With a full redesign for 2019, the iconic Mercedes-Benz G Wagen is now larger, roomier, and more comfortable on the road. Yet it retains its off-road credibility and all of its Hollywood cool factor. In this (not particularly unbiased) review of the G550, we go over the bumps and grinds with a big fat grin.
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class entered the market in 1979 as the G Wagen (Gelandewagen, or "cross country vehicle"). Made for overland adventuring in luxurious comfort, the G sat underneath the larger Unimog commercial series as both a consumer-grade option and a military-ready Jeep-style offering. Although the Wagen received multiple updates over its first-generation of production, it wasn't until 2018 that Mercedes announced a second-generation.
Before we continue, I want to get personal. I'm in my forties and have had the Mercedes G Unit on my bucket list of vehicles to drive since my age was a single digit. There are few vehicles on my list that have that kind of provenance for me. I didn't discover the Citroen 2CV or the Mercedes Unimog until much later. To be honest, outside of a few supercars, spending a week in the G550 checked off the last of those childhood dreams. Perhaps I can now set about purchasing that Deux Chevaux and 'Mog.
Nostalgia complete, we turn to the 2019 Mercedes-Benz G550. Our test unit came very well appointed, with a few extras like the Seat Comfort Package, which brings the heating, cooling and massage options of Mercedes' Multi-Contour seats, and Adaptive Suspension, which gives the G550 a smoother ride through better damper adaptability.
Several major changes to the makeup of the G Wagon were made for this new-generation. A fully independent suspension is one, giving the G a smoother on-road feel and better off-road adaptability. The larger body size also means more interior space for more passenger comfort and a larger cargo area. Still present is a unique axle locking system for locking differentials in sequence to reduce wheel spin for better traction.
Powering the new G550 is a strong 4.0-liter V8 engine that produces 416 horsepower (310 kW) and 450 pound-feet (610 Nm) of torque. This engine has a smooth powerband and long plateau of delivery that fits well with the big SUV. A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard and includes four-wheel drive. When the transmission's 4WD system is shifted into low-range gearing, all three differentials can be locked in sequence, starting with the center. For the driver, the prominent differential lock buttons on the center stack are conveniently numbered for this purpose.
The 2019 G550 is not what you'd call inexpensive (pricing starts at US$124,500), but comes with a huge number of goodies, including 19-inch wheels, tri-zone climate control, leather upholstery, and a Burmeister stereo. Mercedes' new Pre-Safe pre-collision impact safety system, active lane keeping and centering, and front collision mitigation are also standard. Pre-Safe configures the cabin for passenger safety on impact by tightening seat belts, straightening seat backs, closing windows, and creating interior sound that causes a reflex in the ear to dampen potential noise damage on impact.
Seating in the 2019 G Class is very well executed. The front seats are very adjustable, have plenty of bolster for off-pavement bouncing, and remain comfortable for everyday driving around town or on the highway. The rear seat bench is also good, with decent outboard positions and a usable center spot when three across is required. Cargo space is similarly well done, with a swing-out (away from the curb) rear door revealing a big square opening and lots of available space.
Of note, though, are some throwbacks still present on the 2019 model G. Doors are thick and heavy with very positive latches – they require some umph and slam to get them shut correctly. The climb into the G Wagen is somewhat daunting for those who are not physically ready. It's a big step up and the running board steps are not very wide, though grab handles are there to aid you for the "mounting a horse" maneuver.
The mechanics and safety systems translate to a G Class that's far different from the models produced in the early 1980s. It is smooth and fairly quiet on the road, and while its aerodynamics aren't conducive to total silence at highway speeds, of course, the G Unit isn't loud either. The interior's high comfort levels help that, and the excellent Burmeister stereo covers any noise that might be left.
Driving around town, the G Wagen is easy to maneuver due to the predictability of straight sides and sharp corners. Sensing the edge of the vehicle is intuitive, the only exception being that it's easy to forget how far back the spare tire cover protrudes from the rear. Though the backup camera peeking out from under it does help with that.
Off the road, the 2019 G550 is as ready for action as the G has ever been. It's perhaps less rough-and-tumble now, with a more domesticated design for comfort, but there's a lot of capability hidden under that luxury veneer. Wheel travel and suspension absorption are good, but the G doesn't come with off-pavement tires, so getting a grip in tough situations becomes a challenge. Those planning to go overlanding often should swap out the factory rubber for something more knobby. Upgrading the front and rear bumpers to improve approach angles might also help, but the high ground clearance of the G Unit goes a long way towards getting from here to there without tarmac.
The greatest failings are in its fuel economy and price tag. Fuel usage in the G Wagen is high and if you have to ask what the MPG returns will be, you're looking at the wrong vehicle. Don't expect double digits anywhere but the highway. As for the price tag, well, it starts at the average price for a house in some parts of the US ... and goes up from there. Fully configured AMG units of the G63 can be near the $200,000 mark.
Knowing that, though, it's still clear that the G Class is a beast all unto itself. It's eye-catching. It's desirable. It's powerful. It's capable. And it's finally a bucket list item I've gotten to check off. We'll take it.
Product Page: 2019 Mercedes-Benz G Class
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more