by Sebastian Cenizo
In a world full of SUVs built to capitalize on trends and passing fads, one has stood out as a classic that only gets more badass as time goes by. The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is one such vehicle, an SUV that has retained the same basic design cues since its inception. Despite this, it's instantly recognizable as a Mercedes product, but its rugged and oh-so-cool looks only tell half the story. It is incredibly capable off-road, and as it's evolved, has become more and more premium. The G550's 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 produces 416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque, all of which goes through a nine-speed automatic gearbox that distributes output to all four wheels. However, as time has gone by, the G-Wagen, as it is still referred to by many, has had more competitors arrive than ever before. So, is the icon still good enough, or is it time for retirement?
Little has been changed for the G-Class in 2020, but some new wheel options are available in various sizes. Mercedes also now offers the G Manufaktur program, which includes special paint options and unique packages. One of these includes massaging and ventilated front seats, and exclusive interior styling upgrades.
4.0-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
Few cars are worthy of the term "design icon", but the timeless G-Class is arguably one that personifies this. Even in the age of curves and fancy design flourishes, the boxy G550 looks good. Round LED headlights reside behind a large bash bar with the turn signals sitting atop the front wings. 19-inch wheels are standard but you can get 18s or 20s if you prefer. At the back, the squared-off rear end features a spare wheel in its own case while bulbous bumpers fit in with the flared arches.
The G550 is a pretty tall vehicle, measuring 77.5 inches high, which hurts it in the corners, but a short wheelbase of 113.78 inches helps make it capable off-road. The overall length measures 191.7 inches excluding the brush guard, while width is 86.1 inches. 9.3 inches of ground clearance is the minimum, while approach, break-over, and departure angles measure 30, 28, and 31 degrees respectively. Curb weight starts at 5,554 pounds, but that is likely to rise considerably as the options pile on. The more performance-oriented G63 is even heavier, at almost 5,800 lbs.
A large selection of colors is available for the G550, 14 of which won't cost you anything extra. Among these are Rubellite Red, Brilliant Blue, Selenite Grey, Jade Green, and Dakota Brown, all of which are metallic. Non-metallic options include Black and Polar White, but more striking colors are available as part of the G Manufaktur collection. However, these are exceptionally pricey, with each finish setting you back $6,500. Options include South Sea Blue, Olive, Jupiter Red, Midnight Blue, and Dakota Brown Magno, a matte finish. Our choice would be something simple like Black or Mojave Silver.
The G550 is a standalone model, with the G63 considered separately under the AMG umbrella. Despite not wearing that famed three-letter badge, the G550 is an impressive performer. Its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine produces 416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. In conjunction with its four-wheel-drive system, the heavy SUV can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 5.6 seconds before topping out at a limited top speed of 130 mph. Since the G-Class is shaped like a brick, we're not surprised that the top speed is not higher, and this isn't a vehicle you buy for top-end runs. This is a luxury off-roader through and through. This focus on practicality allows the monstrous G550 to tow up to 7,000 lbs, double what the Jeep Wrangler can manage. The Wrangler falls short in the 0-60 mph sprint too, where it only gets there after six to seven seconds. Considering the impressive off-road ability of both cars, the G550 will be the one to have if you want a capable all-rounder, while the Jeep is exclusively focused on climbing rocks.
Just one drivetrain option is available for the G550. You get a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 gas engine with 416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. This is mated to a 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission, and the symbiosis creates a well-refined and impressive package that has no trouble getting the heavy G550 going from a dig. Bury your right foot on the freeway, wait a moment for the kick-down, and you'll find yourself sailing past slower traffic with ease, and the growl from under the hood is rather pleasant, too. Due to the boxy shape of the G550, you can expect a fair amount of wind noise as speed picks up, but other than that, there's no reason not to put your foot down and enjoy the impressive acceleration. In traffic, it gets on with the job smoothly and chooses the right gear for the situation.
When not pressing on, the gearbox allows you to cruise in comfort with all but imperceptible shifts punctuating your climb up the speedo. Should you wish to have a more involved drive, you can take control via the steering-mounted paddles. In manual mode, the transmission is just as good, changing gears quickly and with fluidity and minimal hesitation.
