The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is the most unlikely semi-ubiquitous vehicle on the road. The G, also know as the Gelandewagen, was introduced in 1979 and still looks pretty much exactly the same as it did back in the Carter administration. This machine, and this machine alone, appears weirdly immune to the forces that compel other vehicles — even classics like the Jeep Wrangler — to undergo a redesign now and then. The G-Wagen is like Richard from Lost, always looking the same regardless of the era in which it appears.
Under the hood, however, changes are afoot. The V-8 AMG model, in particular, now uses the fully modern 5.5-liter direct-injection twin-turbo engine that (over)powers other AMG models across the lineup. In the G63, this formidable piece of machinery cranks out 536 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough to hurl nearly three tons of metal to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, a stat that recalls a 300-pound offensive lineman cracking off a five-second 40-yard dash. In either case, you’ll want to get out of the way.
But the on-road hustle, as impressive as it is, isn’t the G-wagen’s forte. Though this has become a captive animal in America’s upscale suburban neighborhoods, the G-Class is built to roam the wilds. In terms of off-road ability, the G63 is in a select class with the Wrangler, the Range Rover and possibly the Ram Power Wagon. And so I did it a kindness: I took it off road.
There’s a very obvious reason you don’t see many G63 AMGs at your neighborhood Tuff Truck mud run — generally speaking, people with $135,205 to spend probably aren’t your off-roading demographic. But I figured a little hill climb wouldn’t harm anything, as long as I kept it pointing uphill. So I turned off a rural road out west and pointed the G’s prow toward the kind of precipice that would serve as a launch point for Wile E. Coyote’s new ACME hang glider. The view through the windshield quickly filled with sky, and even the mighty G began clawing futilely on the loose, rock-strewn surface. That is, until I engaged low range and locked all three of its differentials using the buttons on the dash, rendering the G-wagen a true four-wheel-drive. The G63 resumed creeping up the hill at a walking pace, rocking gently side to side as its solid axles soaked up rocks and craters. For about the next hour, I played a game of, “Can the G-Wagen drive up that?” The answer was always yes.
Off-road, the G63 is in its element. On-road, you’re constantly reminded that this is a truck, and not a new one. Solid axles, recirculating ball steering, a windshield so flat you could pry it out and use it as a coffee table—no other vehicle exhibits such a sharp contrast between modern motor and antique everything-else. But the years have imbued the G with an authentic charm that can’t be replicated. Even locking and unlocking the doors — ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK — is an experience to savor.
The other day I was watching Wheel of Fortune and marveling at how good Vanna White looks. Vanna was 22 years old when the G-class first hit the street, and if she doesn’t have one now, she should get one. Ten years from now, I’ll bet they’ll both still look the same.