Do you know the most critical moments of a first date? It’s that awkward ten or fifteen minutes at dinner when you first sit down. “Do I eat? Do they eat? Where are my hands? That’s a nice top.” You have a preconception of this person from talking to them before this encounter, and those first few minutes will either confirm your suspicions or prove them wrong. That’s how reviewing cars works too. And when I hopped into the Mercedes AMG G63 for my first drive, it was awkward.
“Why are you all looking at me?”
Because this G-Wagon was awesome. I just didn’t know it yet.
The 2023 Mercedes-AMG G63 overview
In the 1970s, Iran was ruled by the Shah, and he was in a hurry to catch up to the western world’s technology. So he asked the Americans to build fighter jets for him. He asked the British for ships. And he asked the Germans for a combat-capable trunk. Specifically, Mercedes.
They obliged, and then realized that with some alterations, they could sell this truck to civilians (sans rocket launchers, I suppose). Behold, the Geländewagen. Mercedes has often tried to replace it, but everyone from Kim Kardashian to the Marines (true) have managed to get Merc to keep the lines open for the US market.
44 years later, it remains as capable. But it’s only in its second generation. 2018 marked the introduction of the car you see here – the W463.
You can get a G-class SUV without the AMG treatment (don’t shake your head at the screen). Clearly we want our rolling Lego set with all the toys, so this AMG version gets a hand-built twin-turbo V-8, sequentially locking differentials, side pipe exhaust, and enough leather to supply the Nike factory for a year. It is supremely capable off-road – short of taking one to Mars, I’m not sure how to find its limits.
This car gets a lot of attention. Stares. Thumbs up. Paint it South Sea Blue Metallic like this example, and people think a celebrity is pulling into Starbucks. Alas, it’s just me.
But is there substance beneath the glitz?
Performance Score: 8. Hitting the wall
One can assume that the majority of these will end up in a mall parking lot, with Chanel bags tossed haphazardly in the trunk. It would be a sin to do so with the G63, especially because Mercedes will be happy to sell you a GLE 53 that really is much better suited to daily life.
It’s not just the off-road performance you’ll miss. The Mercedes AMG G63 is damn near violent as it steamrolls tarmac – you best pay attention.
I don’t follow Mercedes logic on this amazing metal lump – it’s gone, it’s back, it’s in a C-Class, no just kidding.
Well, I’m glad it’s here. It gives the G the response and acceleration of a sports car. Specifically the SL from which it shares this motor. Dare I say that it sounds even better here, a combination of the side pipe exhaust and tuning. 577 horses and 627 lb-ft of torque are beyond what’s needed to get you out of any off-roading trouble, and accelerates the Mercedes AMG G63 like a catapult launch off the Eisenhower once you floor it. I dare you to keep your foot in it past triple digits – takes some guts. Are you going to take off? Maybe.
If there’s a downside to this motor, I couldn’t find one – it’s much more refined and preferred over even the supercharged Hellcat’s V-8. Bi-turbos, Mercedes-speak for twinsies, produce no perceptible lag and work well with the nine-speed automatic.
I know it’s b-M-w, with Motoren right in the name, but Mercedes just isn’t far behind at this point.
A stalk-mounted shifter feels decidedly old-school in what appears (on the surface at least) to be a very modern vehicle. Once engaged, the transmission offers rapid responses on each upshift. Put the trans in sport mode, and it continues the violent theme from the engine – it’s snap-your-neck quick. Paddle shifters feel cool to the touch (aluminum), and provide a satisfying click with each pull. Too bad you don’t need them. The transmission anticipates your needs with precision.
Putting the power down is a complex all-wheel drive system with no less than three locking differentials and a 2.93:1 reduction. Choose where you want the power via three buttons on the dash that can lock the front, rear, or everything together. I couldn’t get it stuck, though it’s probably a set of knobby tires away from being unstoppable in the dirt.
Steering and Chassis
I’m going to gloss over the steering because it’s very good ad appropriately hefty for the G Wagon. Turn the wheel, and find more feedback than what an SL, GLE, or anything in the BMW portfolio provides.
That leads me to the chassis, which again is excellent, up to about 7/10s. I was zipping along, minimal body motions or roll, turning some positive Gs in the turns, and that little voice asked me to go for more. So I did. Once you reach that threshold of ability, it’s like hitting a wall. “Holy shit, look how far away the ground is.” Adjusting suspension firmness via the steering wheel dial just makes the G crash over bumps, but does nothing to settle the ride at speed.
It’s hard to fault the G here – it’s simply more truckish on-road than anything else Mercedes makes, compromising on-road agility. And when its sporty handling ability dries up, you might be wishing for something without the 5,500-pound curb weight or the aerodynamics of an Amazon package.
But if you do intend to point the nose in the dirt, you’ll be rewarded. It’s AMG-tuned suspension does an amazing job of balancing what is essentially three different jobs.
