Despite carrying on the same rugged, boxy styling with just a few subtle exterior changes, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class has undergone major updates both under the skin and inside the vehicle. It features a new, modern rack-and-pinion steering system, updated suspension and a nine-speed transmission in place of the old seven-gear unit. It’s also longer, wider and lighter than the G-Wagen it replaces, improving comfort without bogging it down with more heft.
The G 550 we drove is powered by a biturbocharged, 4.0-liter V8 providing 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. It’s still an exclusive vehicle, too, with a price tag starting at about $125,000. Options include $1,400 for adaptive suspension, $850 for a widescreen instrument cluster and $12,200 for the Executive package. The latter adds Nappa leather upholstery, and new materials on the headliner, floormats and more. Still a capable off-roader, the new G-Class fares better where it is actually going to be used: on mostly paved, public roads.
Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: The G-Class is one of the ultimate blends of status and capability. It’s the intersection of the S-Class and Jeep Wrangler. Because it’s a favorite of Hollywood and professional athletes, it’s easy to forget the G-Class is a modern off-road military vehicle.
You give up nothing with the 4.0-liter V8; 416 hp is plenty. The 563 ponies in the G 63 are essentially for the badge on the fender and to show off at valet. You don’t need it, but again, this is the pinnacle of luxury SUVs, so you might want the top-end engine, just because.
I love the three-box design, the peering headlights and militaristic creases and cuts in the metal. The push-button handles and the thwack the doors make when you slam them are a pleasing throwback to another time.
The G-Class is so much easier to pilot than its predecessors. It’s still enjoyable and engaging, but I wasn’t worried about rolling this thing when I changed the radio station. The suspension and steering are noticeably more agreeable and the power delivery is dare I say, silky. That nine-speed gearbox does its thing well.
The 2019 edition of this legendary off-roader is a thorough makeover in all the ways that really matter. It’s an improvement. Purists won’t be angered by the new dynamics, and new buyers will be intrigued by the simple fact they can actually drive this thing.
Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: I was almost dreading driving the G 550. The last G-Wagen was such a pain to drive. It was big, felt really tippy, was one of the worst-steering cars I’ve experienced and is was really hard to find a comfortable driving position. The only reason I was interested in driving the new one — besides the satisfying whack of the door locks — was that the huge potential for improvement over the last version had me curious.
I was immediately relieved when I hopped in this one. First, I had no problem getting comfortable. Mercedes completely fixed the seating position. I also enjoyed the view from the driver’s seat. With a nice, new digital display, a Designo interior and soft illumination from the interior ambient lighting, this felt a lot more like a car deserving of its six-figure price tag.
Before I was even out of the parking lot, I could tell that ditching the recirculating ball steering for something more suitable to this century was a good thing. Pulling this G-Wagen around the lot and onto the street was a breeze. My forearms weren’t burning by the time I got to the highway. It’s still a little tricky to aim the car straight down the highway for a long time, and you can tell the suspension is working hard every time you make a dive from one lane to another, but I didn’t feel like I was going to die in this thing.
Still, there’s something about driving a giant, flashy gas-guzzling off-roader exclusively on suburban streets and highways that kills off a little part of my soul. I took it through a Wendy’s drive-through, though.
I haven’t asked Joel what he thought of this new G-Class yet, but I’m curious to read his thoughts, which will appear further down on this very page. He was perhaps even more critical than me of the outgoing model, and I saw how covetously he looked at the keys of the Genesis G70 in my hand the night he was taking the Mercedes home.
— John “Back to the Beard” Snyder (@jbeltzsnyder) January 24, 2019
Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: I was no fan of the old G-Wagen, and I made that quite clear in our last spin in the old G63. It left such a bad impression on me that I was seriously skeptical that the new model could possibly improve enough for me to find it acceptable. And yet, that’s exactly what Mercedes did.
The all-new G-Wagen delivers on everything that people loved about the big, brutish brick, while fixing everything that made it awful. You can actually wind it through corners without the constant fear of flipping over, and the steering is tighter and reasonably accurate. The ride quality is vastly improved, and the cabin is finally up to the quality of modern Mercedes products. More importantly, the interior is spacious and it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position.
But purists have no fear, the best parts of a G-Wagen are still here. The doors are still weighty and demand a good shove to get them to close. The door locks are some of the loudest things on earth, sliding into place with a noise like a cell door closing. Seriously, these startled me as I was pulling out of the parking lot at work. Only hardcore G-Wagen fans will be able to spot that this is the new model, and it still comes standard with three differential locks. It’s nice that Mercedes managed to bring this hulk into the 21st century without losing its 20th century charms.