancy stereo.
For 2019, however, the G is genuinely all-new for the first time in four decades. Only the thumb-plunger door handles and the aft-hanging spare-tire carrier are carried over. Redesigned are all body panels (look closely to spot softened edges) and the entire cabin decor (the changes here are obvious).
There's also 21st-century AMG suspension tuning and transmission calibration.
G-wagen is offered as the powerful, 416- hp G550 ($116,780) and the hot-rod, 577-hp G63 ($148,495). We drove the latter. And I'm here to tell ya, despite being a product of the box-it-came-in school of exterior design, and despite tipping the scales at a portly 5,842 lbs., the performance of this uber-pricey G63 is head-spinning.
We hit 60 mph in 4 seconds. And we did it in a vehicle whose styling exhibits all the sleek aerodynamics of a barn, whose heft is nearly 3 tons, whose ground clearance is 9.5 inches, and whose permanent 4WD boasts off-road-tough locking capability for all differentials -- center, rear and front.
The blistering acceleration is courtesy of a new, hand-built, 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8 that sends to all four wheels 577 hp and a pavement-rippling 627 lb.-ft. of torque through an equally new paddle-shift, nine-speed automatic. Zoooom. See ya!
In a 130-mile round trip to Ste. Genevieve, Mo., we registered 16 hwy mpg. Subsequently, we drove an additional 70 miles around St. Louis. In our 200-mile city/hwy total, we realized 14 mpg.
On the highway, the ride is firm, regardless whether Comfort, Sport or Sport-Plus is selected from G63's drive modes, but handling, cornering and steering response are aces -- particularly considering G's girth -- while the cabin feels as secure as a bank vault. In fact, the doors seal so tightly we actually felt ear-drum pressure when the door of an otherwise closed cabin was slammed with its signature "whoomphhhh."
The build quality is incredible.
Room is great throughout the five-passenger cabin while perks -- at long last -- are 21st-century modern. We not only had G63's standard 12.3-inch widescreen infotainment display, but also the optional 12.3-inch widescreen instrument cluster. None of it is touch-screen controlled, however, so plan some learning time with the center-console knob.
All that said, some old-school awkwardness remains. For example, the sun roof is a tiny rectangle, the side steps are too narrow to be much use, and the key function does not include proximity entry; you've got to fish the key fob out to unlock the vehicle, pretty much canceling the convenience of the standard push-button start.
But let's not quibble. G63 is a remarkable performance vehicle aimed at well-heeled driving enthusiasts who want an SUV that's different from the one everyone else in their gated community drives.