They work like you’d expect huge 14.8-inch pizza dishes to, stopping you quickly and without drama. The brake pedal itself is firm and easy to modulate, maybe one of the better ones I’ve stepped on. It’s clear where the time was spent developing this Mercedes AMG G63.
Now might be a good time to tell you about the emergency braking system, which I found very intrusive and totally unnecessary in its judgement of when a panic stop is actually needed. At one point, a car pulled in front of me three lengths ahead, and the Merc saw fit to come to a screeching, neck-snapping halt. Self-driving cars are far away, and the G is a perfect example of human judgement vs C3PO.
It’s not perfect in its performance, but this car really gives you what you pay for – an experience like no other, with ability like nothing else sold today.
Utility Score: 6. Not for hauling
“Mike, it’s literally a rolling container. What do you mean 6?”
Let’s start in the rear, where you have to make sure you hit that pre-workout before attempting to load up the back. The hatch is heavy, and swings waaay out so the weight of it all sort of pushes you away from the place you want to be. Remember that a normal SUV door is supported on two sides, not just one like this G.
Take a look at the inside of the door…is that wood on the handle? Better be careful loading. You can get the trunk lined in Cherry wood too, because Tumi luggage is the only things you plan on putting back there.
The overall layout of the car is awkward. Despite the rectangle shape, space disappears quickly in the rear, and it’s not as deep as you might think. The back seat is also tight on space considering the silhouette of the G Wagon. Even up front, the tiny dashboard and upright glass make you feel like you’re back in fourth grade, on the way home in the school bus to watch the Ninja Turtles defeat Shredder. It’s comfortable, but there’s a reason cars are packaged a certain way. One thing I can promise – you’ll have plenty of head room, and so will your pet giraffe.
Think of it more like a sports car – impractical, but stylish, and you’ll have a much better time with your G.
Fuel Economy: 6. Surprisingly ok
Some hard numbers first: a 26.4 gallon tank, and an EPA range of 14 MPG combined. Not terrific, but what you might expect. I thought the car did well during my time with it, averaging closer to 16 MPG, so take that EPA.
All these SUVs perform about the same when it comes to gulping fuel, from the Durango to the Escalade. Perhaps the F-PACE SVR, at 17 MPG, was the outlier. I just don’t think potential buyers in this price bracket care, nor should they.
Features and Comfort: 5. Affalterbach, we have a problem
Do well-heeled buyers care about pedestrian things like infotainment? Because what we have in the Mercedes AMG G63 will make all the little things you take for granted in your GLA seem like you’ve sat in Apple’s headquarters.
I’m not sure why, but Mercedes did not make the center display a touchscreen. Coming from any other car, your first instinct is to reach for it and tap at what you want. Judging by the fingerprints on the screen upon picking the car up, I can only assume I was not the only person to make this mistake.
Would you like to use Apple CarPlay? Ok – plug in your phone. No bluetooth connectivity here (unless you just want to make phone calls). Even once you’re plugged in, you have to use CarPlay via the Mercedes mouse. Listen…I dare you to go into your car and try using the Apple interface without touching the screen once in five minutes. Clearly, it was designed to be touched, not pointed at in German. This entire infotainment debacle might just be enough to make me skip the G if I were a serious buyer.
Elsewhere, it’s quite the opposite – stunning. A beautiful mix of butter-soft leather, real matte wood, and typical Mercedes build quality. The seat bolsters even adjust as you turn, a feature my wife loved in the GT 53 and here. It has everything else you’d want.
Too bad about that screen.
Mercedes will really let you go wild with options – you can double the car’s $179,000 base price. It doesn’t matter what you do to it – everyone looks. Who’s in there?
And indeed it looks good in almost any color. I wouldn’t think this G Manufaktur South Sea Blue Metallic would work, but after seeing it in this, I can’t imagine ordering another color. 22-inch wheels are a $4,650 option, but probably worth it to match the car’s butch looks.
I wouldn’t even try to guide you on options. Anything from carbon fiber fender flairs, matte paint; the sky’s the limit. But since you’ve asked, there is one problem, and that’s the old-school door handles left over from the original G Wagon. They say it’s the same part. That means no keyless access, along with the need to press the button, then pull the door open. Hope you don’t have an armful of groceries.
The 2023 Mercedes AMG G63 is meant for more
This car feels like a companion to the SL63, a relationship like the Arwing and Landmaster from that ancient Nintendo video game, Star Fox. You almost expect a button on the dash that transforms the G wagon into an SL at will, so similar in how focused they are on their respective missions.
And like discovering she’s not perfect after the first date (I can fix her), I can fix this Mercedes AMG G63. Plop in the dash from the SL, and done – it’s got everything you want in it.
Don’t let the fact that these will live a quiet suburban life deter you from the fact that it is perhaps the ultimate off-road truck – maybe the best chassis Mercedes makes. You still want a 911 GT3 even if it doesn’t have a track rolled up in the back of it, right?
You just need to get past that first 15 minutes.
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