2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG

In the convoluted language of design, right angles convey paramilitary authenticity. The Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen looks like a Maytag top-loader because the German army demands it. People want what the German army wants, apparently, because the G-wagen is still in production with a design that has remained true to form for 33 years.

And it’s not changing much now; alterations under the tough old hide address the fact that the G-class had become a mechanical relic with hoary engines and an outdated electrical architecture. For 2013, two versions are on sale here. The base G550 uses a 5.5-liter V-8 now seeing 388 horses, and the G63 AMG becomes the new Russian mafia staff car with a 544-hp, twin-turbo version of the same engine.

Both benefit from a seven-speed automatic and a new interior. And both remain the ultimate rectilinear expression of off-road virility for the many owners who go off-road only when they turn into their driveways of crushed sienna marble.

Because 50 percent of the 1200 G-classes sold annually in the U.S. are AMGs, we concern ourselves with the top-spec, $130,000 G63 here.

 

Climbing up into the G, the doors still seem oddly light as they slam shut, and the steering wheel still lacks a telescoping function to move it away from the dash. The new cabin cribs design elements from other Benzes, including fine brightwork accents, the current corporate stereo and climate-control units, and a knurled super-knob to work the nav/info screen. The center, rear, and front differential lockers are helpfully labeled “1,” “2,” and “3” to denote the order in which they should be pushed if Judgment Day arrives.

Unless your other vehicle is Alice Cooper’s tour bus, the G’s steering will be the numbest and slowest you’ve ever experienced. Fully 90 degrees of input are required for revectoring. Though it wears an AMG badge, the G63’s athleticism is limited by genetics.

Even with the hammer cocked in sport mode (one of three control settings), the G’s throttle and shift aggression is softer than the E63’s. That’s because the truck’s four-wheel driveline and double-solid-axle suspension will react to a hard shift with some unseemly flexing, says power­train development engineer Volker Müller, so AMG turned down the dial a bit.

Even so, the G63 takes off with a bullish snort from the side pipes. It’ll run with a Mustang GT—and possibly just run it over. It is big and gaudy and absurdly overbuilt for the majority of its owners, which is exactly why they want it.

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