Change comes slowly to the G-Class, and 2014 is one of those years when change comes not at all. Last year, however, the G-wagen did undergo a significant update. As a result, it now has a modern suite of Mercedes-Benz safety and driver-assistance systems, including Blind Spot Assist, Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, and a backup camera...
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class (also known as the G-wagen) was designed for use by the German military, and it shows. This singularly utilitarian sport-ute has been little changed -- design-wise at least -- since it debuted in 1979. Extreme off-road ability and a general air of vault-like solidity have made the G-wagen popular with a small but stubborn cadre of enthusiastic owners. After trying for a time to keep it largely out of the public eye (it wasn't imported to the United States until the 1990s), Mercedes seems to have finally realized that the G-wagen, although an outlier even among Mercedes SUVs, is an icon worth preserving and nurturing.
With its high ground clearance, three (!) locking differentials (front, center, and rear), two-speed transfer case with low range, body-on-frame construction, and general feeling of invincibility, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is formidable off-road -- able, for instance, to climb or descend a 45-degree slope. We realize that most buyers will not choose to test that ability with their $100,000 Mercedes, but it exists nonetheless. As neat as it is, all that hardware adds plenty of weight, and in a tall vehicle with high ground clearance that weight makes its presence felt in cornering. Combine that with the G-wagen's ultraslow power steering, and you probably won't want to take the winding way home.
Straight-line performance, though, is a different story. The G550 is powered by a 5.5-liter V-8, whose 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque may be less than you'll find in most other Mercedes V-8s but is still enough to push this big machine from 0 to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds. Most buyers, however, opt for the most extreme version of this extreme machine, the G63 AMG. The AMG features a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 that's good for 536 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque, which it trumpets to the world via rumbling exhausts that exit just ahead of the rear wheels. Fun fact: in no other Mercedes-Benz model is the AMG version so popular.
The G-wagen's design -- styling would really be overstating it -- dates back to its beginning, and the company would be foolish to mess with it. That does not mean, however, that buyers don't appreciate a little modern bling. They do. So recently, Mercedes added LED daytime running lights, red brake calipers, and wheels as large as twenty inches. Americans remain shut out from the most outlandish version of the G-wagen: the two-door convertible, which comes complete with a power-folding top. It's sold in Europe, but not here.
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