2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceIconic Versatility
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is one of a kind: it tackles the toughest terrain, and then after a quick shower rolls up to valet stands at the finest of hotels and plays the role perfectly in both situations. Given the SUV’s over-the-top capabilities and iconic design, it’s no wonder Mercedes has been unwilling to mess with success. That said, the all-new 2019 G-Class is a pretty big deal, since it is the most significant redesign of the legendary SUV since the first one was built — about 40 years ago. While at first glance the new G-Wagen looks the same, in reality only three items carry over from the previous-generation: door handles, headlight washers and spare tire carrier — everything else is new.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceThe New G-Class
While the overall shape of the G-Class continues unchanged, a number of telltale cues reveal that the 2019 model is all new. The most noticeable contemporary design elements are the headlights. Still round like the original, the new lights feature an LED surround for a modern look. The AMG G63 is differentiated further with a grille similar to that found on the AMG GT, as well as a lower position of the “bullbar.”

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceModel Lineup
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class will be available in two variants — the G550 or the AMG G63. Both offer supreme off-road capability as well as the recognizable fender-mounted turn signals, exposed door hinges and the sound of a locking vault when a door gets slammed shut.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMercedes-Benz G550
The G500 has a base retail price of $124,500 — $900 more than the outgoing version. Standard features are numerous including hand-stitched leather seats, heated front and rear seats, 64-color ambient lighting, a 12.3-inch widescreen display, a Burmester surround-sound audio system, a power sunroof, Apple CarPlay / Android Auto, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone climate control and 19-inch wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMercedes-AMG G63
Stepping up to the AMG G63 will boost the starting price to $147,500, which is actually $700 less than the 2018 G63. Upgrades over the G550 are primarily about performance — an AMG-developed suspension and AMG Performance 4MATIC rear-biased all-wheel drive — however, the G63 also features an AMG-Performance steering wheel, dual side-exhaust pipes, an AMG-specific grille and flared wheel arches.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUnder the Hood
The new G550 is powered by a 4.0-liter biturbo V8 engine that produces 416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque. While horsepower is the same as that of the outgoing G550, acceleration is a bit quicker, completing the run to 60 mph in a respectable 5.6 seconds. Fuel economy is slightly improved at ratings of 13 mpg city / 17 mpg hwy / 14 mpg combined.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAMG Power
The previous-generation G63 had a 5.5-liter V8 engine; for 2019 a smaller, hand-built 4.0-liter AMG V8 has replaced it. The engine may be smaller, but output is not: the G63 is rated at 577 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque — an increase of 14 horsepower and 66 lb-ft of torque. With more than enough power to overcome its bricklike aerodynamics, the G63 sprints to 60 mph in a mere 4.5 seconds — a full second quicker than the older G63. Fuel economy numbers have not yet been released for the AMG V8, but during our press drive — admittedly, with a heavy right foot — our tester reported around 11 mpg.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNew Transmission
Both engines are teamed with a 9G-TRONIC 9-speed automatic transmission — in the G63 it is an AMG Speedshift 9G-TRONIC unit. This replaces the 7-speed, providing a better gear-ratio spread for improved acceleration and an overall smoother drive.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInner Space
Although the G-Class looks the same on the outside, inside major upgrades bring the appropriate high-end Mercedes-Benz experience. Some classic G-Class touches remain, such as the grab handle positioned within reach of the front-seat passenger, as well as the traditional three differential-lock switches placed front and center. Designers also mimicked the style of the new headlights in the side vents.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceModern Look
What really pulls the G-Class into the 21st century is the available Widescreen Cockpit that combines two 12.3-inch displays under one glass panel. Overall, materials and finishes are more apropos for a six-figure vehicle — much improved over the previous generation.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFront Seats
We spent two days driving the G-Class at the Mercedes press event and determined that the front seats are a wonderful place to spend some quality time. Cushions are very comfortable with soft hand-stitched leather, available heating and cooling as well as an invigorating massage function. The dynamic seats use active bolsters to keep passengers from sliding during enthusiastic driving.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCupholder
Anyone who has gazed inside a previous-gen G-Class might have noticed that this expensive luxury vehicle had a single cupholder, which was a ring with a net beneath it — something akin to a miniature Nerf hoop. Finally, the G joins the modern era and now has cupholders front and rear that are actually usable.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear Seat
The new G-Class is wider by a few inches than the outgoing model, and this additional space is noticeable in the rear seat. Seats are a bit stiff, but the G possesses plenty of headroom and legroom. The center seat would not be all that comfortable during a long journey; however, the flat floor provides enough space for an adult’s legs and feet.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCargo Area
