The moment I had been waiting for months is finally here: the international driving event of the new Mercedes-AMG G63! As an owner of a 2017 G63 I was obviously looking forward to driving the new G63 but I also spent decent time on- and off-road with the new G500 and I’m happy to share my full experience with you.
My day started at 5am. Firing up the 5.5 liter V8 of my G63 in the garage still makes me smile every single time, my neighbours probably not so much at this early hour. The 30 min drive reminds me how much of an odd animal the last generation G is in the current automotive world. The steering is far from direct, in contrary I can turn the wheel a few degrees left and right without the car moving off its course one inch. The power is impressive but it is certainly not a sportscar and unlike any other AMG I have driven. Despite its imperfections there is something about the G which makes it such a desirable car – it is unique and iconic, very iconic.
At the launch of the new G-Class in Detroit earlier this year Daimler CEO Dr Dieter Zetsche said that the goal for the new G was to make it better in every regard without sacrificing the elements that make the G such an iconic car. This is the moment of truth.
Shortly after landing at Perpignan airport I’m handed the keys to a brand new 2019 Mercedes-AMG G63 Edition 1. The new G63 comes with a 4.0 liter turbocharged V8 known from other recent AMG models. It produces 585hp (up from 571hp) and 850Nm of torque. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h takes 4.5 seconds and the G63 has a top speed of 220 km/h (240 km/h with the optional ‘Drivers Package’).
Apart from a handful of parts including the door handles and the spare wheel cover everything has been redeveloped. The new G is wider, longer and packed with a tonne of new features, yet the G developers also managed to make it up to 170 kg lighter. In part the G stays true to their proven formula: ladder frame, three mechanical differentials and low range.
But there are also some very significant differences. A key difference is the new front axle with independent front-wheel suspension with double wishbones and a strut brace. Add new electro-mechanical steering and a 55% higher torsional rigidity and the contrast in handling with the predecessor couldn’t be greater.
Leaving the airport behind it becomes clear immediately that the G made a quantum leap when it comes to handling, steering and ride. Steering is direct and precise, providing more or less feedback depending on the driving mode you are in. The suspension and dampers are developed together with AMG and they worked some magic on the algorithm that individually adjusts each damper. Small bumps are filtered out nearly completely without feeling soft or disconnected. Thanks to the new suspension and the wider track the tendency to lean in the corners is significantly reduced, from hardly leaning at all in Sport and Sport Plus mode to moderate leaning in Comfort mode. This allows the new G63 to reach much higher cornering speeds than its predecessor without any drawbacks in comfort. On-road one could say the new G63 is a completely new beast and a lot more AMG than its predecessor. However, the G has always been about off-road and there must be a compromise somewhere in this improved on-road handling, right?
To find out how the G63 does off-road we visited a famous off-road and rally raid track at the Chateau de Lastours vineyard. With its varied and rough terrain, a known proving ground for the G since the 1980s when the launch of the first ‘463’ G was staged here. The G has never been shy of a few rocks or a steep hill, well illustrated by the test drives we had at the ‘Schöckl’ home test track near the Mercedes-G factory in Graz, Austria. But the new generation G steps up its game even off-road. Nearly all characteristics have been improved: incline +7 degrees (35 degrees max), wading depth +10cm (70cm max), ground clearance +6mm, etc. Increasing the wading depth alone required a complete redesign of the air management requiring countless hours of development.
The G63 has a few drawbacks off road compared to the G500 sibling. For better on-road handling it has an extra stabilizer at the rear axle which reduces the off-road traction slightly. This is also the reason the G63 has three additional driving programs (Trail, Sand and Rock) compared to the G500 which has just one ‘G Mode’ for off-road driving. Another difference is the side pipes of the G63 which reduces the ground clearance. Still the G63 can off-road, and how! Driving over rough terrain is done with significantly more comfort than the predecessor. This again takes us back to the wider track and the completely new front suspension, the tendency to swing from left to right is reduced to an absolute minimum. Small bumps and rocks are absorbed like nothing I have ever seen off-road. It feels like I’m driving a Mercedes-Benz S-Class with air suspension!
The interior of the new G has also been improved. I’m 1,90m tall and the current G is not very comfortable for long journeys. The new one offers a lot more space for both driver as well as passengers. Optionally you can even opt for the active seats with responsive side supports, massage function and seat cooling. The general ergonomics and infotainment are similar to a recent E-Class bringing the G also into the 21st century. The luggage area is sacrificed a bit, especially when you order the Burmester Audio and the active seats since the subwoofer and air compressor for the seats are placed above the left and right wheel arches. But to make up for it the rear bench has a cargo setting with 8-steps.
