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Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4²

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 5/31/2018 Joe Lorio

Perhaps the auto industry’s must unlikely icon, the Mercedes-Benz G-wagen was originally developed for the German military way back in 1979. The civilian model gained popularity for its rugged chic and anti-style style. Then AMG got its hands on the G-wagen, and the muscled-up variants including the G63 and the twin-turbo V-12–powered G65 eventually eclipsed the standard G-class in sales. It became clear that the more outrageous Mercedes made the G-wagen, the more buyers loved it. That realization led to vehicles such as the triple-axle G63 AMG 6×6, the Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet, and this: the G550 4x4².

Although we’ve just driven the all-new G-class

Naturally, with its 17.2 inches of ground clearance, we had to take the 4x42 off-road. The portal axles, which use in-hub gears to locate the wheel centers below the axles’ driveshafts, combine with the massive wheels and tires to deliver 7.9 inches more air between this G and the ground than in a standard model. Factor in the steep approach and breakover angles (not so much the departure angle, owning to the comparatively low-hanging rear bumper), and there wasn’t an obstacle this Benz couldn’t overcome. At least, not at ground level. We had to back out of some trails when overhanging branches threatened the roof-mounted LED light bar-this beast towers seven feet four inches high. And other trails proved too narrow for this machine’s 82.7-inch girth, which is more than nine inches greater than the width of a regular G550. With its three locking differentials (as in all G-class models-except the 6x6, which gets five), it can really dig in and crawl like a tank. Good thing, since there are no recovery tow hooks that we could find. Really, though, rather than on the trails, a better place to experience this machine’s incredible off-road prowess would be blasting across the open desert or clambering through the detritus of a post-apocalyptic landscape.

a red car parked next to a truck: Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4² Tested: A Swarovski-Crystal-Encrusted Brodozer© Michael Simari - Car and Driver Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4² Tested: A Swarovski-Crystal-Encrusted Brodozer

The G550 4x4² proved less at home on the blacktop landscape of our test track, although by a lesser degree than you might expect. Powered by Mercedes-AMG’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8, which musters 416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque-the latter sent to all four corners via a seven-speed automatic transmission-the 4x4² will launch itself from zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. That’s just 0.4 second behind the standard G550 (with the same powertrain), which is a pretty narrow difference given that the tall-boy version is 753 pounds heavier, vaulting past the three-ton marker to crush the scales at 6635 pounds. The quarter-mile comes up in 14.8 seconds at 93 mph, again just a shade behind the regular version’s 14.4 seconds at 97 mph. Stay with it, and the 4x4² will keep accelerating past 100 mph-although it seems imprudent to do so-eventually topping out at 121 mph. Hauling it back down, we recorded a 196-foot stop from 70 mph, which is heavy-duty-pickup territory; then again, this thing is heavy-duty-pickup heavy. (The regular G550 comes to a stop in 183 feet.) On the skidpad, stability control intervened early and often as the 4x42 generated 0.69 g of grip; thanks in part to its additional width, that’s actually better than the standard G’s 0.66 g, and it tied the recently tested two-door Jeep Wrangler JL.

Somehow, the 4x4² acquits itself better on the track than it does on the street. There, we noted that every time you accelerate from rest, it makes a sort-of grinding noise likely due to internal friction in the portal axles. The engine isn’t terribly loud inside (although the exhausts exiting at roughly head level on each side ensure bystanders get an earful) but once you reach highway speed, there’s plenty of tire roar and wind rush. Characteristic of the G-class, there’s all kinds of play in the recirculating-ball steering, which is exacerbated by the tall-sidewall tires and the towering body’s susceptibility to crosswinds. Despite the suspension’s long travel, bumps seem transmitted directly to the cabin. Come to a stop, and the body rocks back and forth.

a group of luggage sitting on top of a car: Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4² Tested: A Swarovski-Crystal-Encrusted Brodozer© Michael Simari - Car and Driver Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4² Tested: A Swarovski-Crystal-Encrusted Brodozer

As in other G-class models, the cabin has been kitted out with modern-Benz infotainment and luxuries, but it’s narrow and the cramped rear seat has barely enough room for adults. What’s different here is that the climb aboard is challenging enough that this is the first SUV we’ve ever thought would benefit from grab handles near the door sills. But unlatch the door and that mechanical click is so awesomely old-school Mercedes.

Mostly, though, the 4x4² is just absurd out amongst ordinary traffic. It might seem fun to take it through the Starbucks drive-thru, but keep in mind you may have to hop down from your perch to grab the proffered mocha Frappuccino. Drive-up ATMs prove tantalizingly out of reach. With its towering ride height, LED roof lights, side-exiting exhaust, and massive 22-inch wheels outlined with carbon-fiber fender extensions and pushed outward on a much wider track, the 4x4² couldn’t scream “Look at me!” any louder if it were lit up in neon and shooting flames. “It’s a Swarovski-crystal-encrusted brodozer,” as one editor opined. And yet for all that, we can’t help but fall for its absurdist appeal. We’ll miss the old G, but at least it went out as it lived: with near-obscene brashness.

Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4² Tested: A Swarovski-Crystal-Encrusted Brodozer: The G550 4x4² is the most outrageous version of the outgoing G-wagen. Read our test results and see photos at Car and Driver.© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc The G550 4x4² is the most outrageous version of the outgoing G-wagen. Read our test results and see photos at Car and Driver.

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