Hipsters don't know it, but they would love the 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG.
Instead, they're scared of it. Scared of its massive three-pointed badge, turned off by its suburban-housewife-meets-paramilitary-transport aesthetics and terrified of its twin-turbo, 536-horsepower V8 and the single-digit real-world fuel economy that comes with it.
But those sweater-wearing weenies are forgetting a few things about the G-Class. The utility factor is off the charts. Its nearly unchanged visage is ironically awesome and the entire thing is handmade by human beings in an Austrian workshop. There's more craftwork in the 2013 G63 AMG than in every pair of Toms and every Underwood typewriter combined.
One Piece at a Time
Every Mercedes-Benz G-Glass is built by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria. The company is a gun for hire but instead of bullets, low-volume cars come out the end of its barrel. In addition to the G-Class, Magna Steyr has built BMW X3s, Mini Countrymans and even Chrysler 300s over the years.
While some of these production lines — all housed in different buildings — are certainly up to modern specs, walking into the factory where the G63 is born is like stepping back in time. There are no robots and no automation, as everything is done by hand.
A worker carries a full-length headliner past us and starts to weasel it into a G63. Another one wheels a G-Class convertible body along that's just had its doors attached. The pace of production is constant but never rushed. Soup to nuts, a G-Wagen takes 10 days to build.
Magna Steyr cranks out fewer than 60 G-Classes per day and it does so in no particular order. The purpose of this methodology is flexibility. A large order from a sovereign military or really rich guy, for example, can simply be slotted in. No need to retool or retrain. It's why, despite what you see on the road, the G-Class can be offered in more colors than any other Mercedes.
Storming the Town
Standing 6-foot-4, the 2013 G63 AMG does not look like a handler. And it's not. The G-Wagen rides on solid axles, weighs 5,622 pounds and has 8.1 inches of ground clearance. Nothing about this vehicle, save the AMG badge and the 275/50R20 Yokohama summer tires says performance.
Bend it into a corner and you're met with a shocking surprise: There's very little lean. The suspension is designed to handle extreme off-roading, so a moderate g-load doesn't upset it. Not that this lack of lean translates to anything resembling decent handling, mind you, as the stability control stops all the fun long before it gets a chance to start.
One of the many minor adjustments to the Mercedes G-Class for 2013 is the addition of electric power steering instead of the traditional hydraulic unit. This is a minor benefit on the fuel economy side — the G63 returns 12 mpg city and a whopping 14 highway — and offers very little penalty. The hydraulically assisted recirculating-ball of 2012 wasn't great and now with electric assist, it's still as responsive and immediate as a crop duster with only half the accuracy.
The AMG Benefit
Sharp handling is not the point of the Mercedes G-Class and certainly not the point of the 2013 G63 AMG. It's best to take corners with caution and then, once everything is lined up, whack the throttle open with a heap of right foot. The 536-horsepower 5.5-liter V8 (560 pound-feet of torque) screams to life, the seven-speed autobox downshifts and the G63's 5,600 pounds rocket forward without pitching a degree. If not for the racecar screams and guttural pops of the engine, you'd swear magnets were behind this acceleration.
The G63's top speed of 130 mph arrives before you know it and well before you're ready to stop. The engine's yelling, the suspension's crashing, the tires are howling against the pavement and the wind noise from the nearly upright windscreen is enthralling. This is what tank drivers must feel like — except they can't turn up the stereo to drown the noise out.
All of those harsh, stiff suspension characteristics that don't let the G fall over on corners pay dividends when you stomp on the left pedal, too. As you'd want for an off-road vehicle, the brakes have an amazingly long travel, zero grabbiness and endless modularity. They're also devastatingly effective, as the G comes to a stop in a surprisingly short distance with absolutely no wiggle or pitch. The only way to best that behavior would be to hit a wall.
Keeping tabs on the G63's performance is surprisingly easy thanks to its no-nonsense interior. There's a new instrument panel and a slightly nicer steering wheel this time around, but for the most part the G63's cabin is unchanged for 2013. Visibility remains excellent and space is still at a premium.
The Long Wait Is Over
When the G55 was officially axed after the 2011 model year, the world shed a tear. It was the last vehicle in Mercedes' lineup to carry the phenomenal supercharged 5.5-liter V8. This move also sparked an imbalance in the supply/demand chain. Traditional AMG customers haven't had any upgrade options in upward of a year, an apparent problem according to AMG.
For the time being, Mercedes says that the AMG-tuned SUVs represent 60-70 percent of G-Class product. When the furor dies down, that number will eventually settle to about 50 percent, one of the highest ratios in the Mercedes stable.
And why wouldn't it? The price difference between a 2013 G550 and a 2013 G63 is about $20 grand, a small price really if you consider the hand-built engine, rarity and outright speed offered by this wonderfully insane package, not to mention the considerable wealth of most G-Class buyers.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG combines old-world luxury and small-batch manufacturing with a modern suspension and the company's latest engine technology. It's a formula that's not likely to change. "The only way we'll stop building the G-Wagen is if it's legislated out," a Mercedes rep says.
That's probably about the time when the hipster crowd will finally catch on to the G-Class and they'll have missed all the fun.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.