As the accepted automotive geek knowledge goes, the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen, or G-Wagen, is an anachronism; a set-square, ugly old machine borne out of an antediluvian military project, which is a shambolic horror to drive on the road - although that has never stopped it being an object of supreme desire to many people, thanks to its no-nonsense approach to both off-road prowess and aesthetics. But this one's different. So, so different. And utterly, comprehensively majestic, to boot.
In the metal
Mercedes wants you to call this the G-Class, not the G-Wagen, presumably because it wants to avoid connotations with the utilitarian motorised gulag that was the preceding model. But if you've got even the slightest crumb of interest in cars at all, you'll never relent to such marketing-driven wishes and will instead stubbornly refer to it as the G-Wagen from hereon in. And it looks much the same as it has ever done since it became a civilian vehicle in 1979. Except... if you peer a little closer, you can see that it is not the same. And, indeed, as well as insisting this is a G-Class (G-WAGEN!!!), Mercedes will also tell you that it is almost entirely new, from the ground up. Only the sun visors, the headlight washer nozzles, the spare wheel cover and those archaic push-buttons on the exterior door handles are said to be carry-overs.
At the time of writing, there is just one model to choose from and that is this barnstorming Mercedes-AMG G 63 variant. Yes, a G 350 d with the straight-six turbodiesel out of the S-Class is on the way in 2019 and there's a detuned version of the G 63, going under G 500 badging, on the continent (unconfirmed for right-hand-drive markets), but for now it's 'AMG-Wagen' or nothing. Therefore, the longer, wider and taller new G-Wagen hits you with this stunning set of stats: its 4.0-litre biturbo V8 delivers 585hp and 850Nm, meaning it runs almost exactly the same spec as the fearsome GT R sports car - it's just that the G 63 has 150Nm more torque than the GT R; it weighs 2,560kg, somewhat incredibly being 170kg lighter (model for model) than the old G-Wagen; it has a co-efficient of drag figure of 0.54, about the same as a small house or the Moon; it possesses a 100-litre fuel tank with a 12-litre reserve, which you will fill often as it typically returns about 16.6mpg (17 litres/100km)... even if you're careful with it; and it'll heft its colossal mass from 0-100km/h in a phenomenal 4.5 seconds, with bluff aerodynamics and tortured tyres limiting the G 63 to a 'mere' 240km/h electronically restricted maximum speed (if fitted with the optional AMG Driver's Package).
Astonishing stuff. But nothing like as astonishing as the G-Wagen's presence. This is a huge, intimidating car, yet strangely adorable with it. With its slab sides and cliff-face front end, it has the same boxy bravura as both the legendary Land Rover Defender, which has long been the G's closest analogue and which is now discontinued (insert sad emoji here), and also that darling of the moment, the Suzuki Jimny, and the Japanese motor is only mimicking the G-Wagen/Defender formula in miniature in the first place.
And yes, things like exposed door hinges and those aforementioned handles and the bulbous indicators perching on top of the vertiginous front wings are all classic G-Wagen, but little touches such as round LED running lamps in the clusters and neatly designed LED taillights and stunning alloys (the 21-inch AMG five-twin-spoke bicolour items on our test car looked like Trivial Pursuit playing pieces; this is a compliment, by the way...) and the general suggestion of a slight 'smoothing' of the overall cubic design means you're in no doubt this is the new G-Class. Save for that tiny Suzuki, there is nothing else that looks even remotely like the G 63 - and nothing that elicits such childish giggles in bystanders when they see it. It is magnificent, and we haven't even got to its sub-zero-cool side-exit exhausts; there's a pair on each side, to make sure it's a 'proper' AMG with quads.
The interior is almost as good as the exterior. Unlike the old model, in which ruched leather door cards were all the rage, there's actually some space and incredible build quality in here now. Granted, the rear-seat accommodation remains on the snug side for such a leviathan of a machine, but up front are the twin 12.3-inch TFT 'Widescreen' displays of the most cutting-edge Mercs, as well as heated, cooled, massaging and active-side-bolster seats, 64-colour ambient lighting, the finest leathers, plastics and (as an option) carbon-fibre trim, wonderfully tactile switchgear... oh, and some elbow room. Yes, unlike the old G, you no longer sit cramped up against the side window when you're driving. Such luxury, eh?
