Never let it be said that the Germans don’t have a sense of humour. Because Mercedes-Benz has whisked us near the picturesque peak of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, to reveal a car that is destined for a life as an apex predator in the urban jungle. The irony doesn’t end there, though, because the car itself is a rolling act of lunacy.
The G63 AMG is one of the most nonsensical machines on the road that has somehow evolved from a simple military concept to become supercar expensive, insanely fast, ridiculously heavy and a status symbol like no other.
Lest we forget, the G-Class started life as a military vehicle, the Gelandewagen, or ‘cross country car’ in English. Apparently it was suggested to Mercedes by the Shah of Iran and was first offered for the road in 1979. But even then it was seen as a real off-roader, barely concealed military hardware for the masses. It was the German Land Rover Defender. Then AMG changed all that.
Because in the late 1990s, about the same time it dropped the G-Wagen name in exchange for G-Class, Mercedes’ in-house tuning arm produced what was by some considerable margin the most insane vehicle on the road. The G55 AMG was a total mismatch of chassis and engine, a near nonsense, and it proved a total, runaway success. Rappers, pop stars, footballers, everybody wanted one.
The legendary off-roading skills of the go-anywhere G-Professional have been sacrificed in the name of blingy wheels, a sportier ride and aggressive bodykit. This isn’t a car you can drive across the desert anymore – it has the low suspension and sports tyres that betray a more civilised life – but it could still manage a broken back road or even a small field. In that sense this is one of the few ‘supercars’ – if it can still carry the name – that makes sense here. It’s a fast car that can take on anything you could conceivably call a road.
Even without this country-specific bonus, the AMG has sold in droves and those that are fortunate enough to own a fleet of supercars will almost certainly want a G63 AMG for town driving. It has become the must-have SUV for the super rich and even hardened cynics – those that consider the very idea of a super-fast SUV ridiculous – have found something deeply cool about the giant G. In every quantifiable way it is a worse car, but it is somehow so much cooler than a Porsche Cayenne Turbo or BMW X5 and everybody without a serious case of eco-conscience loves this big tank.
Mercedes has deliberately kept true to the formula and refused to update the G-Class’s basic shape. It remains a square, brutal, functional box. In fact, take the modern sheen off the press shots and it would easily look like an escapee from the 1970s, with sharp-edge design, a crease-sharp front end and those massive slabbed sides. A twin-blade grille, LED daytime running lights and reshaped bumper with three air inlets are a few of the visual changes. I open the rear and it truly does feel like a bank vault, too; there’s something deeply indestructible about the G63.
Once AMG is finished, it is not a car to go anywhere anymore, but it feels like it could. Those side exit exhausts are not just for show, they’re there to amplify every single one of the revs from the huge 6.3-litre V8 under the hood. There’s the aggressive explosion, a burbling, menacing sportscar idle: none of these belong to a truck like this. And when I blip the throttle I can feel the car rocking gently from side to side.
I drop it out of Eco mode and into Sport and floor the throttle. It’s one of those moments. The front end rises like a speedboat out the water, the back dips and somehow more than 2,500 kg of German tank is yanked towards the horizon. It’s like the engine is trying to pull the front end off the car when you really go for it – nothing ever quite feels under control.
In a straight line, though, it has to be said it is simply epic. The big bus slams to 100 kph in 5.4 seconds, which is insane for more than 2.5 tonnes of car, and with the help of the AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic seven-speed gearbox, it will hit 200 kph. Would I want to? On an arrow straight road with nothing blocking my path, yes…
And as the growling Messerschmitt of an engine roars we all burst out laughing. It just has that effect, there’s something deeply absurd about going this fast while sat so high up and bouncing down the road. This is a ridiculous car, from the beginning to the end, but therein lies its appeal.
The bad news comes in the corners. The car is simply too heavy and too soft to carry the speed through the bends. Throwing it enthusiastically into a bend (and it’s a testament to the car’s character that I want to, in the first place), it reveals massive understeer and wobbles underfoot as the four-wheel-drive shares out the power, and there’s a complete lack of feel at the wheel.
I just don’t know what the car is going to do, there’s no way to feel your way through a bend and in a car like this it is total guesswork. I soon settle down to the car’s natural style, heading in to every bend extra slow, hauling off speed with the massive brakes and then booting the throttle as I round the apex. It’s safer and still makes me smile, as the fuel tank drains before our eyes.
That’s the only other downside of this big old tank – the fuel consumption is horrendous and the car will average 7.2 kpl, but round town you’ll see much worse than that. Mercedes has done its best with an Eco mode that dulls the throttle response and gearchanges and it also employs a Stop-Start system to cut the engine when stationary. But this is not a car for those that care about the economy or the environment – it is all about the ostentatious demonstration of wealth.
That explains the lavish interior, with the fully adjustable chairs, the high seating position, the quilted leather and general feeling of pure luxury. The dashboard looks more like a high-end Mercedes saloon, except for the locking buttons for the front, centre and rear diffs. This is more of a nod to the car’s off-road roots than anything else, as most customers will touch them only out of curiosity.
No, this is no longer an off-roader, it’s simply an apex predator, the king of the urban jungle. Almost…
Because Mercedes showed us another car at the launch: the G65 AMG. That car will cost, staggeringly, more than a Ferrari 458 Italia. But the big monster will come with a six-litre twin-turbo wedged under the bonnet, will pump out 612 bhp and will literally skin established sports cars in a straightline drag race.
Who needs these cars? Nobody, but that’s not the point. There is a small slice of society with the money to buy one, the desire to run it and the wish to show off their good fortune to the world. As long as they exist, ostentatious monstrosities like the G63 and G65 AMG will continue to roam the Earth. I think they’ll be here a while…