2013 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Road Test Review
2013 Mercedes-Benz G-Class remains a capable-yet-archaic SUV
Scores High: High-quality interior, plenty of power, Mercedes-Benz cache, superb off-road ability
Scores Low: Bouncy ride, sloppy handling, cramped interior, low fuel efficiency, high pricing
Total Car Score Analysis
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz G-Class, also known in some markets as the Gelendawagen, was first introduced in 1979 as a capable off-road vehicle for military support work. And although the G-Class interior and powertrains have been updated through the years, it still rides on that original architecture developed over three decades ago. The latest G-Class is again updated for the new model year, and once again the changes are in the cockpit and under the hood.
Among the 2013 G-Class upgrades are a new engine for its top-of-the-line G63 AMG model and a revised interior with moderately improved ergonomics. That still leaves this luxury SUV with an outdated body-on-frame architecture, limiting interior space while delivering sloppy handling and a bouncy ride. The 2013 Mercedes-Benz G-Class remains one of the most capable off-road SUVs on the planet, but it only truly appeals as a niche vehicle for wealthy buyers.
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class was designed in the 1970s, and it looks the part. It has the tall, skinny design of the day, along with the squared off bodylines. Developed as an off-roader, the G-Class has short front and rear overhangs so it can deal with extreme slopes without getting stuck. It also utilizes a tall ride height that makes it able to clear obstacles without bottoming out. Available only as a four-door, fully enclosed SUV in the U.S., the European G-Class also comes as a convertible with a removable soft top (like a Jeep Wrangler). The G63 AMG has more aggressive front and rear bumpers along with larger front air intakes, a unique grille, red brake calipers, and 20- instead of 19-inch wheels.
The original G-Class predates the rise of the SUV in America, but it still drives like those body-on-frame family trucksters from 30 years ago. Like those vehicles, it's tall and skinny, with a bouncy ride and a lot of lean in turns. Solid front and rear axles mean bumps that affect one wheel transfer to the other side of vehicle, reducing handling confidence. The steering is slow and offers little road feel, while the throttle has a dead spot and can feel unresponsive. The G-Class is also slow to change directions and passengers are subject to a lot of head toss in turns or over bumps.
The flipside of that poor on-road handling is amazing off-road capability. With standard low-range gearing and front, center and rear locking differentials, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz G-Class can still crawl its way over terrain other SUVs dare not tread. Among off-road vehicles, only the Jeep Wrangler and Land Rover Range Rover and LR4 are comparable. Unfortunately, most G-Class buyers will never take their vehicles off road.
The G-Class also excels in engine performance, too. The base engine in the G550 is a 5.5-liter V8 that has recently been replaced in most Mercedes models, not due to a lack of power but for improved fuel economy. It smoothly delivers its 388 horsepower through a 7-speed automatic transmission with equally smooth shifts. Zero to 60 takes just 6.0 seconds, which is as quick as anyone could reasonably need in this type of vehicle. But why settle for 388 ponies when Mercedes also offers a new 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8 in the G63 AMG model? The turbocharged engine cuts the zero-to-60 mph time to 5.3 seconds and offers more power across the rev range.
Fuel economy ratings aren't available yet, but both engines will need plenty of gas. Last year’s figures put the G-Class at 12 mpg city, 15 mpg highway and 13 mpg combined. The G63 does come standard with an Eco start/stop feature, which should improve the EPA city rating by one mpg. The engine shuts off at stops and starts back up when the brake is released in a virtually undetectable manner.
Interior Design and Function
The G-Class was designed at a time when SUVs were tall and skinny. Today's vehicles are much wider, with improved interior space. Most people will need the G-Class’ running boards to get in, and once inside they will notice the lack of width from this “classic” SUV design. The driver can easily reach the passenger door, and a pair of full-sized adults up front might feel like they are sitting shoulder to shoulder. This affects space in the rear seat and cargo area, too. Three back seat passengers will be very cramped. The cargo area has an adequate 45.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, and 79.5 cubic feet with those seats folded down, but much of that space comes via a tall roof. In total, the G-Class’ cargo space isn't as useful as in modern SUVs, especially because the tailgate offers a skinny opening and a door that is side-hinged rather than rotating up like a liftgate.
To Mercedes-Benz’ credit it has outfitted the G-Class interior with some of the finest materials you'll find in any vehicle. Leather upholstery is standard and the designo Exclusive package comes with a cool diamond pattern on the seat and door panel inserts. The G63 AMG also gets carbon fiber trim, and the cargo area of all models has a high-quality finish.
Changes for the 2013 G-Class include a new dashboard design with the COMAND central control knob moved to the center console, plus a new iPad-like central display screen. The rotating knob is easier to reach and can be used to scroll through the communications, navigation and entertainment functions on the center screen (a set of dashboard buttons provides alternate shortcuts to the various functions). COMAND isn't always intuitive, and it can complicate some simple functions, but it eliminates the need for a lot of buttons that would clutter the center stack area. Most G-Class owners should find it easy to use after a few weeks.
Primary Features and Options
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is offered in only two models, the G550 and G63 AMG. Mercedes says the sales mix typically leans 65-70 percent for the AMG models. Standard equipment in the G550 includes leather upholstery, a heated wood/leather steering wheel, 10-way power adjustable heated/ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, front seat memory, a sunroof, 60/40 split rear seats, ambient lighting, auto-dimming rearview and driver's side mirrors, stainless steel running boards, a Harman/Kardon AM/FM/HD stereo with 6-disc CD changer, satellite radio, a navigation system with 40-gigabyte hard drive, iPod interface, Bluetooth connectivity, a universal garage door opener, bi-xenon headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels. The G63 AMG adds designo Nappa leather upholstery, an alcantara headliner, pneumatic multi-contour front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a chrome grille and brush guards, 20-inch alloy wheels, and unique trim inside and out.
Standard safety features include dual front airbags, curtain side airbags, tire-pressure monitoring, active front head restraints, rear park assist, Hill Start Assist, anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control. The 2013 G-Class is one of the few new vehicles on the market without front side airbags. However, it comes with Blind Spot Assist, a rearview camera, and Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control.
It’s Perfect For…
With its stratospheric pricing, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz G-Class isn't a value proposition for anyone. It has amazing power and incredible off-road ability, but buyers can find both for far less money. Its antiquated design gives it sloppy handling dynamics that are outdated in today's market. While the G-Class interior is luxurious and loaded with standard equipment, it also suffers from the poor use of space and two fuel-thirsty engines. Nonetheless, this latest Mercedes-Benz G-Class does have appeal as a dare-to-be-different, boxy bling machine for athletes, rappers, and Hollywood royalty.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Mercedes-Benz G550
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: NA (approximately $110,000)
Options on Test Vehicle: None
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): NA (approximately $110,000)
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The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.