FIRST DRIVE | New 2018 Mercedes-AMG G63 is the same but different
A comprehensive revamp will take this 39-year-old Mercedes-Benz into the future
You no longer need to be a fearless gladiator to fully wind up 2.4 tons worth of Mercedes-AMG G63 down any road. With the new-generation G-Class just launched in SA, Mercedes-Benz has gone to town and fixed some of the primitive waywardness that characterised its predecessor.
For starters, at speed, gone is that frightening steering-wheel play in which the steering wheel turned a few degrees before the front wheels followed suit. More technical updates are seen with further reinforcement of its ladder-frame chassis and the company’s latest safety technologies integrated at all four of its corners. The cabin also brims with new ideas of décor and sophistication.
However, one of the biggest events here is the retirement of the lusty 5.5-litre V8 biturbo engine. In its place is the compact but equally bombastic 4.0lV8 engine that powers AMG’s current harem of dragsters. With a maximum output of 430kW/850Nm and a 9-speed automatic transmission, it’s rated with a 0-100km/h time of 4.5 seconds and maximum speed governed to 220km/h (or 240km/h with the AMG Driver’s package). All of that tallies up to an average of 22-25l/100km of fuel wolfed down, as used by the G63 I drove at the media launch in Gauteng.
Despite being a relic from another time — styling-wise — it’s certainly a different-driving G63 now, complete with a new dimension of agility and comfort on or off-road thanks to a comprehensive redesign of its ladder-frame chassis. There are now coil springs and independent double wishbone suspension in front, in place of the previous solid axle.
The sharpened dynamics are felt immediately and there is a marked decrease in tendency to sway during bends. The body shell is lighter too. It’s the result of being constructed in a mixture of different grades of steel with the doors, wings and bonnet made of lightweight aluminium. This also increases torsional rigidity of the frame by about 55% and thus the G63 handling envelope is of better precision than ever before. Comfort has also benefited as vibrations and creaking are reduced considerably.
Some new adaptations to Indiana Jones’s car here include redesigned crumple zones on its spruced up body, which is styled with more flush headlamps, flared wheel arches and the fashionable AMG Panamericana grille.
Passive and active safety systems see an additional pair of airbags fitted into the A pillars as well as a knee bag. There’s also accident-mitigating tech like Active Lane Assist, a camera-led Traffic Sign Assist, multibeam headlamps with high-beam assist to suit changing darkness situations, Active DISTRONIC cruise control and uprated ABS brakes.
Further alterations can be found in the cabin, which is now headlined by high-quality materials and a new 12.3” MBUX digital user interface that’s currently being rolled out into Mercedes-Benz products. New ideas for interior comfort and styling include a carbon-fibre decorated grab handle in front of the front passenger, open-pore wood trim, chrome-highlighted switches and swanky, electrically operated leather-clad seats.
Amenities are plentiful and list a free-standing, 10-way adjustable backrest of the rear bench, eight colour tone ambient lighting similar to that in the S-Class, flat-bottom AMG Performance steering in nappa leather with galvanised shift paddles, finger or voice-activated control for telephone and some multimedia functions, CarPlay and Android Auto interfacing, intelligent navigation with Live Traffic Information, Wifi hotspot capability, and “Mercedes Me connect” — the free package of remote online services via an on-board communication module.
Mercedes Me allows for emergency call (eCall), accident recovery, breakdown management and remote vehicle diagnostics. The optional Remote Online services allow drivers to connect to their G63 from anywhere and at any time by smartphone, to access vehicle information or to remotely activate a variety of functions such as door locking/unlocking and programming of the auxiliary heating.
Mercedes-Benz says a less showy diesel variant of the new G-Class will go on sale here in the third quarter of 2019. In the interim, my first impressions of the dramatic G63 is that of a vehicle polished further for the purposes of its continued existence, which is to offer an unparalleled hybrid of luxury and offroad motoring.
On smooth surfaces and closed-up areas it’s even more unruly now, with the decibels coming out its side-draught quartet of exhaust ports amped up to preposterous levels. The effects of a lighter engine and construction certainly give it stronger than ever take off and overtaking performance.
Driven off road, new levels of improvement in absorbing road irregularities are also evident and because it’s still not removed from its guerrilla warfare origins, its 850Nm of torque and a trio of differential locks make it tame the rough tracks if ever you find good enough reason to bellow up a small mountain, whether it’s fitted with standard matte black 21s or the optional 22-inches of alloy wheels. It’s a more accomplished beast and a hoot to drive, this I admit to, even if it’s one of the most illogical vehicles of our times.
Edition 1 Package: R300,000 (Includes 10 exclusive paint options, sport stripes on flanks, decorative red stripe on wing mirror housing, matte finish 22-inch forged wheels, red interior highlights, carbon fibre trim, Performance steering with red 12 ’o-clock marking.