How much are you willing to pay to be different? That’s the question that the excellent, and over-qualified 2019 Mercedes-Benz G550 asks luxury SUV buyers. Slab-sided styling and go-anywhere off-road capability are major standouts in its segment, but few will actually need the extras offered by one of the last rugged overlanders left on the premium market.
Retro designs are always the most difficult to iterate: move too far towards the future and you lose the original charm, but stick too long in the past and you risk becoming an anachronism.
It’s fair to say that the Mercedes-Benz G-Class dipped into the latter territory many years ago, but that was somehow part of its appeal, a dinosaur that had eluded extinction and continued to stalk the Earth seeking out the blood of lesser SUVs. It’s also important to point out that G-Class styling wasn’t an affectation, but rather a legacy of its original mission statement as a military support vehicle.
Finally re-engineered after decades of relative stasis, the new G-Class platform maintains most of its old school look with only a few easy-to-spot updates. In particular the headlights, bumpers, and the front end in general offer more rounded edges than before, and while just a tiny portion of the exterior carries over (including the door handles and the spare tire cover), it will take a true aficionado to pick out the 2019 edition of the truck.
Despite its throwback vibe, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz G550 delivers all of the safety features one would expect from a high-end luxury SUV. In a nice turn of events, the Silver Star doesn’t ask you to add them à la carte, either, as everything you’d want is included as standard equipment. This means adaptive cruise control to blind spot monitoring to lane-keeping assistance to full parking sensors are there when you need them, with the only real safety-oriented add-on option being a top-down camera view. It’s also worth noting that the gigantic G-Class has a solid crash test rating, too.
There are two aspects to the G550 that inform its general practicality. The first is its size. Yes, this is a very big truck, but it’s not an especially long one, coming in almost a foot shorter than a Cadillac Escalade despite adding 53 mm nose-to-tail for 2019. This makes it easier to park in an urban setting (although you’ll have to keep a close eye on parking garage height restrictions due to its tall stance). The revised G-Class is also seven percent wider than it was the year before, but that has less of an impact out on the road.
Its second-row seating is good for adults, with nearly half a foot added in terms of legroom, and I’ll commend Mercedes-Benz for not trying to sneak a set of useless fold-down third-row seats into the G-Class like Lexus does with its similarly sized off-roader, the LX. Being shorter than the competition does mean less cargo space, however, especially with the rear seats encroaching somewhat into the storage area. It can best rivals like the Land Rover Range Rover, but it’s well behind any three-row luxury SUV, delivering more of a mid-size hauling experience.
User Friendliness: 7/10
The G550’s exceptionally tall driving position provides an excellent panorama of the road ahead clearly defined by the light markers perched atop each fender. Would that this were true of the rear view, which sees the back window blocked by the spare tire holder (which only has a cover on the outside, affording a view of the rubber itself to all occupants.
That rear hatch door is also extremely heavy. Sure, this adds to the “overbuilt” image of the G-Class, but it can make opening and closing the only access to the cargo area somewhat of a hassle, especially if you lack a body-builder’s physique. One other ergonomic issue? My tester didn’t have keyless entry, and I had to use the remote rather than tug on the door pulls to unlock the vehicle. This might seem like a small complaint, but given the six-figure price tag, it’s an expected accoutrement.
Other than those admittedly mild complaints, the rest of the G-Class is relatively easy to interact with, providing you’ve got the height required to step up into its lofted cabin.
There’s very little not included with the 2019 G550 that you would actually need, and probably a bunch in there that you probably don’t. You get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the 12.3-inch version of Mercedes-Benz’s somewhat intuitive, occasionally frustrating infotainment system, and an available second LCD screen in front of the driver for even better access to the vehicle’s features.
The centre console’s trackpad is really only good for accidentally making menu selections with your wrist while you use the including dial controller, but fortunately you can turn it off. Climate controls use glorious, easy-to-toggle hard buttons mounted just fore of the console.
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz G550 is now equipped with a 4.0-litre turbocharged V8, which is fast becoming the brand’s go-to performance mill. With 416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque on tap, it’s well matched with the still-heavy (although lighter than last year) G-Class, and shifts through a nine-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is brisk and only somewhat rumbly.
Four-wheel drive is standard and features three locking differentials should you feel the need to explore the vehicle’s exceptional off-road capability (with better approach/departure angles than the year before, plus 9.5 inches of ground clearance). 99 percent of owners never will.
Close the doors to the G550 and it’s the automotive equivalent to being sealed in a pharaoh’s sarcophagus. So quiet is the SUV’s interior that when the doors automatically lock as you pull away from a stop, the sound reverberates throughout the cabin like a rifle shot.
Out on the road, the new soaks up abuse with less vibration through the chassis than the previous all-solid setup, and an available adaptive suspension further attenuates unwanted intrusions. Seats are a vast improvement at all four corners, and now feel like genuine Mercedes-Benz designs rather than the more utilitarian units found in the older model.
Driving Feel: 8/10
The independent front suspension also improves the G-Class’ handling, although there’s still only so much one can accomplish with a heavy-set, body-on-frame design. There’s a Sport driving mode but it’s there mostly for giggles, as the G550 is best appreciated when comfortably carrying a load of passengers through the mayhem of morning traffic or while creating a pocket of seclusion and security as it barrels down a stretch of highway. This is as close to piloting an armoured vehicle as most drivers will ever come, minus the noise and lingering smell of gear oil, but if you’re an oligarch who needs a few extra inches of steel in the doors to match your ballistic glass, Mercedes-Benz will gladly hook you up.
Fuel Economy: 5/10
Predictably, this is an extremely thirsty truck, especially when driven hard. Official ratings of 18.0 L/100 km city and 14.1 L/100 km highway seem optimistic at best, as I saw over 20 L/100 km in mixed driving.
It’s difficult to approach the value question when dealing with a high-dollar all-terrain champ like the Mercedes-Benz G550. As noted above, almost no owner will risk scratching up a $150,000 truck on a rugged forest trail, or banging up the body work while climbing from one boulder to the next, so why pay so much more for those capabilities when the cheaper GLS-Class is arguably a better all-around choice in every other category?
The answer, of course, is style. Nothing looks like the G-Class, and very few of its competitors can project the same paramilitary-lite image on a city street or gravel track to the cottage. How much is that worth to you?
If you’re okay with paying a huge premium to be different, the thoroughly excellent 2019 Mercedes-Benz G550 won’t disappoint you. It’s a real-world fantasy ride that doubles as a safe, comfortable, and stylish daily driver. If you just want an excellent luxury SUV and could care less about rugged individuality, off-road chops, or looking like you’re on your way to overthrow a despotic warlord, there are better deals to be had elsewhere.
|Peak Horsepower||416 hp @ 6,600 rpm|
|Peak Torque||450 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||18.0/14.1/16.3 L/100 km city/hwy/comb|
|Cargo Space||454 / 1,246 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2019 Mercedes-Benz G550|
|Price as Tested||$152,115|
$15,940 – Sport Package $3,900; Designo Black Piano Lacquer Trim $1,000; Exclusive Interior Package $4,900; Seat Comfort Package Plus $3,700; Adjustable Damping $1,850; 360 Camera $590