Sunday Times review of G63

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markhowes's picture
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prwales's picture
Joined: 30.05.2007
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Re: Sunday Times review of G63

If you want to make a cool car in 2018, design it with a ruler. The sugar-cube-shaped Suzuki Jimny is getting rave reviews before it’s even gone on sale, and slabby old Land Rover Defenders sell for more than they cost new.

And in a resounding endorsement of why it’s hip to be square, the Adventure Car of the Year category in the recent Sunday Times Motor Awards was won in a landslide by the brand-new Mercedes-AMG G 63. Not that you’d know it’s all new. On the outside, it’s almost indistinguishable from the old model that dates back to the 1970s.

Indeed, you’d have to be a G-spotter to notice that it’s actually a little wider and longer than the old vehicle. Yet it uses only a handful of parts from its immediate predecessor, the most visible being the door handles. Otherwise, it’s all been Etch A Sketched on a blank screen.

Mercedes would rather you called it a G-class, to fit in with its current naming system, but it’s hard to shake the habit of using the car’s birth name, the G-wagen (short for Geländewagen, or “all-terrain car”) because, just like the original, it has a box-girder bridge of a separate chassis underneath and the hardcore off-roader’s muddy dream of three locking differentials, controlled by a bank of big switches proudly mounted slap-bang in the middle of the dashboard.

Mercedes has even retained some old G-wagen quirks, such as doors that require an almighty slam to close them and locks that operate with the whip-crack sound of an entire army cocking its rifles at once.

The ‘leathery interior’ of the new G-wagen
The ‘leathery interior’ of the new G-wagen

Another feature carried over from the previous G-class is an absolutely preposterous AMG V8. This wasn’t in the original spec for a car that was created as an army hack, but when it started to attract the attention of movers and sheikhs, Merc happily piled on the power — along with the leather — until a boxy reconnaissance vehicle had become a flat-sided Range Rover rival.

This is the mantle the new car picks up because, for now at least, it’s available in Britain only in maxi-bling spec, which brings together a beautifully crafted and very leathery interior and the 577bhp 4-litre twin-turbo V8 from the AMG GT R sports car.


And what an engine it is. You’d expect something with that amount of horsepower to be brisk, but nothing prepares you for the absurdity of this blunt-fronted motorised block of flats. The comical and — let’s be honest — rather addictive performance is made all the more enjoyable by the sounds that come from the flashy side-exit exhaust pipes, which range from the soft throaty whump of a St Bernard to the bass-and-brimstone jackhammer of an American drag racer. It’s a mighty, meaty engine and it’s absolutely brilliant.

Of course the previous AMG version of this car had a hearty engine too, but it was almost impossible to enjoy because it was installed in a chassis that could ill contain such vigorous energies. On that front there’s good news, because this G 63 is an enormous step on from its wobbly forebear.

Steering now feels like more than a mere serving suggestion that the car may or may not choose to ignore. Tiny imperfections in otherwise smooth roads are not magnified and transmitted to the body, causing its occupants to lurch around inside like wobbly-headed novelty toys. Corners are no longer to be taken at 10mph if you want to avoid the sensation that your car is about to capsize.

No, the new G-wagen is very good … for a G-wagen. Which, unfortunately, is like saying: “He’s a very good dancer . . . for a horse.”

Let’s not pretend for one minute that this is now a good or particularly enjoyable car to drive. Because of its old-fashioned separate chassis and hefty off-road-spec suspension, it still lollops around on uneven surfaces, it still needs a circumspection in bends at odds with its titanic power output and it still throws its nose to the sky under acceleration, and then snouts at the ground under braking. It’s way better than the old car, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.

The old model, terrible though it was, at least had the excuse of being an army corporal pumped full of steroids. It was that way because of where it came from and what had been done to it. Whereas this new car, created from scratch in the 21st century, is entirely artificial.

Mercedes-Benz knows full well how to design central locking that doesn’t make your passengers think they’re being shot at. It knows precisely how to manufacture doors that latch home without a slam so ferocious that onlookers will presume you’re in a ferocious rage. It knows how to make a curved windscreen and hidden door hinges. It even knows how to build a big off-roader that isn’t disappointingly small inside. And it knows how to build an off-roader that doesn’t weigh 2½ tons.

But it has chosen to forget all this knowledge in the creation of the brand-new G-wagen and instead come up with something that is deliberately worse than the best it can do. And then, because this is a niche product, handmade in Austria and bought only by oligarchs and Kardashians, it has set the price at £143,305.

There’s no denying that the G 63 has a tremendous engine, or indeed that there’s amusement to be had from finding a smooth road and mashing your right foot to the floor just to feel the thunderous fury of its acceleration, but these are also the reasons it’s basically a novelty act.

Yes, I know it has a certain unusual charisma about it, but that’s what they often say about serial killers. Ultimately, it’s a very silly and not especially good car that costs far too much. And yet for many people, including voters in The Sunday Times Motor Awards, it’s desirable beyond reason for one simple reason.

The G 63 may be completely stupid, but it’s also very cool.

Richard Porter is script editor for The Grand Tour. His new book, The Grand Tour’s A-Z of the Car, is published on Thursday (HarperCollins £20)

Jdring's picture
Joined: 12.04.2004
Location: South of Oxford, UK. 'dingaling' on the Register
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Re: Sunday Times review of G63
Pretty fair review I think its a shame there isn't a more utilitarian engine and model any more.