To the untrained eye, the redesigned G-Class doesn’t seem like a huge departure from the model it replaces.
It’s flabbergasting, in a good way, that Mercedes-Benz still offers the legendary Geländewagen, and that it has stayed true to its roots. The world first saw the G-Class in 1979, and it has soldiered on seeing minor revisions and facelifts since then. This year though, it has been fully redesigned and shares only a few cosmetic components with the model it replaces. Large and in charge, we hopped behind the wheel of a 2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 4MATIC to see just how good one of the most capable vehicles on the road would be, for the daily grind.
Just by looking at it, the G-Wagon’s sheer road presence is made immediately evident. Even though almost everyone knows exactly what it is, it still gets a ridiculous amount of positive attention out on the road. The very prominent two-box styling is full of 90-degree right angles, and the G 550 unapologetically looks almost exactly the same as it did when it first launched 40 years ago. The easiest way to differentiate the new model is the circular LED daytime running lights on the main headlight surround. Subjectively, I lovethe way this thing looks and the commanding driving position it has.
Getting into the G-Class is an affair on its own. There is remote keyless entry, but due to it using the older push-button door handles, it doesn’t have intelligent entry. That’s fine, because upon hitting the button on the remote to unlock the doors, the driver is met with a loud “clack” akin to a rifle reloading. The sound of each of the doors closing is also very bank-vault, further adding to the appeal of this G-Wagon. The access height is a bit on the taller side, and the quasi-running boards aren’t wide enough to actually use for most. It’s all part of the character though; very small prices to pay to drive one of the most capable and rugged vehicles on the road.
The actual interior of the G 550 is a scrumptious place to spend time. Doing away with regular shades of black and white, our test vehicle was upholstered in Yacht Blue and black Nappa leather. The only apt way to describe it is that it’s a very 1990s shade of blue in the most appropriately retro way possible – our team unanimously loved it. The rest of the interior is standard-issue Mercedes-Benz, with two large and high-resolution screens for the infotainment system and gauge cluster. It’s compatible with Apple CarPlay but the native COMAND system works well on its own, if not a little bit convoluted.
Interior space is a bit tighter than expected for a vehicle of this size, but four adults can comfortably travel in the G-Class with no issue. Headroom is plentiful thanks to the extremely tall nature of the vehicle, and legroom is also sufficient. The front seats on our test vehicle were heated, ventilated, and offered a variety of massage settings including “Hot Relaxing Back” and “Hot Relaxing Shoulder”. We do wish there was easier access to the massage features – they’re hidden within a series of menus in the main infotainment system.
A 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8 lives under the hood of the G 550 4MATIC, the same engine we have seen in the buttery smooth S 560 (reviewed here). It’s a great setup and is tuned to make a more aggressive noise in the G-Wagon, to suit its personality. Output is 416 horsepower from 5,250-5,500RPM and 450 lb-ft. of torque from 2,000-4,750RPM, and the G 550 accelerates with more authority than anything shaped like a house should be able to. A nine-speed automatic transmission quietly pulls off shifts with minimal fuss. It doesn’t quite feel as buttery smooth as an S-Class, but that’s all part of the character.
Previous models of the G-Class were a chore to endure on the street thanks to the body-on-frame platform. The biggest improvement to this newest model is that while maintaining the ladder frame, ride quality is vastly improved. The differentials are 1.6” further apart, and the front axle is independently suspended. It’s still not as soft as a Range Rover (reviewed here), but again, that’s not the point. The G 550 is firmer than just about any other SUV, but in a manner that reassures occupants of its capability and off-road prowess. Also, three locking differentials are still on board.
The power steering is electrically assisted, but while the last G 550 got recirculating ball steering, the new rack and pinion setup is easier to drive and requires minimal overcorrection. It drives down the highway with just as much authority as it can traverse the Rubicon Trail with, and that’s no easy feat. We do wish it had a tighter turning radius, as city maneuvering and parking requires some further planning. The new G-Wagon is 2.5” wider and 2.1” longer, and the wider stance suits it quite nicely.
If you need to ask about fuel consumption, you likely aren’t the G 550’s target market. Mercedes-Benz Canada rates the 2019 G 550 at 18.0L/100km city and 14.1L/100km highway. Over approximately 500km of combined driving, we averaged 17.7L/100km, about what was expected. The cargo area can hold 454L, and will expand to 1,246L with the rear seats folded down. When properly equipped, the G-Wagon is rated to tow up to 3,500 kilograms (7,700 pounds).
Pricing for the 2019 G 550 starts at $134,000. A series of packages including adjustable damping, 360-camera, and a Sport Package bring the as-tested sticker on this one to $157,740. It may seem like a lot, and it is, but the G-Wagon holds value like nothing else. After perusing the national classifieds, we couldn’t find a single G-Class, even dating back to 2001, for under $35,000. Even some 15-year old examples with over 300,000km were listed in the $40,000 range. Adjusted proportionately for the actual price difference when new, this resale value is similar to the Jeep Wrangler (reviewed here).
To the untrained eye, the redesigned G-Class doesn’t seem like a huge departure from the model it replaces. Subtle differences seem to make all the difference here, and the improved on-road manners are welcomed. The 2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 4MATIC isn’t without its quirks, but if you understand its military roots and rugged personality, it provides a driving experience like no other vehicle on the road.