Most G-Class buyers are more concerned with the image that is attached to such a vehicle than what it can do, but we can't overlook that. For a vehicle with such a stiff frame, the G550 is excellent at absorbing the imperfections and bumps in the road, with only the worst corrugations being transmitted to the cabin. In the corners, however, the tall G550 leans and tips considerably. Without an adaptive air suspension setup, some sacrifices have to be made, but you can still get excellent adaptive dampers as an option, and a vehicle like this is no canyon carver, so few - if any - buyers would be disappointed by the handling characteristics of the G550. Besides, when a vehicle is as capable as this thing on the trails, it's worth putting up with some body roll. On gravel, mud, wet grass, and over rocks is where the G550 is in its element, with the four-wheel-drive system's three differentials ensuring excellent grip at all times. Even if you never venture onto treacherous terrain, the security of the four-wheel-drive system is great for those who reside in colder areas and have to contend with blizzard conditions. In terms of slowing the hefty SUV, the brakes are responsive and easy to modulate in traffic. Overall, besides its handling in the bends, the G550 is an excellent all-round performer.
The G550 has a pretty large gas tank at 26.4 gallons. That should be a hint as to how economical it isn't, as large gas tanks usually come with a large thirst for fuel. Unsurprisingly, the G550's scores are poor, with 13/17/14 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, giving it a range of around 369 miles per tank. If you think that it must at least be more economical than the G63, it barely outdoes that vehicle, which scores 13/15/14 mpg on the same cycles.
As a Mercedes product, the G550 is impeccably finished with high-quality materials and excellent build quality. Leather is offset by wood and metal, and all the seats are heated as standard. You also get plenty of space no matter where you sit, as well as tri-zone climate control. Numerous options are available too, from massaging and ventilated seats to a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. The ambiance is certainly one of high quality, and unless you're familiar with something like a Range Rover, this level of luxury is uncommon in such an excellent off-roader.
The G550 seats five with impressive comfort, offering plenty of headroom and legroom in both rows. The only downside is that shorter individuals will have to stretch to get in and out, but the included side-step running boards make this challenge easy to overcome. Once your rear end is in place, you'll find that the seats are beautifully comfortable and supportive. The driver and front passenger get ten-way power-adjustability as standard too, allowing for a commanding driving position regardless of your body type. Visibility all-round is pretty good too, although the rear-mounted spare wheel does obstruct your view out the back window somewhat.
As with the paint, options in the cabin are plentiful. Leather upholstery is standard, and you don't pay extra for quilting. In fact, every shade of leather outside of those under the G Manufaktur group costs nothing extra at first glance. However, Nappa leather options (which include any color besides the standard Black, Nut Brown/Blac, and Macchiato Beige/Black) require the Exclusive Interior Package, adding $5,000 to your build price. Colors include the usual Black, but you can also get Nut Brown, Macchiato, or even Red with Black. The G Manufaktur Nappa leather range is mostly a no-cost range too with contrasting stitching included, but if you want to pay extra, you can have combinations like Yacht Blue/Black, Platinum White/Black, or Bengal Red/Black for $400. It's also worth noting that although the individual options in the range are free or relatively inexpensive, one of the G Manufaktur packages must be added, and these are either $5,880 or $10,830. Trims that won't cost extra are limited to four, with Natural Grain Walnut wood, Brown Ash wood, Light Brown Sen wood, and Metal Weave. The most expensive option is AMG Carbon Fiber, at $3,700.
The G550 is an impressive hauler, offering 38.1 cubic feet of volume in the back. That's enough cargo space to easily fit five full-size suitcases and some carry-on luggage. If you need to carry more, simply fold the rear seats and you get a whopping 68.6 cubic feet of volume.
In the cabin, you get center armrest storage and cupholders as well as a spot in the center console for your phone. Large door pockets and a decent glovebox round off storage options.
As standard, the G550 comes with heated seats for the front and the back, as well as a drowsy driver warning, an emergency alert system, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, automatic park assist, a rearview camera, adaptive LED headlights with auto high beams, a collision preparation system, and keyless ignition. You also get rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone climate control, 64-color ambient lighting, a heated windshield, noise- and heat-insulating glass, and heated mirrors. Options include a heated steering wheel, ventilated and massaging front seats, a 12.3-inch configurable driver info display, and adaptive suspension.
The infotainment system in the G550 is comprised of a 12.3-inch display with a COMAND touchpad controller as standard. This system includes navigation with live traffic info, Bluetooth, a pair of USB ports, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, an SD card reader, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. A 15-speaker Burmester sound system is also standard, but if you want to upgrade something on the infotainment side, you can add a Wi-Fi hotspot, TuneIn Radio, or a rear-seat entertainment system with dual ten-inch touchscreens. The infotainment system in the G550 hardly lacks for features then, but it is let down by an unintuitive menu layout and a finicky touchpad that distracts one from the road.
