Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV

September 6, 2013
By

Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV

Mercedes-Benz G550 is an astoundingly brilliant truck.

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV is for people who actually need an SUV, as opposed to people who actually need a minivan but buy a crossover because…well I haven’t figured out why someone would buy a crossover.

I know that Mercedes-Benz G550 buyers are primarily using them for trips to the mall with some occasional light cruising, but if that keeps them selling, that’s fine with me.

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Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV

Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV

The Gelandewagen has two live axles and three locking differentials. Contrary to what people who lie about cars for a living will tell you, it’s just as comfortable — maybe more comfortable — than an SUV with a more car-like chassis. High-speed handling isn’t what you’d expect from a modern crossover like the GL or ML, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun to hustle. Those who’ve tried driving a Jeep Wrangler quickly should know exactly what I’m talking about. The difference here is that the Benz has almost exactly 100-hp on the new Wrangler and it makes a nice, rumbly V8 noise. The steering is heavy, but doesn’t seem artificially so.

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Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV

Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV

The bolt upright driving position and huge windows create excellent visibility, which is something I miss in the high-beltline era. It’s also dead quiet, except at highway speeds where wind noise is apparent but not at all intrusive. Overall, the build quality is outstanding–the feeling of shutting the doors and the sound of the locks: that kids, is how the Germans made their rep as builders of high quality cars.

Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV interior

Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV

The interior of the Mercedes-Benz G550 has the types of fancy materials and top-notch fit and finish that you’d expect from a Mercedes, but the sub-Designo doesn’t feel “too nice to use” like some of the company’s other cars. In fact, the Mercedes-Benz G550 was practically begging to be used hard. By the time I arrived home from work I was actively fighting the strong urge to pack my camping stuff in the back and take off for the Upper Peninsula. This morning, I jumped on the Mercedes website to build my ideal Mercedes-Benz G550 — the dark green one with the cloth seats and the diesel motor. Sadly, that’s a Europe-only fantasy.

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Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV dash

Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV

It’s hard to explain how too much power and all-over-the-road handling equates to a spellbinding SUV experience, but somehow it does. I suspect a small part of it, perhaps in the subconscious, is the big foam middle finger this car throws to the rest of the civilians. It’s kind of like “get out of my way, you cell-phone-squawking Honda Civic hybrid driver, before I go all monster truck on you.” The more mere mortals hate it, the more I like it.

The brick like styling is awesome — one of those cars that seemingly hasn’t changed much over the decades inside or out. I can’t remember a more upright driving position.

Driving dynamics? I had to bring that up? Well, sorry, but yes. The G wanders, bounces over potholes and squats and dives when you hit the throttle or brake pedal. The Mercedes-Benz G550 rolls like a puppy in corners and the steering reacts eventually. I call it old-world charm or something like that.

Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV motor

Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV Motor

The 5.5-liter V8 of the Mercedes-Benz G550 sounds awesome and straight line acceleration is fun — the car feels downright quick off the line. Hang on, baby!

So, yeah, this is cool. It’s so wrong and yet so right.

There is one Benz I haven’t driven that I really want to and that would be the G63 6×6. What a great Detroit commuter that would be.

The Mercedes-Benz G550 needs no introduction — Benz has been building ’em since 1979 and it hasn’t seemed to have any trouble selling them (both in utilitarian and up-market trims) even without a massive global advertising blitz. The Mercedes-Benz G550 has survived the introduction of its would-be successor, the GL, and I wouldn’t really be surprised if it somehow managed to outlive that unibody crossover.

After a moment’s exposure to the Mercedes-Benz G550, the reason why is obvious: whether you’re watching its rapidly approaching pusher bars in your rearview mirror or staring down the its hood from the oh-so-German, formal and upright driver’s seat, the thing has presence like nothing else on the road. Something about the Mercedes-Benz G550 tells you that it could take you anywhere at a moment’s notice, even if you’re parked in the local Starbucks lot (where I happened to drive by not one, but two other Mercedes-Benz G550s on my way in to work; I wanted to get out and talk about G-wagen things with their owners).

I never did take it off-road, strictly speaking, but it absolutely swallowed some pretty rough Detroit-sized potholes and I drove at moderate speed through a medium-sized puddle with great confidence. The 5.5-liter V8 doesn’t have tremendously impressive numbers on paper (weird to say that, but in this age of 850 lb-ft heavy duty pickups it must be noted) but 382 hp is more than enough to get the truck moving to expressway speeds, all with a nice burbling, purring and occasionally roaring soundtrack to back it up.

