Just ask Dodge how hard it was to design a new Challenger, or Chevrolet how much is riding on a new Corvette. Better still, ask Porsche about the conflicting goals and considerations that go into every all-new 911. Then you’ll have a pretty good idea just how risky it was to build an all-new G-wagen after nearly 40 years of success. But fear not, G fans, for Mercedes-Benz has nailed the formula with the 2019 G550, a vehicle that’s as true to the original as it should be and better in every possible way.
The design is still squared-off, though the windshield angle has been laid back a bit, and it’s wider and longer than before—as Arthur St. Antoine put it, Mercedes “fixed all the right things: the dash, the width, the comfort level, the refinement.” Despite the changes, most folks probably couldn’t tell the new G from the old unless they are side by side. At least, that’s true until you open the door—not that opening the door would put the lie to the new G’s classic-impostor status; the latches are a carryover part used to ensure the satisfying mechanical “chunk!” of closing the doors.
Opening the door instead unveils a realm of previously unimagined luxury, space, and attention to detail. There’s nary a hint of the previous G’s gussied-up military-vehicle feel but abundant reminders of Mercedes’ contemporary (and excellent) interior design themes. The best part, for those of us standing more than six feet tall, is that there’s finally plenty of legroom in both the front and back seats. Front and center, you’ll find the differential lock switches, allowing you to choose from modes that suit everything from highway cruising to rock crawling. But as capable as the G-wagen is off-road, that’s not really what it’s about, is it?
No, the G’s bravado says you can do it, but it also says you don’t have to. It says you can afford massive overkill. It doesn’t apologize for its excess any more than you apologize for your success. In short, it’s just about the most American thing Germany has ever made. And this is just the G550. For those who like their excess to be truly over the top, there’s the AMG-fettled G63.
Not that the G550 lacks for power, even if the G63 has quite a bit more of it. The V-8 under the G550’s hood is strong enough to sling the 5,551-pound SUV to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds. That’s quick for a brick.
It’s also much more able to use that power than the old G, thanks to a suspension that’s not just more advanced (independent front suspension versus the old solid axle; a solid axle remains at the rear) but also better tuned all around for passenger comfort, likely a result of the much stiffer new chassis. Regardless of the cause, the outcome is a G-wagen that’s far more comfortable, quieter, and more capable around corners. It’s so good that it converted racing ace Andy Pilgrim: “I am not an SUV person at all. I am now a G550 fan.”
So what makes the G550 an All-Star? All of these things, but also the way all of these things add up to an experience that’s more than the quotidian, more than just another nice luxury SUV. There’s something about driving the new G that makes you feel special in a way that only the very best cars do. It’s something like a cross between a sense of adventure and a sense of occasion—even when you’re just running errands. It’s the feeling of potential, of what you could do. It’s like being 20 again, with a whole life ahead of you and the world to discover.
Or, as daily news editor Conner Gold put it, “This goes against everything I stand for. It’s fast. It’s showy. It’s ostentatious. It makes you stand out like you’re a celebrity wannabe seeking attention. But I love it. I love the way it feels. I love the way it drives. I love watching the fender-mounted turn signals light up when you drive at night. I want one, I want one, I want one.”
2019 Automobile All-Stars
The Winners | The Contenders | The Venues
2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 Specifications
|PRICE||$125,495/$153,115 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8; 416 hp @ 5,250–5,500 rpm, 450 lb-ft @ 2,250–4,750 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||13/17 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||189.7 x 85.7 x 77.2 in|
|0–60 MPH||5.4 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph|