This is a bigger car in every dimension than the last G-Class, and it has a new mixed-metal body that’s both lighter and stiffer than before, under which there is a separate ladder frame chassis. But the old G-Class’s rigid front axle has been replaced by a double wishbone front suspension system, and its recirculating ball hydraulic power steering swapped for an electromechanical rack-and-pinion set-up.
The car has standard steel coil suspension, but that hasn’t prevented ground clearance rising to 241mm and wading depth increasing to 700mm. Meanwhile, the car now offers a nine-speed torque converter transmission with low-range reduction gearing for extreme off-roading, as well as three lockable driveline differentials. It may be lightened, then; but it’s about as far from being a lightweight as it’s possible for a luxury SUV to be.
The G63’s exterior design being such an homage to the G-Class’s time-honoured look, you don’t expect to find the cabin so transformed after you’ve clambered up and then in. Indeed, it’s this interior — with its twin widescreen instrumentation and infotainment screens, its turbine-like air vents and its upmarket mix of materials — that so emphatically answers any lingering doubt that this isn’t yet another facelift of the last-generation G-Class (and there were plenty of ’em).
It simply couldn’t be. This one is notably more spacious, more luxurious, more advanced and more expensive-feeling than its forebear was. So much so that you’d say that the car now feels as modern and upmarket on the inside as it looks eye-catchingly retro on the outside. That can’t be a bad combination for people who want a car that looks like a design classic but isn’t like one to live with.
Or to drive, we might add. The last G-Class was the sort of car to attract you with its outlandish visual character, but then give you reason to repent soon enough with its shuffling, uncouth low-speed ride, its heavy low-geared steering and its unwieldy handling. In this tester’s experience, you wanted to enjoy driving the old ‘G’ quite a lot more than you actually could.
With this new one, Mercedes has addressed the car’s chief dynamic vices very effectively indeed. I’ll admit that I’m not quite comparing like-for-like models, since the last G-Class I drove was a mid-range diesel that hadn’t been in receipt of the attentions of AMG. But Mercedes’ key decision this time around may well have been to involve AMG in the specification and dynamic development of even the non-AMG-badged models in the G-Class range, and thus driving up the car’s dynamic standards as far as possible in one generational leap.
And what a difference that’s made. The G63 steers with manageable weight, good directional responsiveness and a sense of precision that its predecessor simply wouldn’t have approached. It rides and handles at speed with a much more settled sense of composure than any G-Class before it, too — allowing for the fact that your expectations here still ought to be quite a long way from that of, say, an Audi SQ7 or a Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
A Cayenne Turbo does not have a separate chassis, a rigid rear axle or long-travel steel coil springs — and neither is it a car with a roofline that’s within a handspan of two metres. Considering that the G63 has all of the above, the way it turns in, checks body roll and changes direction when cornering are all very creditable. Moreover, I’d say the car’s ride and handling now bear comparison with the standards of less rugged performance SUVs without ever threatening to exceed any of them. Frankly, it doesn’t need to exceed them, because it remains a proper off-roader at heart.
The G63’s V8 engine, however, would be capable of pouring on pace at a rate to stretch even the very best road-going chassis in the fast SUV class. It doesn’t take long at all to propel the G-Class to speeds that it’s not entirely comfortable with on testing British roads — mostly because the car’s adaptive dampers only let you choose between softer dynamic driving modes that permit a bit too much head toss and vertical body movement and stiffer ones that deliver better outright damping but also begin to make the car’s ride feel clunky and wooden.
Choose your rate of progress judiciously, though, and the G63 offers plenty of driver reward. It’s stable enough, sufficiently composed and can be placed accurately enough to maintain an engaging and brisk cross-country stride — and just about enough to earn its corn as a bona fide driver’s car. Meanwhile, flicking your way up and down the ratios of that nine-speed gearbox allows you to enjoy that V8 at both low revs and high revs, and to bask in the drama and absurdity of a car that always has much more power to dispose of than it could ever need.