Take a look outside the nearest window. If you’re close enough to see a street, the odds are that you’ll see a crossover or sport utility vehicle of some kind. They’re everywhere these days.
However, it’s much less likely you’ll see a Mercedes-Benz G-Class (unless you live in Beverly Hills). What’s now seen as a status symbol originally started life as a vehicle meant to make it over rough terrain and through even tougher circumstances. Even though it’s been in production for nearly 40 years, the G-Class is not a common sight. That’s particularly true here in the United States because Mercedes-Benz only started officially importing it in the fall of 2002 (although that didn’t stop people from bringing grey-market G-Classes into the U.S. before then).
You could say that in a world full of SUVs, there’s only one G-Class. Nothing looks quite like it. Its presence in a parking lot or on a mountain side is unmatched. Its geometric body encases a combination of the simplicity of yesteryear and the technology of today.
The 2017 version of the G-Wagen (aka Geländewagen aka “cross country vehicle”) is available in three forms. The G550 comes with a powerful twin-turbo V-8. Its sportier AMG G63 sibling has an even larger, more potent turbocharged eight-cylinder engine. The flagship AMG 65 has two turbos, 12 cylinders, and enough torque to change the direction of Earth’s rotation.
After spending a week driving a 2017 Mercedes-Benz G550 on back roads and suburban streets, through mud, and over rocks, we became firm believers that there’s nothing else out there quite like the G-Class.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G550 Exterior
The G-Class has an almost mythical nature to it. We seldom see one in person, yet we’ve always had an awareness of what it is and what it looks like. It made fans and drew attention wherever we drove it. When we were taking pictures of it, a boy who wasn’t even alive when Mercedes-Benz started bringing the G-Class to this country looked down from his poolside lounging spot and shouted to us, “Is that a G-Wagen?”
It can’t be mistaken for anything else. Its basic shape goes back to the days of the Carter administration and forgoes advancements in modern aerodynamics in favor of eye-catching, statement-making right angles. We likened the G550 to a bank vault because of its shape. Its construction is fittingly robust. Craftspeople weld the G-Class’s sturdy ladder frame and galvanized steel body by hand.
In addition to its standard stainless steel brush guard, bi-xenon headlights, and full-length running boards, our G550 test vehicle was outfitted with a variety of options. Those included $6,500 worth of designo manufaktur Paprika Metallic paint; $500 black 19-inch AMG wheels; and the $2,250 Night Package’s black bumpers, fender flares, protective side strips, and roof.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G550 Interior
We enjoyed just getting inside of the G550. Gripping the black plastic door handle and thumbing the door latch release cylinder forward was a delightfully analog experience. The door closed with a distinctive metallic click. For whatever reason, engineers chose to not give the G550 keyless start, so we had to insert the SmartKey into a slot and twist it to fire up the throaty V-8 ahead of us. Once we hit a certain speed, the door lock trumpets shot down into place with a substantial thunk. Mercedes-Benz could’ve easily given the G-Wagen keyless entry, soft-close doors, and push-button start, but it didn’t. As convenient as those modern touches would’ve been, we’re kind of glad the G550 didn’t have them. Those exclusions made it lovably old-school and mechanical.
Once we were seated in the G550’s $1,950 optional designo Porcelain Nappa leather seats, we were surrounded by gleaming Anthracite poplar wood trim and decidedly more modern features. The front row was heated and cooled; the back seats were heated. Adaptive cruise control (aka Distance Pilot DISTRONIC) made our highway driving easier by maintaining the speed we wanted and a particular following distance from the vehicle directly in front of us. The eight-inch COMAND center screen displayed the navigation map, satellite radio stations, text messages, and other helpful features. Following an afternoon of impromptu off-roading, we cranked up the volume on the 450-watt harman/kardon LOGIC7 sound system. No matter how high we had it, it sounded clear and distortion-free.
Changing the suspension from its Comfort setting to its Sport mode was as easy as pressing a button. Both setups were surprisingly gentle over bumps in the road. We normally drove the G550 in Comfort mode because we had no intention of treating it as if it were a sports car.
We frequently had passengers riding in the back seat, which came up a little short on legroom for this 5’10” writer. Our friends didn’t mind. They were all smiles one particular evening as we took the winding roads through Central Texas wine country.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G550 Performance
It’s hard to call the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 in the G550 a “base” engine because it certainly doesn’t feel like an entry-level offering. Engineers were able to squeeze satisfyingly large numbers – 416 horsepower and 450 lbft of torque – out of the relatively compact power plant. They routed those through a 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic. That output was more than enough to get the G-Wagen up to speed in a hurry. Mercedes-Benz has clocked the G550’s 0-60 mph time at 5.8 seconds. Not bad for a 5,724-pound rolling safe.
That weight translated to the steering. It was so heavy at parking lot speeds that it felt as if all power assistance had been removed. On the road, the steering lightened up and became less communicative. That did nothing to reduce how invincible we felt behind the wheel of the blocky beast.
We frequently flattened the right pedal. As fun as it was to blast forward in the G550, it was even more of a pleasure to hear the bloodthirsty roar of the V8 as it came out of the pipes that shot the addictive sound out right under the second row of seats.
At the Texas Auto Writers Association’s Texas Truck Rodeo, we took the G550 over the dirt and rocks of a seemingly limitless hunting ranch. The rig’s permanent all-wheel drive, low-range gearing, trio of locking differentials (front, center, and rear), short overhangs, and 9.25 inches of ground clearance allowed us to walk through whoops, climb steep grades, and billy-goat over chunks of rock. We could’ve conquered every obstacle on the trail we encountered in high range, but that wouldn’t have been as fun. We saw buttons and we pushed every one of them.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G550 Safety
On top of Distance Pilot DISTRONIC, our G550 had two front airbags, side curtain airbags for all outboard occupants, a rear camera, Blind Spot Assist for safe lane changes, and Parking Assist PARKTRONIC for dent-free parking lot maneuvering.
2017 Mercedes-Benz G550 Overall
Part of the G-Class’s uniqueness is a result of its price. The G550 starts at $122,400.* To get one dressed and equipped just like our review vehicle, you’ll pay $136,375.
There’s only one G-Class. If you want such a distinctive and capable SUV, you can get it at an AutoNation Mercedes-Benz dealership.
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.