Mercedes-Benz G550 4×4 Squared review: Life exaggerated


Car reviews / Вторник, Сентябрь 18th, 2018

Clambering over moss-clad stones and slogging down slippery embankments, we slowly meander onward, turbo spool and throaty exhaust notes the only noises to be heard over the clattering of limestone beneath our wheels. Somewhere toward the top of the summit, a red-tailed hawk shrieks a warning, as our lead vehicle winds its way northward over the ridge. It was a great day to go wheelin’ in a quarter-million dollar SUV, and by Zeus’ beard did it seem just as happy to be out in the wild as we were.

For all intents and purposes, we might as well have been in the heart of Germany’s Black Forest, what with the amount of canopy coverage, mist, moss, and mountain around us. The Dirty Turtle off-road park in northern Kentucky features 270 acres of trails and endless off-road challenges, and with the guys from All-Terrain Outfitters serving as lead recovery vehicle/spotters, we were ready to put the 4×4² incarnation of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen through its paces.

While the majority of the general public either gasped in disgust or applauded the sight of our oversize German loaner, close friends stood slack-jawed upon learning that yes, we would indeed be taking this quarter-million dollar SUV off-roading. Naturally, we ignored hater and disbeliever alike, testing the G550 4×4² as both a daily driver and as a mudslinging, Biturbo steamroller.

Built to be about as badass and brutish as it gets, the last hoorah for the outgoing generation of the G-Wagen is an exercise in extremism and simplicity. Loaded with cabin opulence and reinforced with Unimog underpinnings, this demilitarized G-Wagen is arguably one of the most rewarding trucks money can buy — assuming one has a whole heck of a lot of it.

Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4 squared i1

The interior of the Mercedes-Benz G550 4×4 squared looks a lot like the regular G550.

Outfitted with everything from carbon-fiber fender flares to adjustable KW dual-tube coilover suspension, the 4×4² is packaged to both look and perform the part of presumptuous power player. Unfortunately, being that the majority of people who might purchase one of these beasts are far more prone to gallivanting around town than learning how to sequentially engage the G’s lockers, the first portion of our review will remain reserved for street driving impressions.

On the road and in urban environments, the 4×4² towers over the majority of its vehicular compatriots. Yet despite its notable lift, hulking size and unavoidable steering slack, once you grow accustomed to this G’s 7-foot 4-inch height and almost identical breadth, commanding it becomes incredibly simple. Just be sure to remember that there’s a reason why this tank is “squared,” and that most parking decks will not accommodate it, so searching for adequate parking may take a little time.

And we’re not kidding when we say simple. There is no head-up display or drive settings for one to toggle. Hell, there isn’t even cruise control on this thing — just brake and gas pedals, a steering wheel and some fancy alloy switches for various climate and driving needs. The driver controls follow the same philosophy as the straight lines of G’s body. It’s an incredibly simplified, old-school approach to piloting an automobile, a breath of fresh air for weekend warriors.

As for options, our G came outfitted with a single $6,500 upgrade: a stunning shade of paprika metallic paint. Swathed in this ruddy reddish hue, with carbon fenders hulking over bright red big brakes, twin-tube shocks and springs peeking out from behind exclusive 22-inch alloy wheels, you get a lot of show to go with all that V8 Biturbo “go” as well.

And go it does. Mash the throttle and Mercedes’ force-fed V8 spools both centrally mounted turbos to a crescendo of 416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. When you do, expect efficiency numbers to drop to single digits, a common occurrence when getting up to speed on an on-ramp thanks to the 4×4²’s equally imposing curb weight and permanent all-wheel-drive powertrain. Treat the throttle gingerly and the EPA thinks you’ll manage an also squared 11 mpg in the city and on the highway.

Due to the vehicle’s extreme suspension geometry and steering calibrations, the amount of play felt while driving may be a bit disconcerting at first to those who have never piloted a lifted off-road vehicle before. Although switching over to the electronically damped sport setting does trim body roll and bounce, some fine-tuning of the adjustable KW coilovers may be in order if you don’t want spine-shattering Focus RS firmness.

