First Drive: 2013 Mercedes Benz G 550 reviews mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
First Drive: 2013 Mercedes Benz G 550 reviews mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
First Drive: 2013 Mercedes Benz G 550 reviews mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2013 Mercedes-Benz G 550. Click image to enlarge

Because it was originally developed as a military vehicle, the G 550’s body and frame are designed for rugged use. With a sturdy ladder-type frame that includes sheet metal up to 4 mm in thickness, solid front and rear axles, offset front and rear differentials, long spring travel, protective underbody shields, multi-differential four-wheel drive system, standard 265/60R-18-inch tires and a 21 cm (8.2 in.) ground clearance, the G can ford streams up to 60 cm (23.6 in.) in depth, climb slopes of 80 percent, and remain upright on inclined angles of 54 percent. Generous ground clearance under the front bumper and tail enables it approach and depart steep hills with ease; its angle of approach is 36 degrees and angle of departure is 27 degrees. The G 550’s frame, floor and body are specially treated to resist water, snow, road salt and sand and underbody pans protect the powertrain, fuel tank and exhaust system from ground impacts.

The purpose-built off-road course we navigated included obstacles and challenges that you might meet in the wilds of Canada: boulders, tree trunks, pools of water, thick mud, slippery gravel, deep holes, and steep inclines. The thing that impressed me the most about the G 550 was the ability of the suspension to withstand serious impacts without transmitting bone-jarring jolts into the passenger compartment. Sudden impacts were absorbed in a forgiving manner as though the G 550 dared not upset the expectations of an owner who had paid over $120,000 for a comfortable ride. Thanks to the G 550’s generous wheel articulation and three driver-selectable differentials – front, centre and rear – the G 550 was always able to find a wheel with traction, even if two of the four wheels were off the ground. And despite being a fairly tall and narrow vehicle, the G 550 exhibited excellent stability on steep side slopes. Scary looking obstacles and steep hills could be negotiated with such ease that a complacent driver might easily overlook the dangers.

It’s a credit to the G 550’s engineering (and the advice of some experienced off-road driving instructors) that none of the assembled G 550s that day needed to be towed out of a mud bog, rolled back onto their tires, or otherwise suffer any unintended dents.

First Drive: 2013 Mercedes Benz G 550 reviews mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2013 Mercedes-Benz G 550. Click image to enlarge

The G 550’s coup de grace is that it can be driven everyday on city streets and freeways without feeling like a 4X4 that’s out of its element. The cabin is roomy enough for four adults, the ride is comfortable, handling is surprising stable for such a tall vehicle, there’s plenty of power, and the cabin isn’t particularly noisy. However, its turning circle of 13.6 metres (44.6 ft.) is quite wide, and the G-Class is probably the only Mercedes-Benz still using the old re-circulating ball steering system.

Luxuries abound: leather upholstery, standard climate controlled front seats and rear heated seats, 450-watt 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth audio and telephone, voice-activated navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, and available options like a rear seat DVD entertainment system, heated steering wheel, and customized Designo upholstery.

Who would buy the G 550? Perhaps an executive who needs a competent, safe and luxurious vehicle to reach the ski lodge or cabin; or perhaps a wealthy socialite who wants the most expensive and unique Mercedes SUV they can find. The G 550 is certainly a unique vehicle, ironically in part, because it hasn’t changed much in 34 years. Built in limited numbers in Graz, Austria, G-Class models must be ordered as a special order from your Mercedes dealer.




About Greg Wilson

Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).