Although the new G-Class has a decent amount of cargo volume, it’s not as spacious as one would expect for such a large vehicle. That said, there is plenty of room for multiple suitcases or other cargo items. The rear seat can be folded to increase the available space; however, the seats are higher than the cargo floor, so the surface is at two levels — possibly an issue when loading sizable items.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
The G-Class has always been one of the most capable off-road vehicles on the planet, but on-road it drove like a tall, boxy SUV — not a pleasant experience on a winding mountain road. Thus we were quite surprised when our Mercedes hosts in San Diego directed us toward some rather circuitous roads. We were even more surprised when we were able to attack those roads in the G63 with the fervor of a sports car and the new G-Wagen begged for more.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSurprising Handling
The G63 tips the scales at close to three tons (curb weight hasn’t been released) and looks like it should simply tip over at the first corner, but time behind the wheel made believers out of us. With 577 horsepower the G63 takes off like a shot, accompanied by a roar from the side pipes that actually rattles the doors. With precise steering, AMG-Tuned suspension, a rear-biased AMG 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system and big, sticky tires, we were pushing the G63 through corners at speeds that should not have been possible.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceG550 is not a G63
Later in the day we took the same route in the G550, which proved that the G63 is much more than simply a more powerful engine. With power north of 400 horses, the G550 is no slouch; however, the performance on winding roads is different. The big vehicle oversteers into corners with tires protesting the entire way, accompanied by plenty of vehicle lean during quick directional changes. The G550 handles like we’d expect a G-Class to handle.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFreeway Cruiser
Out on the freeway both vehicles rode comfortably and smoothly. We noticed a bit of wind noise at higher speeds — likely from the large mirrors, but it wasn’t intrusive enough to be bothersome. As previously mentioned, the G-Class is not exactly aerodynamic; that said, during a long road trip either G-Class would be perfectly comfortable and capable.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOff the Road
It is unfortunate that typical G-Class buyers will never take advantage of its extraordinary off-road capabilities — most will never leave pavement except when a wheel goes up a curb while parking at Whole Foods. Mercedes took a group of journalists to the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area in Borrego Springs, California, to get a taste of the new G’s capabilities, and we drove away impressed.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLocking Differentials
In the center of the dashboard are three switches used to independently lock the center, front and/or rear differentials. With all three differentials locked, power is evenly distributed to all four wheels no matter what wheel has traction, so power is not lost on a spinning tire. We experienced this firsthand as we piloted the G-Class up a steep incline of loose sand and rocks. As long as one wheel had traction at any one time, forward momentum continued. This path would have been difficult to hike up, and the G-Class made the ascent without breaking a sweat.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceG-Mode
As soon as one of the differential locks has been activated, the G-Class puts itself into “G-Mode” — an off-road setting that adjusts the damping of the chassis, the steering, throttle response and transmission for a more comfortable ride as well as improved control for the driver. With so much power on tap, it would be easy to apply too much throttle in situations that require precise movements. G-Mode makes it much easier to apply smooth power and steering as needed.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAll-Terrain Specs
To better understand what the G-Class can handle, let’s consider some of its off-road specs. The G has 9.5 inches of ground clearance, can wade through 27.6 inches of water (with a sensor to warn if the water is getting too deep), can climb a 45-degree slope and has a 26-degree breakover angle. It is also possible to traverse a 35-degree incline. We attained about 32 degrees — a scary position when it feels as if you’d fall out of the vehicle if the door accidentally swung open.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSand and Other Terrain
We experienced the G-Class in soft sand, washboard tracks and steep inclines and declines — and no situations presented any insurmountable issues. The ride did get a bit rough at speed on washboard surfaces, but that has to be expected.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight for You?
Although the G-Class resides among a very elite group of premium SUVs, there really aren’t any direct competitors to this time-honored classic. A few vehicles come close to matching its off-road prowess, but these are not luxury vehicles. And there are luxury SUVs that cannot do what a G-Class can do, and no other vehicle on the road has the same cachet as the iconic G-Class. If you’re looking to stand out from the crowd in a vehicle that is unlikely to meet any terrain it can’t handle, the G-Class certainly fits the bill. And if you have the means, the G63 is definitely worth the upgrade.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 9.0
Pros: Outstanding performance on- and off-road; iconic styling; vastly improved interior.
Cons: Some wind noise; poor fuel economy; untapped off-road capability.
Bottom Line: With an upgraded interior and improvements all around, this iconic Mercedes is better than ever before.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

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