The G’s interior does have its share of Mercedes-Benz opulence and useful technology. 4×4²-branded heated and vented microsuede seats with adjustable bolstering and swaths of tightly woven carbon fiber are nice examples, but the cabin also has what we’ll call odd choices.

For instance, the swinging rear door only gives you 36 inches of width thanks to limited pivoting range, an oversize striker latch and the depth of the door itself. Without the ability to be opened from both sides like certain refrigerators and vans, this hulking gated portal makes for an extremely cumbersome loading experience.

Other annoyances include automatic down, but not up, windows and sunroof, non-adjusting rear seats that leave only 41.9 inches of limited leg room and an uncomfortable, almost completely vertical seating position. Finally, parking something this large without a 360-degree camera can be a bit nerve-wracking as well. The G has the turning radius of a steam locomotive and, with a 6,825-pound curb weight, it feels about as heavy too.

Urban head-turning and design annoyances out of the way, we come to the meaty off-road portion of our review, an area where the 4×4² dives in head first with fork and knife at the ready. For decades, the Geländewagen has been the choice vehicle for militaries around the world, and a lot of that has to do with its trio of locking differentials. While saving the front locker for extreme circumstances is advised due to limited maneuverability, noise and so forth, heavy rains and hardcore limestone-strewn trails required its immediate engagement upon hitting our first trail.

Off-roading in such extremes while enjoying the amenities of a $250,000 Mercedes-Benz feels like flossing with Persian silk threads. Name the hill climb from that day and this monster bested it, all while ventilated seats cooled our posteriors and Mozart coated our eardrums in symphonic bliss.

Boasting a reinforced front skid plate, portal axles, ported and tucked exhaust piping on both sides and a solid stainless Mansfield bar out back, there’s a lot to like about this G if standard off-road appeal is your thing. Wheel articulation, breakover points, power-folding side mirrors, low range settings, and 18 inches of clearance all make the 4×4² an extremely formidable off-road machine, one that delivers burbling exhaust notes every time you mash the gas.

The only snags encountered during our nearly five-hour off-road test was the vehicle’s turning radius, having to constantly fret over the SUV’s broad 86.2-inch width and ground clearance issues with the Mansfield bar out back, plus a lack of grip from the Pirelli Scorpion All-Terrain tires during hill climbs. And a bit of nitpicking: There also a few times when a front-mounted undercarriage camera would have come in handy when cresting hilltops, especially when safe spotter positions are unobtainable.

For luxury SUV shoppers, the 4×4² is without question one of the most unabashed and badass options money can buy. The man who saved the G-Wagen from extinction not once, but twice, once said that the primary reason he loves the 4×4² more than any other automobile isn’t that it is so formidable off-road or luxurious, but because it looks like it was designed by a 5-year-old. Big, boxy and built to take a beating, this demilitarized German machine is a vehicle that people either love or hate not due to just its insatiable thirst for premium pump gas, but almost entirely based upon appearances.

What started as a failed military vehicle has morphed into a monster. And although the new generation has somewhat strayed from its 40-year-old roots, you have to respect the fact that this SUV is one of the greatest global automotive success stories in history. Imperfect, impractical, expensive, formidable, imposing, obnoxious, inefficient, ugly, insane, awesome — all of these words can be used to describe the 4×4² version of the Geländewagen. And you know what? It really doesn’t give a damn what you think about it or the person piloting it.

On Sale: Now

Base Price: $230,000

As Tested Price: $250,000 (est)

Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, seven-speed automatic, 4WD

Output: 416 hp @ 5,250-5,500 rpm; 450 lb-ft @ 2,250-4,750 rpm

Curb Weight: 6,694 lb

Fuel Economy: 11/11/11 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Pros: Unstoppable

Cons: Ridiculous