Somewhere along the way, society has lost its desire to have fun. The 1960s had flower power. The 1970s had disco. The Eighties had Super Mario. We will skip the plaid-soaked Nineties and the years that followed.
Currently on the back end of the ’10s, it seems that all we have is efficiency. Horrible, horrible efficiency above all else. Turbo used to be a hushed four-letter-word you couldn’t tell your insurance agent about. Now it’s an eco-whats-it. Wind-sculpted design was for supercars, now it’s econobox fare. L/100 has won the war, and It’s a Pyrrhic victory.
Well, have I got the vehicle for you.
The Mercedes G550 is half industrial fridge, half culinary-grade oven and half burled-walnut entertainment unit with a tube-television*. It’s a civilian-grade Panzer. It’s almost difficult to process the why behind this vehicle continuing to sell in 2016…until you’ve experienced one.
Many hardened automotive writers absolutely loathe this vehicle. I think they’re looking at it the wrong way. I’ve driven and loved a lot of 1980s cars, so to drive one that’s newly built is something to be embraced, not abhorred.
I believe the G-Wagen is meant to be a rolling anachronism. Every other SUV for sale looks positively frou-frou beside it. There’s almost nothing else like it available. If it had a mantra, it would be “I am Alpha and Omega”. It’s a brontosaurus wearing diamond cufflinks.
There’s a great meme going around – an old RadioShack advertisement, with a myriad of items – digital alarm clocks, tabletop video games, spy cameras, wireless phones. The punchline is that everything in the photo has been usurped by the average smartphone.
The G-Wagen is the discord of separate items contained in a giant box. It doesn’t feel integrated. Additions are tacked on willy-nilly. The rear-view camera and cupholder look like afterthoughts. Because they are.
The delicious oldness of early design oozes everywhere; in the exposed door hinges, the flat glass, the skinny doors with visible locking door-pins. Then there’s the aerodynamics; If the Cd of this G550 at speed was described as a tool, it would be the business end of Thor’s Hammer.
None of this matters.
I find it quite charming, and surprisingly luxurious. The dual-mode Comfort/Sport suspension didn’t seem much different from each other during my short time in the heated and ventilated seats. There’s a lot of tire even when attached to nineteen-inch wheels; the amount of sidewall keeps the ride quality silky.
To the motoring proletariat on the left and right in their Sensible Silver HRV or Boring Blue SantaFe, it’s a Shakespearian bite of the thumb. They’ll probably despise you, and with silent judging eyes claim moral high ground because of Co2 or Cd or L/100 or ‘think about the children!‘ or cost of ownership or some other tedious metric that you simply shouldn’t care about.
Right foot, blurble blurble, the ichor of v8 bi-turbo fury thunderously displaces distance and air. It’s an intoxicating cacophony. The one thing to keep in mind is that this is a near-6,000lb vehicle; it can get up to speed easily, but when braking – oh boy, do you feel that weight.
On the critical side, I’ll say the truck doesn’t corner particularly well, because it was designed to climb over crumbling hills and irritate grazing cattle. Chances are, the only livestock it will annoy are the driving masses of aerodynamically slick, small displacement turbo lemmings now littering the roads.
It’s a wonder that this is available as-new at all, at any price. Somehow it has managed to keep up with required safety regulations without changing the core. It’s MS Paint in a Photoshop world.
The most critical question of all; would I buy this, with my own money, if I was after a mid-size SUV with this level of engine output and carrying capacity? $134,750 may be out of my pay grade, but based solely on the stupid smile on my face every time that engine was throwing my money out the exhaust pipe, yes dammit, yes.
As it turns out, I love MS Paint.
2016 Mercedes-Benz G 550 4MATIC
Base Price: $127,200
As Tested: $134,750 including destination charge
Notable Options: 19” AMG 5-Spoke (Black), $500; upholstery designo Titan Pearl, $2,200; adjustable damping, $1,800
Drivetrain: 4.0L Bi-Turbo V8, 416 hp @ 5,250 RPM, 450 lb-ft @ 2,250 – 4,750, 7-speed automatic, full-time AWD with 3 centre-locking differentials. I didn’t use the buttons to activate these features.
Performance: 18.4L/100 in city driving with a heavy, heavy foot.
VVUZZ Summary: If you still like fun, this might be the hauler for you. Apparently it can do off-road things, too.
*The G550 is not 150% of itself, nor is it related to ManBearPig.
Images supplied by the author and Mercedes Benz.