What's New for 2010
For 2010, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class soldiers on with the addition of body-colored door handles, new side moldings, a new spare-tire cover and a sport-tuned exhaust. The interior gets new front seats, a leather dash top, a heated wood-and-leather steering wheel, ambient lighting and a new key design.
Suppose you're the leader of a military junta, or the wife of a prominent rap mogul. Maybe you own a majestic ski chalet atop an alp. Under any of these circumstances, you'll want an unapologetically brash, monumentally powerful, impenetrably built, endlessly capable and opulently luxurious vehicle that is like nothing else on the road. In other words, you'll want a 2010 Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
Originally designed for military use some 30 years back, the G-Class finally made it to America as an official import eight years ago. Despite the numerous luxuries that have been tacked onto this 5,700-pound SUV, there's no hiding its utilitarian heritage -- and that's a large part of its charm.
Mercedes are often described as being "built like vaults," but closing the G's side-swinging, spare-tire-carrying rear cargo door feels like sealing the gold-plated portal to Fort Knox. The side doors also close with a reassuring metallic clack. In total, the G seems meticulously over-engineered and completely indestructible. It should be no surprise that Mercedes' AMG division can install heavy-duty armor plating for extra protection from disgruntled peasants and the like.
Of course, the tall and heavy G handles poorly around corners, even if the ride is surprisingly compliant. The interior is certainly luxurious, but its space efficiency isn't that impressive, and many of the controls are located low on the dash and are hard to reach. There's also the elevated step-in height, the dismal fuel consumption and the question of whether the towering G will fit in your garage. Suffice it to say that the 2010 Mercedes G550 and supercharged G55 AMG make little sense as practical vehicle choices.
As such, the G is a quintessential third (or fourth or 12th) car -- incredibly impractical but capable, with eye-catching styling to boot. If you like what the G has to offer and already have a healthy collection of cars, it could be a worthy addition to your fleet. But for regular transportation, a Land Rover Range Rover, Lexus LX 570, Porsche Cayenne or even a Mercedes-Benz GL-Class would make a lot more sense -- even if you're a retired generalissimo.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a five-passenger SUV available in G550 and G55 AMG trim levels. The G550 comes standard with 18-inch wheels, automatic bi-xenon headlamps, automatic wipers, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, auto-dimming driver and interior mirrors, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 10-way power front seats, driver memory functions, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel.
Also standard are the COMAND electronics interface, Bluetooth, a hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic updates, voice controls, and a Harman Kardon surround-sound stereo with a six-CD/DVD changer, satellite radio and an iPod interface. The G55 AMG adds a supercharged V8, 19-inch wheels, upgraded paint and interior wood trim, additional chrome body guards, an AMG instrument cluster and a faux suede headliner. There are no options on either model.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz G550 is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 that produces 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. It has a full-time four-wheel-drive system with lockable front, center and rear differentials. A seven-speed automatic transmission is standard. In performance testing, the G550 went from zero to 60 in 6.6 seconds. EPA estimated fuel economy is 11 mpg city/15 mpg highway and 13 mpg combined.
The G55 AMG gets a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 that pumps out 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. It gets the same four-wheel-drive system, but has a five-speed automatic. Mercedes estimates a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated to be 11/15/12 mpg.
The G-Class comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, and side curtain airbags. Side torso airbags are not available. In Edmunds brake testing, the G550 posted a 127-foot stop from 60 mph, an exceptional performance for such a heavy vehicle. Incredibly, it remained nearly flat during this test -- by contrast, a hard-braking Hummer looks like a DC-10 landing without nose gear.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although modern Benz electronics and climate controls are fitted to the G550, there's no getting around the utilitarian truck architecture. The navigation system and its fussy COMAND interface (which mostly relies on a four-button directional pad) are located at knee level; the simple climate controls are at your shins. Some features can be operated with steering-wheel controls, but in general, all other high-end luxury SUVs are more ergonomically friendly. In front, there is a single cupholder that clumsily plugs into the center armrest and another located in the passenger footwell that resembles a mesh athletic supporter.
Interior quality is excellent and was even upgraded for 2010 with a leather-adorned dashboard. Space is a different matter. Front-seat legroom is insufficient for taller drivers, and the backseat could use some more legroom. A center armrest in the back would be nice, too. On the upside (literally), there is no shortage of headroom, and the range of height adjustment for the power front seats is astounding. Flipping the rear seats forward provides 79.5 cubic feet of cargo space, but large humps on each side of the trunk (which resemble rear benches for seating troops) make fitting wider items like golf clubs difficult.
With either V8, acceleration in the 2010 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is always a laugh-inducing experience -- something this huge simply should not be moving that quickly. Thankfully, it does, and it's a riot. The ride is comfortable on the highway, and only the nastiest potholes will send unpleasant impacts into the cabin. In terms of handling, the tall and narrow G doesn't inspire confidence through turns, and it enjoys the dubious distinction of being the slowest vehicle on record in our slalom test, thanks in part to a highly intrusive (and always on) stability control system. Moreover, the steering is slow and doesn't return to center as easily or quickly as a normal car's.
The slow steering is a benefit off-road, though, as the G-Class can be guided through just about anything nature throws at it. With its full-time four-wheel-drive system with front, center and rear locking differentials, the G goes about its trail bashing (if one is so inclined in a $100,000 vehicle) with a more back-to-basics approach than what you'll get from a high-tech Land Rover.