The G-Wagen isn’t a logical vehicle. It’s the kind of car you buy because you want it and because you can. It may have started life as a utilitarian off-roader, but for the last several decades, it’s been luxed up to the point that many owners won’t hit the trails in one.
Thanks to an iconic design, though, the G-Wagen has remained popular with owners who could easily have bought a luxury SUV that didn’t drive like a farm truck. We can’t blame them, either. If you want a G-Wagen, even a Range Rover won’t do.
But the fact that a G-Wagen is an irrational purchase for most people doesn’t mean we shouldn’t run the new one through our regular series of performance tests. How else are we supposed to know how much better the redesigned version is?
What makes things even more interesting is that even though Mercedes gave the G-Wagen a complete redesign for the first time ever, its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 makes the same 416 hp and 450 lb-ft as the outgoing G550. But with less weight to haul around and a newer nine-speed automatic transmission, Mercedes’ latest four-wheeled brick should be a much better performer.
In acceleration testing, our G 550 ran from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 14.1 seconds at 98.4 mph (158.4 km/h). That’s relatively quick, but for a vehicle weighing 5,665 pounds (2,570 kg), it’s impressive. For comparison, the last G550 we tested needed 5.9 seconds to hit 60 mph and ran the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds at 95.7 mph (154 km/h). More gears and less weight really paid off.
Of course, complaints about the previous G-Wagen typically didn’t focus on acceleration. Anyone who wanted something quicker could get the AMG-tuned G63 or G65. Handling, however, was definitely an issue. So how improved is the G 550 in that regard?
Well, in our testing, the new G-Wagen averaged 0.61 g on the skidpad and needed 30.7 seconds at 0.53 g to complete the figure eight. The 2016 version, meanwhile, posted 0.71 g and a 28.7-second time at 0.59 g in the same tests. Braking from 60 to 0 mph took 136 feet and 122 feet, respectively.
Wait, what? How can the new G-Wagen possibly handle worse than the old one? Part of that might have to do with how hot it was. We attempt to correct for temperature, but extreme heat can still be an issue, and during SUV of the Year testing, it was regularly well over 100 degrees. But there were two other problems that probably contributed even more: understeer and stability control.
In normal situations, stability control is an important safety feature that helps keep small mistakes from turning you into a played-out Cars and Coffee meme. But in a limit-pushing handling test at the track, programming that’s undefeatable or too conservative can get in the way. As testing director Kim Reynolds found, the G-Wagen’s stability control definitely got in the way.
“Stability control massively screws up cornering such that you’re often full throttle and going remarkably slowly,” he noted.
Stability control stepping in probably wouldn’t have been as big a problem if the G 550 had more neutral handling. Unfortunately, we found it loves to understeer, meaning the stability control had to work overtime. Throw in vague, spongy brakes that didn’t always feel up to the task of stopping such a heavy vehicle, and you have a recipe for poor performance on the handling course.
The good news is, few people are going to buy a G-Wagen expecting it to handle like a sports car. Even the AMG version is clearly not meant for the racetrack. Not to say we approve of any vehicle posting one of the slowest figure-eight times we’ve ever recorded. The G-Wagen’s design just clearly telegraphs its poor cornering abilities.
Around town, Mercedes has greatly improved how the G 550 behaves. You still get lots of body roll, and there’s lots of wind noise, especially at higher speeds, but there’s only so much you can do with an off-road vehicle shaped like a shipping container. On the plus side, it’s relatively easy to drive considering its size. As Detroit editor Alisa Priddle put it, “On the road, it no longer steers like a school bus, but that was not a high bar to clear.”
The cabin also finally feels like it belongs in an SUV that costs six figures. Mercedes kept the passenger grab handle and three locking differential switches, but other than that, the interior looks like it was pulled right out of the S-Class. Some potential buyers may look at the twin displays, multifunction steering wheel, and high-end materials and feel like the G-Wagen’s lost some of its character. But at least it now feels more worthy of its sky-high price tag.
Ultimately, Mercedes did a commendable job of improving the G-Wagen’s on-road driving dynamics while preserving its legendary off-road capability. It’s still a niche vehicle not everyone will understand or appreciate, but that’s OK. We just wish there’d been a bigger improvement in the handling department.
|2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 4Matic|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$145,095|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||4.0L/416-hp/450-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||5,665 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||189.7 x 76.0 x 77.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.4 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.1 sec @ 98.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||136 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.61 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||30.7 sec @ 0.53 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||13/17/14 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||259/198 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.33 lb/mile|