The Mercedes G-Class is a throwback to an odd moment in the company's history. It was originally commissioned by the shah of Iran as a military vehicle, but that all stopped with the shah's ouster. Shortly thereafter, the G-Wagen, as it was known, was put up for sale to the public and officially brought to the U.S. decades later in 2002.
In the 40-year span since its development, there have been many upgrades, but the G-Class remains a rather crude and outdated vehicle. Handling is ponderous. It's difficult to get in and out of. It's uncomfortable. The interior is well behind the times, and there's not much room for passengers or cargo. Despite these drawbacks, it became a status symbol for wealthy clients looking to make a statement.
At long last, an all-new 2019 G-Class is set to go on sale, though from outward appearances it's nearly identical to this final first-generation G-Wagen. It will feature a ton of new updates throughout that should address its many drawbacks. Quite frankly, we suggest any potential G-Class owners wait for the new model that should go on sale in late 2018.
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class remains mostly unchanged for 2018. It will be fully redesigned for the 2019 model year. To commemorate the end of a very long production run, a few special-edition models be available and are limited to cosmetic touches inside and out.
The 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is rife with compromises and drawbacks, yet it remains a darling of status-seeking wealthy shoppers. If you absolutely must have one before the introduction of the fully redesigned 2019 model and plan on using it off-road as it was intended, we suggest the entry-level G550 or the top-of-the-line G550 4x42 model. The AMG variants replace the all-terrain capabilities with otherworldly power and exclusivity.
The 2018 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 back seats, 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 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG (turbo 5.5L V8 | 7-speed automatic | 4WD).
NOTE: Since this test was conducted in 2015, 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. The steering is comically bad; the 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 it has 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 a 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. They offer 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 & vibration9.5
It's extremely quiet on the road. There's minimal wind noise and 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-size drivers don't fit well, it's hard to climb into, there's no lateral space, and the back seats are worse.
Ease of use7.0
With the caveat that the seating position puts you a little too close to the front, the ergonomics of the G are actually quite good. The 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 out4.0
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. It 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 back seats 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.
The build quality on the G63 is quite good, but you'd expect that from something this expensive. The panel gaps are big but even. The doors shut with a pleasing thunk.
The cargo area and cabin storage are surprisingly subpar. The cargo area is tall, but the back seat leaves a large step when folded and doesn't fold horizontally. There is a smattering of awkward cabin storage.
There's no real front cupholder to speak of — one is behind you; the other a weird mesh pouch. The glovebox barely holds our logbook. The door pockets are inconvenient. The center console bin is narrow and deep.
With the rear seats raised, the 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.
Edmunds expert review process
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.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.