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Review of: 2016 Mercedes-Benz G-Class 4MATIC 4dr G550
2016 Mercedes-Benz G 550: Great engine, shame about the rest
By Jil McIntosh
Jun. 8, 2016
The young guys in the beat-up compact look up—way up at me—and give me the nod. And I nod back, because they think I’m the coolest thing on four wheels, up here in my Mercedes-Benz G 550.
Guys, if you only knew. The G-Class looks the high-roller part. If you take it off-road, it’ll handle stuff you wouldn’t dream it could get through. But here on a downtown street? My envious young admirers don’t know it, but this is where it goes from hero to zero. I’d seldom been more eager to drive a vehicle I’d never previously been inside, but for ride, handling and interior configuration, I’ve never been so disappointed.
There’s a lot of cash on the line that could be better spent. The G 550 is the “starter” G-Class, alongside the AMG G63 and new AMG G65, but it still comes at a base price of $127,200. Mine was then optioned with 19-inch AMG wheels for $500, “Designo” leather upholstery for $2,200, and driver-adjustable suspension damping for $1,850, bringing it to a total of $134,750 before freight and taxes.
Pros & Cons
- + The very image of excess
- + Smooth, strong engine
- + Off-road performance
- - Rearward visibility
- - Handling
- - Driving position
The G550 is about as aerodynamic as a brick, but that’s part of the charm. Now that Hummer has long since folded its tents, there really isn’t anything else like it. You can certainly pick it out in a crowd—or in a parking lot, given its height of almost six and a half feet.
The front-end design changes slightly for 2016, with a new bumper and flared wheel arches, and standard 19-inch wheels. The stainless steel running boards are standard equipment, as is its power-sliding sunroof. You also get a heated windshield, always a double-edged glass sword. They’re great in winter, but the glass contains a vertical row of tiny, close-set wires. I find it tiring to constantly have to look past them, like you’re staring through a screen door.
Visibility out the front and sides is superb, thanks to the tall windows and equally high seating position, but out the back is another story. Between the massive rear head restraints and the gate-mounted spare tire, you can’t see a thing back there.
For something the size of an apartment building, the G550 has almost no passenger space. The front seats are set close to the dash and have so little adjustment travel that those with long legs will have difficulty squeezing in behind the wheel and properly working the pedals. The rear seats, already cramped, lose even more legroom when those up front slide their chairs back.
The tight seat placement gives you an ample supply of cargo space. You can open it up even more by folding and then tumbling the rear seats forward, but even that isn’t easy. The release levers are on the backs of the seats, and it’s a long reach to get to them.
Their adjacent space aside, the seats are supportive and comfortable. The front ones can be adjusted numerous ways with the multi-contour dials and are both heated and ventilated, while the rear seats have warmers. The dashboard is leather-wrapped, and it all looks impressive with fantastic fit-and-finish, but there’s even a space issue when it comes to your stuff. There are few places to stash small items where they can be easily accessed, and while there are two cupholders on the floor for the rear-seat passengers, the single cup-stasher up front is a miniature basketball net clipped onto the side of the console.
The G550 comes standard with Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND system, which uses a joystick to perform the infotainment functions. It’s not as quick as a touchscreen, but it’s fairly intuitive. The system includes navigation, satellite radio, Harman/Kardon surround sound, and Mercedes-Benz Apps cellphone integration.
There are several safety-assist technologies as well, including blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, and a rearview camera. That last one’s a godsend, considering how little you can see out the back, but as with other Mercedes-Benz products, it only activates if you have the stereo on. I’d love to see this override the system and start up whenever the transmission is put into reverse, whether or not the infotainment system is active.
The G 550’s finest moment is its engine, a new-for-2016 twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 that pumps out 416 horsepower—up from 382 last year—along with 450 lb.-ft. of torque. Engine start/stop is included but can be turned off if desired. This powerplant is fast, it’s smooth, it sounds fantastic, and it’s mated to an equally well-done seven-speed automatic transmission.
The permanent four-wheel drive system is a work of art as well. You can lock the centre differential, and then if needed, you can also lock the rear or the front axles, or both. It’s a bit tricky to get it all going since you can only switch into or out of high range when the truck’s rolling in neutral, but lock it all up and it’ll turn the G 550 into a grinder that, with the right tires, could probably take you to the top of Mount Everest and back.
Alas, the good stuff abruptly ends there. For all that they can do, these things tend to stay exclusively on pavement, where they’re simply not enjoyable to drive. The heavy steering requires you to haul the wheel back after you turn, and the vehicle’s tall, narrow configuration makes it feel tippy in turns. It wallows on the slightest of uneven surfaces, while switching the optional damping to ‘sport’ mode gives you a rough ride. There’s a bit of a grunt-power go-anywhere novelty to it at first, but it doesn’t take long before it all just gets tiresome.
And then you have to stop at the pumps, where the G 550 demands premium fuel. The published figures are 19.0 L/100 km in the city and 16.5 on the highway, while I averaged 17.9 L/100 km in combined driving.
Paying a starting price of $127,200 for something that drives this disappointingly is ridiculous. If you just want something that’s big, bulky and a rarity on the streets, this is your baby, but you can certainly do better. You can get a Range Rover with a supercharged V8 that makes more horsepower and torque, but which starts at $116,490 in short-wheelbase, or at $121,490 in long-wheelbase. Or if it’s the off-road experience you crave, you could just head over to Jeep and buy yourself a handful of Wranglers for the same amount of cash.
In fairness, the G-Class has, at its heart, stayed true to its roots. It started life as a military vehicle that, over the years, got dolled up with a fancy interior and luxury features up top, while retaining its soldier-style greasy bits down below. And if you can live with that, take it out and wow the young guys in the little cars alongside. But if you want a luxury driving experience and a comfortable seating position, you’re definitely going to have to look elsewhere.