Design wise the new front lights and dashboard take some getting used to but I love how many iconic elements like the indicators on the front bonnet, the doors (yes, you still have to slam them to close), side step, rear wheel cover and side pipes are kept. Talking about side pipes the new 4.0 V8 can’t match the sound of the old 5.5 V8 but it is not that far off.
The Mercedes-Benz G500
Having put the G63 to the test on- and off-road it was time to also have a look at the G500. It also comes with a 4.0 liter turbocharged V8 developed by AMG but it delivers ‘only’ 422hp and 610Nm of torque. The 0-100 km/h takes 5.9 seconds and the top speed is limited to 210 km/h. This makes it almost as fast as the old G63. The ride height is the same as that of the G63 but the damper settings are a bit softer and it doesn’t have the additional stabilizer of the G63 so it tends to lean a bit more in the corners and is more comfortable in general.
The 4.0 V8 in the G500 can be paired with a sports exhaust as part of the AMG Line. With the sports exhaust it provides a nice, full V8 rumble with some plops and bangs in Sport mode. The driving programs in the G500 are a bit more straight forward: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual. As soon as you engage low range or switch on one of the diff locks G mode is automatically engaged. It changes steering, suspension and the accelerator to give maximum precision off-road. The new low range ratio of 3 to 1 also plays a key role for improved off-road performance. No hill decent control or other electric gadgets are needed; just engage first gear and let the car roll down the hill.
To illustrate the off-road capabilities, I was invited to join a Mercedes-Benz G off road test driver over a 1 hour+ off road track. The best moment was when a colleague I was sharing a car with came over a crest and stopped to ask if he had to go left or right. In front of us was a solid rock face that if covered with snow would challenge experienced skiers. But that did not keep the test driver to insist the only way forward was straight up leaving my colleague speechless. The G500 was not bothered at all and tackled the steep rock slope with what seemed like very little effort. A few steep up and down runs later it was my turn behind the wheel and clearly, we hadn’t seen anything yet. Instead of approaching straight I was encouraged to make a 90 degree turn to drive up the steepest part of the track using the most difficult line. I have done a few instructed off road drives and never have I driven a car that gives such confidence in tough terrain.
On the road it is obviously softer than the G63. You can tell the V8 engine is related to that of the G63; excellent throttle responds, smooth gear changes of the 9-speed gearbox and a nice V8 sound. The G500 comes with less powerful brakes than the G63 and that can be felt but hopefully a set of optional high performance brakes can fix that soon. In regards to handling and comfort it is a lot closer to a GLE than a last generation G500. This makes it a much nicer daily driver but also means it has lost some of its edges and unique character.
What to Spec on a new G500?
The G500 is already very well equipped with only a few real must-haves. Here are some of the options I would consider when ordering a new G500.
– Driver Assistance Package – Includes adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and a few other helpful features.
– Parking Package with 360 degree camera – One of the major improvements over the old G is the position of the rear camera below the extra wheel. With the 360 degree camera you also get a front camera and two side cameras which are very useful off-road and while parking.
– Active Seats – The seating position in the new G is much better in the old G. Opting for the active seats also adds active side supports and a massage functionality for both front seats.
– Adaptive Dampers – An absolute must are the adaptive dampers developed with AMG.
– Digital Radio / DAB – In a large part of the world FM is slowly being replaced by digital radio so a must if you want to high quality radio.
– Burmester high-end audio – The high-end audio by Burmester is one of the best in the industry and provides real added value. For now it is only available in combination with a sunroof which seems a bit odd at first but has to do with the number of different variants for the roof switch unit.
– Multibeam LED – Adds round LED daytime running lights (as opposed to the standard daytime running lights in the top third of the light unit) and adaptive high-beam which blocks out oncoming traffic.
– Widescreen Cockpit – Infotainment wise the G500 already comes with Comand Online as standard. As an option you can swap out the normal speedometer and rev counter with a fully digital display called ‘Widescreen Cockpit’.
– 100 liter tank – Replaces the 75l tank with one with more capacity. Despite the better fuel economy it doesn’t hurt to have a bit more range.
– Tinted rear windows – Another must have for privacy, climate and of course the looks.
What to Spec G63?
In general for the G63 we would opt for the same options as the G500 above with exception of the Adaptive dampers which are standard on the G63 and these additional options:
– AMG Driver’s Package – Raises the top speed from 220 km/h to 240 km/h.
The new G500 and G63 are certainly a lot better than their predecessors. Better off-road performance, a new dimension of on-road dynamics, more spacious, more comfortable, more connectivity and the list goes on and on. Even though the new G continues to carry the internal 463 code used by the G since the late 1980s, it truly a completely new beast altogether.
I still love my G63 and its boxy looks, dominating V8 sound and imperfections. The new G is still very much a G-Class but has lost a bit of the character of the old one. However, the new G-Class is still a very desirable car because of its perfection.