The 2016 AMG G63 is an over-the-top performance version of a unique luxury off-road SUV.
What is it?
There have long been luxury SUVs capable of going anywhere a vehicle can go. Range Rover is built around that idea. The Mercedes-Benz lineup has multiple all-road and off-road capable SUVs and crossovers, but the five-passenger Mercedes G-Wagon, as it is affectionately called by those in the know, is different. Its off-road setup implies that it goes one step beyond what most of the world’s $100K-plus off-roaders offer. There is a vibe to this thing and feeling that vibe is critical to liking it.
Pricing and trims
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class starts at $122K. For that, one gets an “entry-level” G-Wagon, called the G 550. It has a twin-turbo V8 and all the off-road kit one could ever imagine. Next up is the more exclusive AMG G63 we tested. It starts at $141,400 (for 2017) and has all of that same stuff plus a slightly larger V8. There is one more. The AMG G65 stuffs a twin-turbo V12 in the engine bay. It costs $220K before one starts with customizations. It shaves one tenth of one second off the 5.4-second 0-60 time of the G63.
AMG is Mercedes’ in-house brand now for its breathed-upon performance vehicles. Once a separate tuner company a bit down the autobahn from the Mercedes-Benz factory, Mercedes-Benz has AMGs for just about every model. Our AMG G63 had custom matte black paint, with “designo” Porcelain Nappa leather and Piano-white trim, a $3,950 option package. Our off-road luxury beast also had a rear-seat entertainment system for $2,650, special wheels, and a heated steering wheel. All-weather floor mats cost extra at $147,875, and added $200.
Safety in this unique vehicle is relative to where one is and what one is doing. There is a chrome bash-bar system up front that will clear out an elk, or possibly scare off the paparazzi. There is a passenger-side grab bar that helps when negotiating tippy spots in the woods. Being a Mercedes-Benz over $100K, it also has all that other stuff like Distronic Plus, and blind-spot assist one would normally expect in a luxury SUV.
Neither NHTSA nor IIHS has tested the AMG 63 and likely neither ever will. This is one of the most exclusive vehicles in the world with just 196 sold last month in the U.S., and thus, not a priority for these testing agencies. Luckily, Mercedes took it upon themselves to test the basic G-Wagon in 2007, and we have attached the test video showing the surprising results.
The Mercedes-Benz AMG 63 is stupid-fast, and it’s sometimes unnerving to drive on-road in a fast manner. This must be part of the charm and part of why celebrities buy this vehicle.
There is no such thing as “normal driving” in the AMG G63, but it’s manageable when driven with care.
Goose the throttle, and it takes off like a horse that’s been given the spurs. The 563-horsepower, twin-turbo V8 engine belongs in a supercar. There were times that I gave the AMG G63 too much throttle and literally had to hold on to control it.
The transmission is a bill of materials a page long. There are transfer cases, differential locks, an all-wheel drive system, and I think someplace in the mix, an automatic transmission. I know there are paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. AMG calls the transmission the “AMG SPEEDSHIFT PLUS 7G-TRONIC.” All in caps, just like you see it.
Ride and handling
Off-road at a Land Rover-built course in Monticello, NY, I drove a 2015 Mercedes G-Wagon in some tough conditions. Through deep water, over fallen trees, hopping rocks, and we tipped the vehicle almost on its side. Back to back with a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, the G-Wagon held its own. Both these and the top-spec Range Rovers could handle anything conceivable.
However, one quick reality check. The Tacoma costs roughly a third what the Mercedes SUVs do. A Jeep Wrangler was also on hand, and it could perform all these insane off-road antics too. Without a doubt, the AMG G63 would be capable of whatever off-road adventure you could think up. Be sure to change out the summer-only performance street tires our tester wore.
Chris Brewer, a colleague of ours, tested the Mercedes-Benz AMG C63 Coupe this week. This veteran car tester called its steering the best in any coupe he has ever driven. The Mercedes AMG G63, by contrast, has the most exciting steering of any vehicle I have ever driven. Just driving my kids to school (where the high-school kids all recognized the AMG G63 as if they might Kanye West) I had to frequently turn the steering wheel a quarter rotation just to keep it pointed straight ahead.
When cornering, the AMG G63 is deceptive. One needs much more steering input and wheel rotations than one expects. It’s a real handful. Want perfect on-road capability, and more off-road capability than you will ever need going to any cabin in the woods? Get the Mercedes-Benz GLE 400 or a Range Rover Sport. The AMG G63’s off-road abilities come with a huge compromise in on-road handling. A warning sticker inside the G 63 states “High Rollover Risk: Avoid abrupt maneuvers and excessive speed.” Heed that sticker.
You sit way up high in the AMG G63. The seats are adjustable in all the normal ways, plus about 13 more. The white perforated leather was just one more reminder that, for many owners, the off-road stuff is really for show. We need to mention the doors. In the AMG G63 one has to SLAM! the doors to get them to close. They each weigh about as much as a Smart Fortwo.
These doors are unlike any you have felt before. The steel is thicker, the glass thicker, and the parts all look they were made in a machine shop one at a time. I almost never slammed mine hard enough, nor did my passengers, and the dash warning became a constant companion.
In back, the AMG G63 is roughly the size of a Ford Edge. Plenty large for three adults.
In back, the cargo area is a large cube with no need for a spare underneath since it hangs off the back bumper inside a fancy hard enclosure.
My son noticed that one of the many bright yellow stickers on the AMG G63 warned, “Do not load items on the roof. It may cause instability.” Isn’t loading gear on the roof of an off-roader part of the whole experience? Where do the kayaks go?
Infotainment and controls
The Mercedes-Benz infotainment system, called COMAND, was very similar to what one would find any Mercedes-Benz. We wished we could have touched it to operate it, but the mouse-like controller must be employed. In its look and operation, it was very much like Mazda’s system.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG G63 has a lot of appeal to certain buyers. In person, that charisma is easy to see. It is a unique instrument. Heavier, more angular, more solidly built than even its fellow Mercedes SUVs. Celebrities love this vehicle, but those considering one should drive it and maybe try it for a day or two back to back with another Mercedes-Benz SUV, or a Range Rover.
The AMG G63 is not for everyone, and that may be exactly why some find it attractive.
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Test 2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG G63
Base price: $122,400.
Price as tested, $147,875 including $925 destination charge
Paint/Upholstery & Trim: $3,950
Rear Seat Entertainment System $2,650
All-season Floor Mats: $200
Heated Steering Wheel: $250
- Off-Road Ability
- Driving Position With Commanding View
- Impractical On-Road Use
- Lack of Possible Roof Rack Storage
- 13 MPG