The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a tough old broad, able to make quick work of Schöckl and sand dune alike. But for every one Geländewagen you'll find living it up in a mud bog, there are probably 20 parked at some posh shopping center in Miami or Southern California. These days, the G is as much (if not more of) a luxury lifestyle icon as it is a formidable off-road brute.
Thankfully, the 2019 G550 brings improvements that strengthen its appeal at both ends of that spectrum.
First, let's start with what hasn't changed: dat curb appeal. Viewed from the side or rear three-quarter, you could be forgiven for mistaking the 2019 G550 for its predecessor, especially in the unimaginative shade of Iridium Silver pictured here. (Fun fact: The G550 is available in your choice of 24 different exterior paint options, giving it one of the most diverse color palettes of any Mercedes-Benz model -- second only to the AMG G63, natch.)
The G's visual changes are more obvious up front, where the round headlamps are outlined by LED daytime running lights. Brush guards are available for either the upper or lower fascias. They come in chrome or, if you spec the $5,370 Night Package with AMG Line, black. The G550 rolls on either 19- or 20-inch wheels, the former of which are seen on this test car, wrapped in Detroit-in-January-friendly Pirelli Scorpion winter tires.
Yet despite casting a striking resemblance to its forebear, all but two parts of the exterior are actually new. Only the door handles and spare tire cover carry over unchanged from the last-generation G. And if you've ever had the pleasure of opening or closing the door of a G-Wagen, you know that the very specific click of the chunky door handles are paramount to a proper G-Class experience.
A big luxury upgrade
The G's exterior may be an exercise in anachronistic restraint, but the interior is anything but. Fully updated and packed with modern luxury and tech, the G550's cabin is one of Mercedes' finest.
Everything here is new, save the passenger-side dashboard grab handle and the three differential lock buttons in the center stack (more historically accurate G-Wagen stuff). Every touchable surface is lined with the finest materials, and the seats are cushy and supportive, offering a commanding view out the upright windshield and down the flat hood. Two aluminum tweeters flank either side of the shallow dashboard and are meant to mimic the placement of the turn signals at the end of the bonnet. More metal outlines the stylized air vents, nicely complementing the carbon-fiber trim on the center console. I'll admit I'm not the biggest fan of bright red leather, but I think it totally works against the silver exterior of this G550 test car. ("The mantra was that an ordinary exterior must have a sexy interior," a former Mercedes rep told me.)
Because the 2019 G550 is almost five inches wider than its predecessor, front and rear passengers enjoy more shoulder and elbow room than before. Headroom, meanwhile, remains plentiful, and the G550's sunroof is finally a glass piece with a sunshade, rather than the one-piece roof panel from the previous generation. Thanks to the G's 2.1 inches of additional length and a bench that's positioned further back, rear passengers enjoy an extra 6 inches of legroom in the 2019 G550 -- a welcome improvement. The more generous back-seat accommodation impedes slightly on cargo space but there's still a wealth of capacity behind the tailgate, even if its side-hinged design is tough to use when you're backed into a garage or tightly parallel parked.
Old tech is good tech
The G-Class gets a big tech update for 2019, though it doesn't benefit from the latest MBUX infotainment system that you'll find in the A-Class sedan. Instead, you get the most recent iteration of COMAND, housed on a 12.3-inch screen in the center of the dash. You can operate the infotainment system either via the large touchpad on the center console or the rotary knob found underneath, or with the thumbpad on the right side of the steering wheel. COMAND works as well here as it has in every other recent Mercedes -- the menus are a little tough to manage at first, but there's a wealth of customization options within. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot are also along for the ride.
Tick the $850 digital instrument cluster option box and you get a second 12.3-inch display that serves as the gauge cluster. Leave this option off, and a fixed-dial setup is standard. Seeing as you're already spending at least $124,500 on a G550, I can't imagine needing to skimp on this relatively affordable option. But on the other hand, with its six-figure price tag, I'm not sure why Mercedes doesn't just offer the dual-screen setup as standard equipment.
