Full 2009 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Review
What's New for 2009
A more powerful engine finds its way into the 2009 Mercedes-Benz G-Class. The new G550 trim level replaces last year's G500 and has a 5.5-liter 382-horsepower V8. The G55 AMG is also a bit more powerful this year and now boasts 500 hp. Both the G550 and G55 AMG get a new grille design and a few minor interior tweaks. Additional standard equipment includes multi-contouring and ventilated front seats and a new COMAND system complete with high-tech features like a hard-drive-based navigation system, an iPod interface and HD digital radio.
"Refinement" is hardly the first word that springs to mind when staring down the flat, rectangular grille of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz G-Class. With its tall proportions and a silhouette that looks as if it were designed by FedEx, the G-Class cuts an imposing figure on the road as well as at the valet stand.
The G-Class first went on sale in 1979 as the Gelaendewagen (or G-wagen), which means "tough terrain vehicle." This body-on-frame SUV was primarily designed for military purposes, and aside from its updated power plants, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz G-Class maintains close ties to its heritage as a very capable off-road vehicle with four-wheel drive and three locking differentials. While off-road enthusiasts might be attracted to these features, we imagine that the $110,000 G55 AMG is overkill for most folks who want to trudge through the mud and rocks. Sure, there are plenty of luxury features inside the G-Class to keep occupants happy, but the lofty step-in height, upright seating position and heavy steering and throttle pedal efforts make the SUV feel more like a dressed-up Jeep Wrangler than an inherently comfortable Benz.
As a legitimate luxury sport-utility for daily use, the G-Class is outclassed by other full-size luxury models like the Lexus LX 570, Land Rover Range Rover and even Mercedes' own GL-Class. Pricing is also a concern, with even the G550 starting at about $100,000. About the only thing the G-Class boasts over its competitors is sheer power and machismo. Nevertheless, those are the attributes that will attract a small number of buyers to this 5,500-pound box on alloy wheels.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a five-passenger luxury SUV available in G550 and G55 AMG trim levels. Both trims come fully equipped with 18-inch wheels (19s for the G55) a sunroof, bi-xenon headlamps, a heated windshield, running boards, rear park assist with a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt/telescoping heated steering wheel, 10-way power front seats with memory, heated and ventilated seats (front and rear) and leather upholstery.
Also standard is the voice-activated COMAND touchscreen interface that includes a hard-drive-based navigation system and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with satellite radio, HD digital radio, an SD card reader, an iPod/MP3 connector and an in-dash, six-CD changer. The COMAND system also allows access to real-time traffic updates and Zagat restaurant reviews. The G55 AMG also has front and rear light guards, dual side-exit chrome exhausts and premium "designo" leather and wood trim.
Powertrains and Performance
The Mercedes G550 is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 that produces 382 hp and 391 pound-feet of torque. The G55 AMG has a supercharged 5.5-liter V8 capable of 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. Despite the SUV's heft, the latter power plant can propel the G55 AMG from zero to 60 mph in an estimated 5.4 seconds. The G550 comes with a seven-speed automatic transmission, while the G55 AMG retains a five-speed auto. Both G-Class models come standard with four-wheel drive and a two-speed transfer case controlled by a console-mounted switch. With a 50/50 torque split and electromechanically locking front, center and rear differentials, the G-Class is Mercedes-Benz's most capable off-road vehicle. Properly equipped, the G-Class is capable of towing 7,000 pounds.
Fuel economy estimates for the 2009 Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG are listed at 11 mpg city/15 mpg highway and 12 mpg combined. Ratings for the G550 are not yet available.
Both 2009 Mercedes G-Class models come standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, full-length side curtain airbags and rear parking sensors. Side torso airbags are not available.
Interior Design and Special Features
Minor interior updates have made the G-Class appear more contemporary, including a revised version of Mercedes' COMAND system with a large, 6.5-inch high-resolution touchscreen display. The screen is clear and easy to see, but we're still not crazy about the buttons that control the COMAND system. Instead of the console-mounted control wheel used in the C-Class and S-Class, the G-Class employs awkward push-buttons on a circular control pad that's mounted on the center stack – a layout more befitting a video game console than a luxury SUV.
An extensive standard features list ensures a cushy environment for the driver and all passengers. However, the very upright position of the driver seat might put off those used to more carlike cockpits. Owners had better be strong, too, since the rear swinging cargo door is heavy due to its full-size spare tire and stainless steel cover. Rear cargo capacity, at 80 cubic feet, falls short of other full-size sport utilities.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a truck-based SUV originally designed for military activities, and it drives like it. Although the two modern V8 engines move the G-wagen with impressive force, on-road handling and ride leave much to be desired. With its tall, boxy body, the G exhibits significant body roll, while its front and rear solid-axle suspension is better suited for tackling rugged off-road hills than it is for cruising through Beverly Hills.
Meanwhile, the heavy, old-school recirculating-ball steering offers limited feedback at higher speeds, and the stiff gas pedal requires too much effort, making cruise control a welcome friend on highway journeys. However, the quiet cabin makes for an unexpectedly serene ride.