I’ll be very honest with you – I’m struggling to find a way to begin this story. There are some things for which it’s difficult to find apt and lucid descriptions; you know you’ve experienced them, but when asked for a summation of what you thought and how you felt, you find yourself rubbing your head, scratching your chin (sometimes simultaneously) and failing to come up with an appropriate answer.
The Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG is one such thing; I find I cannot describe, even to myself, the car in its entirety. Therefore, I’m going to go with the next best option, which is to tell you the first thought that came to my mind after I had driven the G55 for a bit – that it is, without a shred of doubt, the most absurdly entertaining vehicle on sale in the country, if not the world, and with the emphasis being firmly on ‘absurd’.
What other way can one describe a car that is over 30 years old in design and which has all the subtlety of walking into a pane of glass, interiors that are decidedly un-Mercedes, a flipping great 8-cylinder, 507 bhp, 71 kgm petrol engine, the handling prowess of a reasonably agile housing colony, the off-road capability of a battle tank, the drinking habits of the nation of Ireland and a price tag of Rs 1.1 crore (before taxes and whatnot)?
This indescribable piece of excess on wheels began life as the military-spec G-Class (G for ‘Geländewagen’, or ‘over-land vehicle’) way back in 1979, as a joint venture between Daimler-Benz AG and Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG. The idea was to build a go-anywhere, do-anything, scare-the-pants-off-everybody vehicle for military purposes, which would also be comfortable burbling down boulevards in the hands of the rich and in/famous. And now it’s here, on our shores, standing in front of me and looking for all the world like an Indian MUV on some totally outlawed steroids. The fact, of course, is that the G-Class is the big daddy of a lot of locally made SUV/MUVs in terms of styling – the design clues are there for
all to see. It’s just that it’s difficult to reconcile the G55’s price tag with its 30-year old looks. Still, I have to admit that the G55 is nothing if not seriously cool – the ramrod straight lines, the near-vertical windshield, the chromed running boards, those massive 19-inch AMG wheels, the upright doors, those tasty, chromed exhaust pipes just ahead of the rear wheels and the beefy bull bars all contribute to the G55’s ‘Don’t you mess with me’ attitude. You know the line about bringing a gun to a knife-fight? This is the blunderbuss you’d tuck into your pants.
Firing this particular weapon is fairly simple – stick it in ‘D’ and floor the loud pedal. The huge 5439cc V8 (not quite 5.5-litre) lets out a captivating rumble (best savoured with the windows down in a tunnel), and the G55 rockets forward. Only it doesn’t, because the throttle response has clearly been tuned for off-road use, and there’s not much by way of low-end grunt; you really have to mash the pedal to set off the fireworks, but when the fuse has been lit, it’s truly game on – there’s a great big ‘whoosh’ of absolute power that corrupts absolutely. 100 kph comes up in 6.2 seconds, with the slightly sluggish
5-speed automatic transferring power to all four wheels, and the behemoth will hit its indicated (and limited) top speed of 210 kph given enough road and guts on the part of the driver. The power delivery, for better or worse, is on-or-off – when you’re crawling about in the city, light throttle inputs don’t have much effect, and if you stand on the pedal at higher revs, the results can be sphincter-tightening. It’s all great fun, though, in the same way that passing around a live hand grenade can be.
I’d like to be charitable, but the only way to describe the G55’s ride and handling characteristics is with the word ‘agricultural’. You’re never in any doubt that this is a strict off-roader with a thunderous engine stuffed into it, with not much else by way of performance tuning save for an AMG-massaged suspension – which is pretty darn stiff. The ride quality is bumpy at best and downright choppy at worst, even in the front seats, and any competing SUV will have its number in this regard. Something like the Porsche Cayenne or the BMW X6 will also eat it for breakfast around bends, because the G55 weighs about 18,000 tonnes (3.2 tonnes gross, actually), has a steering wheel with a very long rack and the precision and feel of local anaesthesia, a rather narrow body, a high centre of gravity and a fairly short, 112-inch wheelbase – this is not a combination with which you would set out to tame Pike’s Peak. The brakes don’t offer much feedback either; during a couple of emergency braking manoeuvres, I knew that the car was stopping, but the brake pedal did its best to suppress any information that was coming my way. To truly enjoy this car, you have to find the world’s straightest road, put a leaden weight on the accelerator and drive flat out till you run out of gas or fall off the map (given that it delivers about 4 kpl, I’d bet on the latter).
The AMG badge, although desirable, is also the car’s own worst enemy off the tarmac. The sexy exhausts down the car’s sides reduce ground clearance by a fair bit, and the stiffness of the suspension means that there’s not much flex on offer when it’s needed, despite the presence of coil-sprung solid axles. The car’s sheer toughness and the presence of three lockable differentials still means that it’s a mountain elephant (‘goat’ doesn’t do it justice) which will tide over most hostile terrain – but it’s a handful to drive both on and off road, and is likely to tire you out sooner than you’d like. It’s also a surprisingly low-rent cabin in which to sit and watch the fuel needle plunge – despite bells and whistles like a reversing camera, leather seats, wood inserts, a sunroof and other doodads, some of the plastic, fabric, switchgear and other materials are certainly not up to standard. Then there’s the price – Rs 1.1 crore is almost laughable, but strangely enough, it’s a good, hearty belly laugh. As you double over with mirth, you’ll also realise that the G55 is an amazing piece of machinery – it just requires an unusual openness of mind and a suspension of logic. There, that’s how I should probably have begun this story.