Words by: Jag Dhatt
Pictures by: Russell Purcell
There aren’t many iconic SUV’s that have appealed to a wide variety of buyers with deep pockets. If we look back twenty-five years, the two most popular have to be the Cadillac Escalade and the Mercedes G-Wagen. Both of these have been the SUV’s of choice for rappers, shahs, tycoons, businesspeople, and those with just a lot of bling who don’t mind paying to stand out. And with the 2019 G-Wagen, stand out you will.
The G-Wagen, short for Gelaendewagen, is rarity for sure; whereas other vehicles have had to adapt and morph to new shapes and styles to attract buyers, G-Wagen said nope. The boxy body style has remained mostly unchanged for forty years. Maybe that’s its appeal; the fact that this vehicle is able to retain its lineage and legacy without falling into the realm of change.
For 2019, the G-Wagen’s boxy shape is all that really remains of the outgoing model year. On the outside, the G550 is wider by 131mm, taller by 15mm, and longer by 53mm. To be honest, the average eye may not recognize that it’s newer unless you look carefully at the subtle changes. What’s easy to spot are the new LED headlights with distinct round DRLs. The hood mounted blinkers remain but have been upgraded. Less noticeable are the smoother body lines, position of the rear wiper and the taillights. What’s really cool now is the rear-view camera is hidden and self-washing, so that no matter what, you’ve got a great picture when in reverse.
Getting inside the G-Wagen isn’t easy; it’s a step up for sure What hasn’t changed is the thud that you hear when slamming those heavy doors. More than once, passengers of the G-Wagen will have to open and close the doors to make sure they are shut, but it just defines the heaviness of the vehicle. And yes, the door handles still retain the button to open from the outside.
Once inside, you’ll notice a cabin that is familiar but definitely new. The seating position is still fairly upright, so that you can see that square hood with those crocodile-like turn signals. There are wide-screen displays that are borrowed directly from other Benz models, like the S-class. They, of course, can be configured to personal tastes and for what the driver wants displayed. Personally, I think these are one of the best displays on the market. And these displays can be controlled by either center-mounted controls or from the steering wheel. Like the Audi MMI system, you can control every aspect of the G-Wagen’s infotainment system via steering wheel controls.
The seats, front and back, are comfortable and very supportive. They need to be if you’re going to be doing any type of driving, whether on or off-road. Front seats have the massage option and during my week with the vehicle, they were on all the time. One gripe remains – the rear seats, even though more legroom was added, still offer less space for a vehicle of this size. I just wish there was an extra 4 inches of legroom to accommodate passengers who are over 6 feet tall.
The rest of the cabin oozes luxury; the buttons, handles, carpeting, mood lighting, wood accents, and that amazing sound system that just wants to be turned up loud. The only thing that denotes off-road capability in the G-Wagen are the small buttons for the three different locking differentials.
Firing up the G-Wagen is exactly what you’d expect it to be like, loud and obnoxious, telling those around that it means business. The G550 is now powered by a 4.0L turbocharged V8, a popular choice for other models in the brand’s lineup. The new V8 is impressive, putting out 416hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, enough for this SUV that is heavy, even though it’s 170 kilograms lighter than last years. And yes, there is an AMG version as well; the G63 has 577 hp and a neck-snapping 627 lb-ft of torque. That’s fast enough to take the G63 from 0-100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds. What’s more is that the G63 comes with side exhaust pipes just behind the B-pillars.
I’ve driven a few G-Wagens before, even a 2017 G63, and they have always impressed me. I found that the older ones were slightly clunky, but that was a minor blemish. The 2019, however, is way, I mean way, better in every sense.
Ride comfort is much improved, for this vehicle. Mercedes vehicles are known to provide a plush ride, cloud like; don’t expect the G-Wagen do be like an E or S class. That being said, passengers will appreciate the improvement in comfort as compared to before. And let’s be real though – when you’re driving this vehicle, you are still willing to overlook the comfort aspect. There’s little body roll as well, and thanks to a stiffer anti-roll bar, passengers will stay planted when going around bends or taking corners.
I really liked the feel of the steering in the G-Wagen. Yes, it’s heavy but around town, it’s not an issue when finding that parking spot in the local Costco. It’s precise, smooth and perfectly suited for the vehicle.
Whether driving around town or on the highway, one of the biggest improvements has to be the reduction in wind noise in the cabin. As mentioned before, I’ve driven G-Wagens at highway speeds and wind noise was prevalent. I mean, yes, you’d expect that when you’re driving a big box at 120 km/h. The only other boxy SUV is the Jeep Wrangler and take that vehicle to 120 km/h and you’ll get lots of wind noise in the cabin. But, the 2019 G-Wagen is quiet. Well done, Mercedes.
And yes, there’s various drive modes. For pure fun and smiles, Sport mode delivers. The G-Wagen sounds louder, goes faster, and steering and suspension are tighter. The solid axle is now replaced by independent front suspension.
Sadly, I didn’t have the chance to take the G550 off-road. I’ve driven a 2017 G-Wagen through an off-road course and it impressed the heck out of me. So, it’s safe to say that the 2019 will be that much better. There’s 9.5 inches of ground clearance and with the three locking differentials, this tank will conquer almost anything.
So, what about the negatives? The most obvious – well, if you’re going to own the 2019 G-Wagen, expect to spend a lot of time at the gas pump. Mercedes claims fuel economy at 18.0L/100 km city and 14.1L/100 km highway. During my week with the G550, I didn’t even come close to these numbers. The styling is subjective and personally speaking, I like it a lot. But a few on-lookers said that maybe it’s time for some more changes. I disagree because with the G-Wagen, it would be a shame to change its heritage and lineage.
The 2019 G-Wagen isn’t going to be cheap. My test vehicle came in at around $150K, with the additional packages and options. The G63 will start at $157K but nobody is going to buy this AMG without packages and options, so expect it to be much higher.
Those buying the 2019 G550 are doing so because they can. Yes, it’s a lot of dough to spend to stand out, but that’s the appeal of the G-Wagen. This tank-like, go anywhere, luxury SUV will almost surely be used to go to the mall, take kids to activities, or buying cinnamon dolce latte at Starbucks than getting dirty on trails. But, if you had to get the G550 dirty off-road, you won’t have any issues.