2019 Mercedes-Benz G-550 Test Drive and Review

2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Being successful the first time around is tough, but it’s even harder following up an initial smash success. When the pressure is on, it’s easy to screw up.

It may be hard to imagine, but over the past 40 years, there have been four generational changes to the Mustang (not all of them good), five Jeep Wranglers (if we count the CJ, which you should), and five Chevrolet Corvettes. But there’s only been one Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen.

Known colloquially as the G-Wagen, and officially as the G-Class, the Bundeswehr-ready SUV was originally released in 1979 for military and civilian buyers alike. The legendary G-Class has seen plenty of minor tweaks over the years, but the 2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 and Mercedes-AMG G 63 represent Benz’s first attempt at a second G-Wagen.

 

With a pedigree so storied, Mercedes knows it’d be foolish to muck things up with the 2019 G-Class. Yet this brand-new model only shares five components with its predecessor. Five. Aside from the headlight washers, door handles, sun visors, spare tire cover and some random bracket found deep in the internal structure, everything else is different. For a part-relic, part-icon like the G-Class, that’s a really big deal.

Driving through the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, between the cities of Perpignan and Carcassonne where the original G-Class was launched nearly 40 years ago, it all feels very… familiar. The steering is sort of vague. There’s a wonderful burble from the side-mounted exhaust. An upright windshield sits not too far in front of me, providing a commanding view of the SUV’s short, flat hood and chunky corner turn signals. It’s an experience that’s uniquely G-Wagen, and one that — despite huge improvements in comfort, technology and drivability — is still fully present.

That began with a new frame, body mounts, and body, which pulled around 374 pounds from the structure thanks in part to an aluminum hood, fenders, and doors. Even so, Mercedes says the design is 55 percent stiffer than the previous version. It’s also 2.5 inches wider and two inches longer, delivering more interior room than before. There’s now a functional center console up front, and rear passengers don’t find themselves rubbing knees with their neighbors. The extra width also allowed engineers to fit legitimate climate controls for the back seats.

That cabin now looks like it belongs in the upper echelon of the Mercedes-Benz lineup, with a completely revised dash. The optional, high-resolution instrument cluster is gorgeous, as is the massive 12.3-inch central display. The latter still isn’t touchscreen, but is easy enough to navigate through the console-mounted touchpad and rotary selector. More importantly, the G-Class is quieter than before. An acoustic windshield and side glass, extensive sound deadening, and double door seals do a better job of keeping noise at bay.

That’s not to say the new G is silent. There’s a reason modern vehicles look so round and generic. Every sharp or vertical edge, every protrusion is a chance for wind to sing and whistle. While the 2019 G-Class now has a slightly softer exterior design, it still retains many of the harsh characteristics of its predecessors, including those protruding, fender-mounted turning indicators and the vehicle-length body protector strip. The door handles are even carryovers from the previous model. Combine all that with a steeply raked windscreen, and there’s more racket than you’d expect from a freshly designed vehicle. Still, we don’t care. It’s a good reminder that this is still a G.

The biggest change is a new independent front suspension. Abandoning the old stick axle was the key to modernizing the G-Class, allowing engineers to use an electromechanical rack and pinion steering system. It also opened the door to the complete suite of Mercedes-Benz driving aids, including parking assist, and lets the engine sit lower in the passenger compartment for a better center of gravity, to meet pedestrian safety criteria, and improve crash ratings. More importantly, the change civilized the G’s driving dynamics.

A solid rear axle has been maintained, but four trailing arms contribute to improved ride and handling on road (more on that later). Low range also makes its return, as do the locking center, rear and front differentials, which are now electrically rather than pneumatically controlled. The 2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 does get a new “G” driving mode that adapts the steering, prevents unnecessary gear shifts and manages the throttle to be more appropriate off-road. The G 550 is still an off-road vehicle for off-roading enthusiasts who’ll know what all of the above means, and how, when and why to use it. Keen newbie owners should really consider an off-roading course.

Some of the more noteworthy goodies are under the hood—both the G 550 (called the G 500 in Europe) and the G 63 get a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 paired with a nine-speed automatic and full-time four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case (complete with an improved 2.93 crawl ratio), and locking center, rear, and front differentials. The G 550’s carryover V-8 makes 416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, while the G 63 ditches its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 for a hand-built version of the 4.0-liter that makes a whopping 577 hp and 627 lb-ft in the AMG model.

 

An electronic adaptive suspension system designed to improve the G-Class’ performance both on- and off-road is optional on the G 550 and standard on the G 63. It pairs with a more user-friendly differential system (which now include ‘at-ready’ pre-lock lights letting the driver know the selected diff will automatically lock if needed) and new off-road drive modes, dubbed “G-Mode.” G-Mode activates whenever low-range is selected or the center differential is locked (this changes the four-wheel drive setup from the default 40/60 front/rear split, to 50/50), and it adjusts the suspension damping (if equipped), as well as the throttle and steering mapping to improve the G 550’s off-road abilities. The G 63’s version of G Mode is more extensive, adding dedicated Trail, Sand, and Rock settings in an effort to compensate for the G 63’s slightly shallower approach angle and larger standard 20-inch or optional 22-inch wheels. The G 550 gets 18-inch standard and 20-inch optional wheels. All-terrain tires can be optioned on either model.

2019 Mercedes-Benz G-550 – Technology in COMAND

Every G-Class comes with a 12.3-inch infotainment display, front and center, set back in the dash. You can option two real speedometer and tachometer gauges directly in front of the driver, or you can go big and spec a dual-screen setup, just like what you find in Mercedes’ CLS-, E- and S-Class models.

The infotainment tech housed within is the same COMAND system you’ll find elsewhere — not the updated MBUX system that’ll first arrive in the new A-Class sedan and Sprinter van. You can control the system via the large dial or touchpad on the center console, or the two thumb pads on the steering wheel (left for the gauge screen, right for the center display), and while it mostly works well enough, I can’t wait for MBUX to make its way into every single Mercedes model. The high-res, reconfigurable displays of COMAND are nice and all, but I’m hooked on the incredibly quick, touch-responsive interface of MBUX.

Perhaps most important, though, the new G is longer and wider. Its back seat gets a massive 5.9 extra inches of legroom and a luxurious amount of recline. Front seat legroom also increases by 1.5 inches, and although still a bit tight for the tallest drivers, it should no longer be a literal pain point. The new seats are also sumptuously divine when you select the heated, ventilated, massaging and dynamically bolstering Active Multicontour Seat package. As the press release eagerly points out, they come highly recommended by the German spinal health organization “Aktion Gesunder Rücken e.V.” So there you go.

Pushing you into those seats are a choice of 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 engines paired to nine-speed automatic transmissions (up from seven). The G 550’s V8 has been retuned but produces the same 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet, eliciting a sensuously deep rumble when you prod the accelerator from a stop or move out to pass. It’s seriously intoxicating, and the accompanying thrust can make you giggle. Mercedes didn’t release a 0-60 time, but given the old, equally powered G weighed about 375 pounds more and hit 60 in 5.8 seconds, well, the new one should be quicker.\

2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Specs

2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class
BASE PRICE$125,000-$140,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUTFront-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINES4.0L/416-hp/450-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8; 4.0L/577-hp/627-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT5,450-5,500 lb (est)
WHEELBASE113.8 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT189.7 x 76.0 x 77.2 in
0-60 MPH4.0-5.5 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECONNot yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S.Fall, 2018

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