2021 Mercedes-Benz G-Class
2021 Mercedes-Benz G-Class
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a high-end, ultra-luxury, gas-guzzling SUV with serious off-road capability. Elite insiders call it the G-Wagen, from the German word Geländewagen, or “cross-country vehicle.”
For 2021 it only offers some small changes to trim and features: a standard digital gauge display, and wireless smartphone charging on the AMG version.
In our terminology we usually call entry-level models the “base” version, but we would LOL if we called the G550 base, with its starting price of $132,000 and more likely cost after options of $150,000. It uses a 416-horsepower twin-turbo V-8.
The only other model is the AMG G63, which takes that same engine and makes it ferocious, with 577 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque.
The G-Class uses a 9-speed automatic transmission, has three drive modes (Comfort, Sport, and Sport+) and is four-wheel drive with three locking differentials that enable power to be sent to individual wheels.
The EPA rates G550 at 13 mpg city, 17 highway, 14 combined, while the AMG G63 gets the same 14 combined mpg but 2 less mpg on the highway. It guzzles premium gas, of course.
It hasn’t been crash-tested, probably because the NHTSA can’t build a wall strong enough to withstand a hit. Or maybe they’re wisely saving our tax dollars.
Automatic emergency braking is standard, but Mercedes charges buyers extra (over and above $132,000, in case you missed the price) for adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, a surround-view camera system, and active parking assist.
Assembled in Austria, the G550 starts at $132,000 (in case you missed the price) and the AMG G63 starts at nearly $160,000.
Except for the necessary safety features, the G550 is amply equipped. But options like softer leather upholstery, massaging seats, and special paint ($6,500) will push it past $150,000.
In addition to more horsepower, the AMG G63 has high-performance equipment like bigger brakes. With options it can run to nearly $190,000.
After some 40 years of looking like a big black refrigerator on wheels, the G-Class was finally redesigned in 2019. It’s still boxy. Some things never change, or change very little.
The chunky lines, exposed hinges, and tacked-on side strips would never get away with being on any other SUV, let alone anything else with the Benz star up front, which is partially hidden by the chrome brush guard. But they work here, exceedingly well.
The AMG G63 looks mostly the same except for bigger wheels.
The cabin ambience is more like a car than an SUV, with fine and decadent materials. Glimmering twin 12.3-inch screens, covered by a single pane of glass, dominate the instrument panel—one handles vehicle functions and the other is a touchscreen interface. The rest of the center stack flaunts climate vents that look like turbines, toggle switches for the three differential locks, and various other controls. There are many color options and combinations to choose from, so you can make your G-Wagen as drab, down-low or garish as you want.
The front and rear seats are wonderfully supportive, and the rear is wide enough that three adults fit comfortable, even though the interior is tall and slightly narrow.
Running boards ease the high step-in. There’s a distinctive solid thunk when the doors are closed.
At the back, it’s not a liftgate or a tailgate, but rather a gate that swings out on hinges, to the left away from the curb. It exposes 37.4 cubic feet with the rear seat upright and 79.5 cubic feet with it tucked away.
The G-Wagen is quick with the 416-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 in the G550, and blistering fast with the 577-hp AMG G63. If its looks weren’t so conspicuous, it would be a stoplight sleeper.
A 9-speed automatic transmission handles the power, and the Sport+ drive mode really brings the transmission alive.
The brakes on the G550 are massive, as they need to be, and even more massive on the AMG G63. A trio of drive modes—Comfort, Sport, and Sport+—wake up the gearbox.
The front suspension is independent, while there’s a solid rear axle at the rear. It’s there to enable that serious off-road ability, and it doesn’t hurt the ride as much as might be expected. The ride is firm and busy, but not intolerable, not even with the optional 22-inch wheels. But stay with the standard 19-inch wheel with wider sidewalls for off-road ability.
The limiting factor in driving the G-Class with spirit around corners is its height. There’s a ton of electronic interventions to keep you out of trouble, and as a result G-Class feels like it’s walking around on stiletto heels. If cornering is what you want, don’t forget, there’s the stupid-fast and totally stable Mercedes GLS-Class SUV.
As for off-road, the muscular G-Class can handle just about any kind of terrain. Its four-wheel drive has three differential locks that deliver power to each wheel individually, and the coil springs provide dexterity on the trails.
The AMG G63 has more off-road modes than the base G550. Not that you’ll be using it for that.
The 2021 Mercedes G-Class is for show—but it packs an incredible amount of off-road capability inside. We’d stick with the standard model for its all-around talent, but the AMG’s stunning acceleration makes a statement all its own.
—By Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection