The G-Class is at its core a nearly 40-year-old military vehicle that's been gradually metamorphosed into a luxury vehicle. Ultimately these mutations have resulted in something that's optimized for neither luxury nor off-road adventure. The G-Class is hilariously hard to get into and out of, steering inputs are met with indifference, and the usefulness of its cargo and storage areas is limited.
Yet this iconic truck has experienced a boost in popularity in recent years that has defied logic. In European markets the G-Class is offered in a somewhat rational configuration with a diesel engine and tires with taller sidewalls. There, you could reasonably take a G-Class off-road and expect it to perform admirably, what with its full complement of locking differentials, high ground clearance, and steep approach and departure angles.
Here in the U.S., however, the G-Class offsets these purpose-driven attributes for the trappings of a luxury vehicle — powerful engines that demand plenty of fuel, relatively low-profile all-season tires (and high-performance summer tires on AMG variants!), acres of leather and precariously low-hanging exhaust pipes. AMG variants offer more power but only modest increases in swiftness. The G-Class is dripping with character but finds itself in a no-man's land of compromise. Maybe that's part of its appeal, twisted though it may be.
For 2017 the G-Class gains a new variant: the G550 4x4², which gains more ground clearance, larger tires and a revised suspension. New cosmetic packages (Designo Manufaktur Luxury and Mojave packages, Night package) have been introduced.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is an oddity in a class of one. In other markets the G-Class is offered in configurations that align with its proficiencies, but in the U.S. the G-Class is a box of compromise. If you're ever going to use a G-Class off-road, get the entry-level G550. It has the robust hardware of the AMG variants but with fewer of those models' concessions to on-road driving. Buyers simply seeking a status symbol should go straight to the range-topping, new-for-2017 G550 4x42 model. It is a bonkers machine that defies classification — a singularly unparalleled motorized device.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a five-passenger SUV that is offered in four trim levels: G550, AMG G63, AMG G65 and G550 4x42 (as in "squared"). All versions are equipped with a seven-speed automatic transmission, live axles at both ends, full-time four-wheel drive, a two-speed transfer case and three locking differentials, and they can tow up to 7,000 pounds. The G550 is entry-level only in a relative sense. It's extremely well-equipped — beyond its prodigious drivetrain hardware, it has leather-upholstered 10-way power-adjustable and heated seats, heated backseats, power-folding and heated mirrors, adaptive cruise, dual-zone climate control, navigation and premium audio. It's equipped with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 (416 horsepower, 450 pound-feet of torque).
Stepping up to the AMG G63 nets you a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 (563 hp, 561 lb-ft of torque), 20-inch wheels, larger brakes and a performance-tuned suspension. It also grants access to the AMG Performance Studio, whereby near-endless customization is available. The next step in the G-Class lineup goes from merely silly to truly absurd: the AMG G65, which slots in a twin-turbo 6.0-liter V12 (621 hp, 738 lb-ft of torque) and adds 21-inch wheels and revised upholstery.
Then there's the G550 4x42, for which words do not do justice. This has the 4.0-liter V8 but swaps the standard axles for portal axles, which dramatically increase ground clearance. It also adds 22-inch wheels, larger-diameter tires, twin coilover-damper assemblies at each wheel, wider fender flares and skid plates.
Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions that are fundamentally similar. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG (5.5L twin-turbo V8; 4x4; 7-speed automatic).
NOTE: Since this test was conducted, the current G-Class has received only minor, mostly cosmetic revisions and the addition of the G550 4x4² trim level. Our findings remain broadly applicable to this year's G-Class.
The G63's 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 makes a ton of power; unfortunately, it's very hard to actually drive this thing. Steering is comically bad, handling is worse, and thanks to high-performance tires and silly exhaust placement, it's a liability off-road.
The 563-horsepower G63 gets out of its own way better than anything this shape should (0-60 mph takes 5.3 seconds). The seven-speed automatic shifts quickly, but the steering gets light and the G becomes hard to control at wide-open throttle. What a noise, though!
Tons of nosedive and a strong pull left, but a pretty good stopping distance of only 120 feet from 60 mph. The brakes are very touchy, which makes for lurchy stop-and-go driving and isn't great for off-road either.
The steering constantly reminds you that this is a nearly 40-year-old military truck with working roots. The steering is terribly vague with seemingly random results. It also fails to center, causing constant, abnormal extra steering inputs.
Thanks to seriously aggressive stability control that you'll encounter every day, the G63 is almost foolproof. It's also slow, ponderous and top-heavy, and every body motion is grossly exaggerated.
Twitchy brakes, tractor steering, tons of power and a mile of body roll make for an exciting but not necessarily good driving experience.
What should be a strong point for the G-Class isn't. Summer performance tires, touchy brakes, exposed catalytic converters and side-mounted exhaust in the crush zone add up to a vehicle that's more suited for the country club than the Rubicon.
When the G-Class was designed for the world's armies in the 1970s, comfort wasn't a priority, and it still isn't. Nevertheless, the G63 is a remarkably quiet place to spend time, and the front seats are well built and well contoured.
The front seats themselves are actually quite nice. Lots of adjustment, good bolstering and nice leather. The rear seats are wide and featureless. Unfortunately, neither position really has enough legroom for humans of average height or taller.
One of the bounciest, most active rides in memory. There's no impact harshness, but the springiness and lack of steering control make every road feel like a Disney ride. Fun, but not good.
Noise & vibration
Extremely quiet on the road. Minimal wind noise. No road noise. Near total isolation.
The G63's interior has a new display screen, a user-friendly tech interface and a host of other features, but that still doesn't fix the fact that there's no space. Even average-sized drivers don't fit well, it's hard to climb into, there's no lateral space and the back seats are worse.
Ease of use
With the caveat that the seating position puts you a little too close to stuff, the ergonomics of the G are actually quite good. Stalks and switches are well labeled and placed where you expect them to be, the tech interface is easy to use, and the big-dial HVAC switches are great.
Getting in/getting out
It's a huge step up into a relatively small seat. You need to be active and flexible to get into this vehicle. Getting out is just as bad. Miss the skinny step, and you're overextended and on the ground. May explain why we see so many parked at yoga classes.
There's lots of headroom but no space for your arms, and the seats don't slide back far enough for even average-height drivers. The steering wheel and windscreen are always very close. The backseats are compromised in the same ways but have no adjustability.
The seating position is compromised for this reason: Forward visibility is exceptional. You can see the front corners and know where the tires are. The rearview camera and sonar make the G easy to park anywhere.
Build quality on the G63 is quite good, but you'd expect that from something this expensive. Panel gaps are big but even. The doors shut with a pleasing thunk.
Surprisingly subpar cargo area and cabin storage. The cargo area is tall, but the backseat leaves a large step when folded and doesn't fold horizontally. Awkward cabin storage, though there is a smattering of it.
No real front cupholder to speak of — one is behind you; the other a weird mesh pouch. The glovebox barely holds our logbook. Inconvenient door pockets. The center console bin is narrow and deep.
With the rear seats raised, 40.3 cubic feet of space is dead-flat and offers handy tie-downs. The seats flop forward, but they crash into the front seats doing so. Not terribly useful.
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This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
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