The new G-Class gets a ton of advanced driving aids, too, and happily, they aren't optional extras. Every G550 comes with Mercedes' Distronic adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot assist, active brake assist, traffic sign recognition, parking assist, rear cross-traffic alert and more.
Just as capable, but nicer to drive
Driving aids aside, the biggest improvement to the G's behind-the-wheel demeanor is its more modern steering system and suspension geometry. Yes, the archaic, recirculating-ball steering of the old G is gone, with a new, electromechanical setup in its place. It doesn't offer any sort of uncharacteristically sharp turn-in or wealth of sports car-like feedback -- the G550 still steers like a G550 -- but combined with the independent front suspension, the G feels more stable from behind the wheel. There's a lot less play in the steering wheel and a better sense of what's happening at road level. More than anything, the G550 just feels easier to control.
There's certainly no shortage of available power, after all, the G550 uses the same 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 engine you'll find under the hood of many Mercedes-AMG cars. Here, the lovely V8 puts out 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which comes on strong at 2,000 rpm. There's the slightest bit of lag just before you dig into the meat of the engine's power band, but when you do, you'll feel a punch of thrust and an intoxicating growl -- a reminder that while the G550 itself isn't a product of AMG, its engine surely is. Impressively, Mercedes says this 5,551-pound, box-shaped G550 can accelerate to 60 miles per hour in just 5.6 seconds. That's only 0.3 seconds slower than the 516-horsepower AMG G63.
The nine-speed automatic transmission will happily keep the V8 on boil when you're digging into the throttle, and will just as eagerly jump into its top gear when you're cruising in an effort to eke out maximum fuel economy. Of course, with EPA-estimated ratings of 13 miles per gallon city, 17 mpg highway and 14 mpg combined, you won't be winning any eco awards in this big boy.
Should you venture off road -- and in a G-Class, you really ought to -- you'll find the G550 can handle just about anything you can throw at it. The 2019 model can ford 27.6 inches of water and can handle a 45-degree incline, all while the massaging, heated seats put your back and butt at ease. For a full take of the G's incredible off-road prowess, I recommend reading my earlier account from the hills of France, or reviews editor Emme Hall's take in the sand dunes outside of San Diego.
How I'd spec it
Even if you never tick a single option box, at $124,500, not including $995 for destination, the G550 is nicely equipped. The majority of the available options concern exterior and interior styling, and just how plush you want the cabin to be.
Since I'm using hypothetical dollars here, and because I'm fancy as hell, I'm spending $6,500 for the dark green "Designo Olive Metallic" paint, and adding the $5,370 Night Package with AMG Line styling, which gets me 20-inch wheels, a sport exhaust (roar!) and black exterior accents, including the brush guard. Inside, I want Designo Espresso Brown leather and metal accents, must-haves if I'm checking the $12,200 Exclusive Interior Package Plus that also includes Nappa upholstery, rapid-heating front seats, cooled seats and more. The $250 heated steering wheel is a must, the no-cost black seat belts replace the tacky red ones of the aforementioned AMG pack and I want the $850 digital instrument cluster because analog gauges are so last millennium. I could option the $1,400 adaptive suspension, but really, in an SUV like this, it doesn't make much of a difference.
All in, I'm looking at $151,815 for my ideal, Beverly Hills-spec G550. Actually, wait, a properly SoCal spec would be the AMG G63. Back to the configurator...
Nuthin' but a G thang
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz G550 is an expensive proposition, and it isn't for everyone. It's not the most spacious SUV at this price, and while the new version has made great strides in on-road handling, it's still more truck-like than just about anything else in the luxury space (except, maybe, a Lexus LX 570).
But admit it, you want one. I want one. There's nothing else on the market quite like the G-Class, and whether you're buying it to cruise boulevards or climb mountains, it'll handle anything you can throw at it -- and then some -- with incredible comfort and capability.