Full 2012 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Review
What's New for 2012
The higher-performance G55 AMG model has been discontinued. To quell our sadness for this loss, Mercedes introduces a new "Edition Select" package that brings with it some of the AMG model's interior and exterior styling flourishes. This year also brings a new collection of special Designo paints and interior colors.
Suppose you're the motor pool manager for a military junta, or the owner of a majestic ski chalet high atop an alp. Maybe you're just a catty star on The Housewives of Beverly Hills. Whatever the circumstance, the odds are good that you'll want an unapologetically brash, monumentally powerful, endlessly capable and impenetrably built vehicle that is like absolutely nothing else on the road. Practicality and fuel economy? Inconsequential, my friend. What you want is a 2012 Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
Originally designed for military use more than 30 years ago, the G-Class (or G-wagen -- a throwback to this vehicle's original name, Gelandewagen, or "cross-country car") is in many ways the Mercedes-Benz counterpart to the old Hummer H1. In this case, though, the G-Class is packed with enough leather and creature comforts to make you almost forget you're driving something originally utilized by the Argentinean army. "Almost" is the operative word, however, as there's really no hiding the G-wagen's utilitarian roots -- and indeed that's part of the charm.
The G-Class is a 100-percent genuine SUV with a full-time four-wheel-drive system that features locking front, center and rear differentials. This old-school approach means the G-Class can be a chore to drive on the beaten path. The steering is slow, the handling is ponderous, the fuel economy is abysmal and the ride isn't exactly what we'd describe as plush. Still, we've seen plenty of people driving these around Beverly Hills en route to the mall.
So what's the appeal? Well, besides the sheer presence of the G, the first thing you'll notice is its construction. 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. Mercedes even offers (via special order) heavy-duty armor plating. In total, the G seems meticulously over-engineered and completely indestructible.
It all adds up to a vehicle that doesn't really make any rational sense. But the same could be said of any number of exotic sports cars, and we rarely shoo people away from those. The G-Class is just a different sort of exotic luxury vehicle purchase, albeit one that can climb an alp and defend a generalissimo from attack rather than carve through a canyon road at 125 mph. If you're looking for a more sensible luxury SUV, the Range Rover, Lexus LX 570, Porsche Cayenne and the G's stable mate, the Mercedes GL-Class would be better choices. But as a standout third (or 18th) car in the garage, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is in a class by itself.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a five-passenger SUV available in one loaded trim: the G550.
Standard equipment includes 18-inch wheels, automatic bi-xenon headlamps, automatic wipers, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, a sunroof, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats (including power lumbar, power adjustable bolsters, heating, ventilation and memory functions), a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated rear seats, leather upholstery and auto-dimming driver and rearview mirrors. High-tech features include the Mercedes COMAND electronics interface, a navigation system, real-time traffic, voice controls, Bluetooth, a Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system, HD radio, satellite radio, digital music storage, a six-CD/DVD changer and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The Edition Select package adds an AMG dual exhaust, fender flares, silver-painted wheels, carbon-look exterior molding, leather-covered dashboard with gray contrast stitching, two-tone leather seating and piano black wood trim. There are also numerous special-order Designo exterior paint, leather color and interior trim choices.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz G550 is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 that produces 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. Standard powertrain equipment includes a seven-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive, a limited-slip rear differential and locking front, center and rear differentials.
In Edmunds performance testing, the G550 went from zero to 60 in a quick 6.6 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 12 mpg city/15 mpg highway and 13 mpg combined; it doesn't get much worse than that.
The G-Class comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Mercedes-Benz mbrace emergency telematics are also standard.
In Edmunds brake testing, the G550 posted a 127-foot stop from 60 mph, an exceptional performance for such a heavy vehicle.
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 user-friendly. In front, there is a single cupholder that clumsily plugs into the center armrest and another located in the passenger footwell.
Interior quality is excellent, but space is a different matter. Front-seat legroom is insufficient for taller drivers, and the backseat could use some more legroom as well. 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 cargo floor (which resemble rear benches for seating troops) make it difficult to stow wider items like golf clubs.
Acceleration in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz G550 is always a laugh-inducing experience; something this huge simply should not be moving so quickly. 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 the Edmunds slalom test, thanks in part to a highly intrusive stability control system. Moreover, the steering is slow and doesn't return to center quickly since this vehicle is set up for off-roading.
The slow steering is a benefit in the dirt, though, as the G-Class can be guided through just about anything nature throws at it and the steering wheel rarely registers the impacts. With its full-time 4WD 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 or Lexus.