The Mercedes-Benz G-Class has a colorful 40-year history. It was originally developed as a military vehicle at the suggestion of the Shah of Iran. In 1979, Mercedes started producing a civilian version of the G-Wagen (short for Gelandewagen, meaning “cross country vehicle”). A year later a G-Wagen was modified with a clear plastic top to serve as the Popemobile.
The G-Class officially entered the U.S. market about 17 years ago, and today this boxy, sturdy and extremely capable four-wheel-drive SUV is a darling among entertainment celebrities and affluent big-city dwellers, most of whom have never strayed off pavement in their lives.
Over the course of 40 years, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class has had updates to its mechanicals and special features, but there have been no sweeping alterations until now.
For 2019 the G-Class is all new, though its signature classic G-Wagen appearance has been faithfully maintained. Construction is still body-on-frame, with major modifications that boost strength and torsional rigidity for better handling as well as reduced noise, vibration and harshness in the cabin. Also maintained is full-time four-wheel drive with three locking differentials, a hallmark of G-Class off-road credibility.
There are two 2019 G-Class models: G550 and AMG G63. Including a $995 destination charge, G550 pricing starts at $125,495 and the higher-performance AMG G63 starts at $148,495.
I drove the G550, whose 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque come from a vibrant 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine joined to a nine-speed automatic transmission. The vibrancy takes its toll: A fuel economy rating of only 13 mpg city, 17 mpg highway, and 14 mpg combined. No electric or hybrid versions are available.
Tall and wide, the G550 is relatively short, so maneuverability is exceptional. Closely spaced parking lots are a snap.
Plush conditions are provided for five passengers, and behind the second row a roomy cargo area is accessed by a left-hinged rear door on which a big covered spare tire is mounted, saving space inside the vehicle while also providing visual appeal. The cargo area’s high and flat floor makes it easy to load and unload heavy and bulky items.
The 2019 G550’s lavish new interior includes three-zone climate control, heated front and rear seats, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, the Mercedes Comand multimedia and navigation system, multicolor ambient lighting, and a spectacular Burmester audio system. Mercedes-Benz superb craftsmanship is an unmistakable presence.
With nearly 10 inches of ground clearance and such a tall stance, the G-Class could be a candidate for tip-overs on tight turns if taken too quickly, except for all the improvements made for 2019. It’s now as sure footed as a Nubian ibex. Performance on freeways and highways is dreamy, with good road feel but a smoothing of bumps, potholes and other irregularities.
To ensure its reliability during off-road exploits, Mercedes-Benz uses the 4,740-foot Schockl Mountain near the Austrian city of Graz as its test track for the G-Class. The rugged route includes gradients of up to 60 percent and lateral inclinations of up to 40 percent. Confirmation of having passed the test is verified by a handsome round “Schockl” rating insignia affixed to the B pillar inside the G-Class.
2019 MERCEDES-BENZ G550
Base price, including destination charge: $125,495
Price as driven: $134,715
Mary Lowry is an independent automotive writer who lives in Snohomish County. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild, and a member and past president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.