Thus far, the 2020 G550 has been free of any recalls, but the 2019 model was subject to four, the last of which was issued in February 2020 for a stability control failure.
In the event of a problem, you can take advantage of a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty that also covers the powertrain for the same period. No complimentary scheduled maintenance is offered.
Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA has tested the G-Class as yet, but with a vast number of standard safety features and ten airbags, it ought to be very safe.
Optional safety features for the 2020 G550 are nonexistent, as Mercedes has included every possible feature they can as standard. This includes adaptive LED headlights, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision warning with automated emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a drowsy driver alert, a rearview camera, automatic parking assist, trailer stability assist, rain-sensing wipers, crash-severity sensing seatbelts, PRE-SAFE collision preparation and hearing protection, and ten airbags. These include dual-stage frontal, front and rear side-impact, front and rear curtain airbags, and dual front knee airbags.
The G550 is a compelling choice for those seeking luxury SUV, or those wanting a spacious and capable off-roader, or both. It's not a perfect vehicle, as it's compromised in the handling department and its infotainment system is not the best around by any means. However, despite these things, we think it's a great vehicle. It accelerates well, is comfortable, and has a gorgeous interior. It's also spacious and can carry plenty of goods in the back. In addition, despite wearing a badge that is also seen on panel vans, it maintains a level of class and style that puts it at home on the red carpet. When the time for showing off in front of a Monaco casino is over, you can take it to the Alps with no fear of getting stuck. It also gets every available safety feature as standard, a fantastic sound system, and plenty of luxury features too. Overall, this car is worthy of a spot in any garage.
The G550 starts at a base price of $130,900, before a destination charge of $995. Fully loaded, we specced the online configurator to well over $160,000.
The G550 is a standalone model with the Mercedes-AMG G63 considered separately. The G550 comes with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 that produces 416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. It is equipped with a nine-speed automatic transmission and a four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case and three differentials, giving it tremendous off-road ability. A multitude of standard features are included with the G550, including heated front and rear seats, a Burmester sound system, a 12.3-inch infotainment display, and adaptive cruise control. You also get adaptive LED headlights, leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, PRE-SENSE collision preparation, and forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking. Options include ventilated and massaging front seats, a 12.3-inch digital driver info display, a Wi-Fi hotspot with TuneIn Radio, Nappa leather, and adaptive dampers. The G550 accelerates from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds and tops out at 130 mph.
Numerous packages and standalone options are available for the G550, but those who want a slightly more aggressive look will be interested in the AMG Line package. For $3,470, this adds AMG exterior accents, 20-inch AMG wheels, a sports exhaust, a sports steering wheel, red seat belts, and red contrast stitching for the seats. The Seat Comfort package costs $2,220 and adds massaging front seats, a rapid heating feature for the front seats, and ventilation for the front seats, too. A heated steering wheel costs $250, while the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster adds $850 to your bill. Adaptive suspension is one of the more expensive options, costing $1,400.
The G550 is only available in a singular trim level and is very impressively kitted with tech from the factory. No additional safety features are available, so we would spend on massaging and ventilated front seats with rapid heating. We would also consider opting for the in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and the digital instrument cluster for greater convenience. Any other changes would be based on personal taste, so we recommend playing around with the online configurator to spec your perfect model.
These SUVs are very different in many ways, but the one thing they have in common is their exceptional off-road ability. If that's all you're after, we'd suggest going for the Wrangler. It is superb off-road in standard guise and has even more capability when you start ticking options. In base form, the Jeep Wrangler costs four times less than the G550, but it's very single-minded in purpose, offering few creature comforts and far less power. Its 3.6-liter V6 engine only generates 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, and the interior is a relatively spartan and simple place. This is the kind of vehicle that you wouldn't mind getting muddy on the inside or out, but it doesn't make a great daily driver. For exclusive trail use, we recommend the Jeep, but for everything else, the Merc is better - if you can afford it.
If you can afford a $130,000 Mercedes SUV, maybe splashing out a little more on an AMG that starts at $156,450 isn't a stretch. Is it worth the additional outlay though? Well, you get the same 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 but with greater output: 577 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. Four-wheel-drive and a nine-speed automatic are also standard here, but the AMG G63 gets larger wheels and a sportier steering wheel as standard. However, the safety equipment is the same, the 12.3-inch driver info display is still optional, and you also pay extra for ventilated or massaging front seats, just as you would in the regular G550. For us, the G63 is more of a status symbol, a vehicle that you buy for bragging rights rather than because it's better. We'll stick with the non-AMG variant this time.