G-Class, G-Wagen, Geländenwagen, call it what you like, there's been a version of Merc's most utilitarian SUV around since the 1970s. Bizarrely the original thought for the car came from none-other than the Shah of Iran, who had a major shareholding in the company at the time, as it was originally a military vehicle. But, as with all these things, a civilian version followed shortly after and an icon was born. Normally at this stage, if we were talking about a car that's been in production since 1979, we'd have to skip a few historical steps in order to fit this intro under 1,000 words, but the G proved to be such a success that between 1979 and 2018, other than the odd facelift, there's only really been two versions of this monstrous 4x4. There was the original 1979 version, and an update in 1990. That's it. It has taken nearly 40 years for Mercedes to get onto the second generation of G-Class. That's what we drive today, and it arrived to a raised eyebrow last year looking... exactly the same.
Don't let that fool you though, as Mercedes are adamant that this is an all-new car, and if you get up close to the latest G that becomes apparent pretty quickly. This isn't just a revamped interior, it's a revamped everything. It's a long list of new things, so let's start underneath. The latest G63, that's the mentalist sitting atop the range, is powered by a 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8, producing 585PS (577bhp) and a ballistic 850Nm (626lb ft) of torque. A nine-speed automatic 'box is manfully tasked with reigning all that torque and the new G is so 21st century it even has start/stop! As standard you can expect to find a permanent four-wheel-drive system with three locking diffs, parking sensors with a 360 degree camera, climate control, auto lights and wipers, heated seats front and rear and a quite-frankly mind-boggling amount of extra luxuries all controlled via the significant 12.3-inch display up front. But, to be honest, you expect this kind of kit list with an on the road price of £140,370.
Fast SUVs always provide a tricky proposal to the car reviewer. They have a very specific way of delivering their performance that involves getting around a million compromises. The old G63 basically ignored all the issues that it presented and focused on being daftly fast. The new one has dispensed with a lot of the madness that came with that, but fortunately there was more than enough left over to make this version still completely nuts. Despite a kerb weight of 2.5-tonnes and a height of little less than two metres, the G will hit 62mph in 4.5 seconds. That isn't an astonishing thing these days, but when you're amidships in what could be mistaken for a detached bungalow it's both alarming and exhilarating in equal measure. Some thought the old G had a bit of character in the way it handled, but it was often more scary than fun. The trick that Mercedes-AMG have played in the latest version is to tilt the balance back toward fun. It's hilarious, and still a little anxiety-inducing, to feel such a giant piece of metal, leather and plastic absolutely hurl itself at the horizon. Something this big moving so fast has to have an effect on the earth's rotational speed, only that can explain how fast an hour can go by in the G-Class.
When you hit the twisty bits the G-Class was never going to suddenly become a sportscar – let me remind you that it weights two-and-a-half tonnes and is two metres tall – but the new version now handles in ways you would expect it to. The steering is light and numb, but reasonably precise, and there’s a lot of roll but the key is that it can all now be predicted. If you throw the car into a corner too fast it will understeer – you know it’s coming and it does. With the old car you could never quite be sure at what period it would attack. It was like being in a cage with a bear that you'd been informed was going to be poked with a stick at some point, whereas in this version the bear is still there but you are holding the stick.
It's big, it's fast, it's expensive, it's luxurious and it isn't as terrifying as it used to be. The new G-Class is exactly what its potential owners want it to be, either a noisy cruising machine (that V8 rumble is something to behold) or a ludicrously fast giant. This is some old-school fun meets brand new bling. Merc can go on for hours about its off-road prowess, but none of these will ever even get muddy. Most will spend their entire lives cruising round towns, or on long journeys, but the owners can be safe in the knowledge that should they ever need to beat someone from the line in a proper drag race, they have a decent chance of doing it, and probably while cackling to themselves like a mad man. This is a unique way to spend £140,000, and one we would heartily endorse.