Complaints are all pretty minor, but they must nevertheless be aired. For one, a passenger complained about rear legroom. He was 6’1” or 6’2” and wasn’t uncomfortable, so I think this is more about perception not quite meshing with reality.

Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV

The Mercedes-Benz G550 comes off as a huge truck, and it certainly feels like one, but it’s really just a tall truck — at just under 42”, second-row legroom is about average. Those seeking a luxury-limo feel are going to be disappointed with rear appointments.

Also, couldn’t figure out the darn air conditioning system. It was an all-on/all-off proposition even in auto mode. I have to imagine there’s a way around, but it wasn’t quite intuitive.

Also, the seats were baffling — apparently it is possible to have too many degrees of adjustability. This is another problem that I suspect would be minimized after a few days of regular use.

Anyway, Benz is clearly making enough of these to justify its continued existence (and spawn a 6×6 AMG variant), maybe even turning a buck or two in the process. Even if they lose money on each one, however, they should still keep on bolting ’em together.

Why? It’s the ultimate halo car. And I’m not just saying that because I think all Mercedes-Benzes should be brash and boxy (which, let’s face it, I do). It’s because the whole package seems well-engineered and well constructed, from the sunroof (not moonroof) to the door locks, which sound like bolt-action rifles, to…well, everything else. It feels as much like a four-wheeled brick as it looks like one. This is what I imagine when I think of German engineering. I love it.

I’m a fan of this 2013 Mercedes-Benz G550. In my dream garage, there is a spot reserved for one (well, actually a G63 AMG) next to a bunch of sports cars. Do I have a love for off-roading and would actually use the locking differentials? Nope. Is there any place where this car’s high ground clearance is going to needed? Maybe if I feel like crawling over a few parking blocks in some parking lots for fun.

What I love about this car is that is certainly has a personality. It’s old-school cool and is just over the top. You can’t help but chuckle when you walk by it. It’s kind of like the Tonka truck that you may have had when you were a kid, but painted purple and dressed up with chrome bits.

Another thing that will make you chuckle is nailing the throttle because this 5.5-liter V8 sounds mean. I’m sure it’s not as mean as the G63 AMG, but the Mercedes-Benz G550’s is mean enough and will turn some heads. So if the boxy looks and chrome jewelry doesn’t get people’s attention, the V8’s rumble will.

Driving around town, it’s comfortable to mow over ruts and potholes. Steering has some weight to it, but the Mercedes-Benz G550 is still rather easy to wheel around. The high ride height has you looking down on Jeep Grand Cherokees, Ford Explorers and other wannabe SUVs. On a number of occasions, passengers commented that it felt like the Mercedes-Benz G550 was going to tip over going around sweeping turns on normal roads and on the expressway; that lean is something you have to get used to.

The interior of the Mercedes-Benz G550 is simple for a Mercedes-Benz. A fellow Autoweek staffer said the center infotainment screen looked like an after thought, which it does. There’s nothing really luxurious in the interior, but it’s still nicer with stitched panels. Another thing you need to get acclimated to is the reflections off the side windows at night. The glare caused by lights at night will mess with your peripheral vision and make you think a car is approaching you from the side.

Then there is the Mercedes-Benz G550‘s thirst for premium fuel. The best I could average on a tank of fuel was 13.2 mpg, which isn’t even close to tree-hugging territory, nor is it pocketbook-friendly. But chances are if you are even considering the Mercedes-Benz G550, saving trees or money at the pump aren’t really high on your priority list, and that’s fine.

Like I said, in my dream garage if I ever hit the lotto one of these days, there will be a Mercedes-Benz G550 in it. There’s no other car available today quite like it, and it’s just a ball to drive.

2013 Mercedes-Benz G550

Base Price: $113,905

As-Tested Price: $114,155

Drivetrain: 5.5-liter V8; 4WD, seven-speed automatic

Output: 388 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 391 lb-ft @ 2,800-4,800 rpm

Curb Weight: 5,578 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 12/15/13 mpg

AW Observed Fuel Economy: 12.5 mpg

Options: SPC special order ($250)

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