While it has been visually smoothed off, both outside and in, mechanically the G-Wagen is still a bit of a brute. Mercedes-AMG had to pull off the near-impossible twin-feat of making the G 63 so much better on road than it was before, while also maintaining its legendary off-road prowess. Therefore, the underpinnings are still a ladder-frame chassis with a separate body-on-top construction, plus three locking differentials and a low-range gearbox. However, it now has a proper rack-and-pinion steering set-up, instead of the old recirculating ball system, and the front axle is a more sophisticated affair than the live beam of the preceding G-Wagen.
It takes about 50 metres of driving the new G 63, if that, to have your mouth gaping open in utter stupefaction. The old G-Wagen was a liability to drive; its steering was awful, the driving position was a joke and the whole thing felt like exactly what it was - a near-40-year-old military vehicle masquerading as a posh SUV. This one, though... this one actually responds to your inputs as a driver. The steering is by no means approaching perfection, and it would be very easy to say it is simply galaxies apart from the old G-Wagen's terrifying tiller in terms of ability, but neither of these would tell you just how good a job AMG has done with this. There's beautiful weighting and consistency to it, and when you turn in you might even discern some feel through the rim. That means the new G-Wagen, certainly one fitted with a thumping great V8 biturbo, is nothing like the 'massive accident waiting to happen' to drive that its predecessor was.
Even better is the ride and refinement. While the G 63 hardly cleaves through the air with an ethereal grace, you'd be surprised just how quiet it is at motorway speeds in terms of wind buffeting. For a 585hp aerodynamic battering ram, it's incredible that it's discreet enough in the cabin at 110km/h to be able to have a quiet, composed conversation over the background susurration of the Mercedes-AMG bullying the atmosphere into submission outside. Ditto tyre noise, which is kept to the barest minimum levels and which doesn't reverberate around the square interior to any notable degree. These factors team up with ride quality on the adaptive dampers that is superb; only occasionally do you detect the background shimmy that denotes a ladder-frame platform beneath you, but for the vast majority of the time it is supple and comfortable.
But don't for a minute think this ultra-civilised evolution of the G-Wagen has lost even the tiniest sliver of its preposterous theatre. Because the G 63 is still insane. There's really no need for a 2.6-tonne breeze block to move with such startling alacrity, but we adore the Mercedes-AMG all the more for fact it goes like holy fury when you ask it to. Plant the throttle in any of the modes below Sport+ and there's a minuscule delay as all of the two turbos, the nine-speed automatic gearbox and the Merc's rear suspension load up, and then KABOOM! You are hurtling at the horizon in a tremendous din of side-exit V8 exhaust roar, the delicious threshing of the four-litre powerplant up front and a sudden increase in panicky wind noise that makes you look down at the über-crisp digital speedo and go 'WOAH!' at the top of your voice.
The aforementioned softness to the G 63's suspension set-up is most welcome, because it allows greater wheel travel and therefore the Merc feels four-square planted and secure if you decide to test the handling. This, again, is in another reality altogether compared to the previous G-Wagen's blancmange of a chassis, but it still feels a less taut, less well-sorted vehicle in the bends than some of the highly-polished, monocoque competitors in this class. Also, the G 63 has intrusive traction control (which you can switch off, if you're feeling brave), plenty of lean and a propensity to understeer, yet if you can learn to trust that it will grip tenaciously despite the angle the AMG's body is canting over at, you'll realise that it is fantastically spry for something so gigantic and lumpen. Only when you're hard on the brakes (as ever, when it comes to very heavy vehicles that do their damnedest to disguise their mass) can you tell you're wrestling with the metaphorical dilemma of trying to stop a fully-laden, runaway freight train before the buffers.
So the G 63 is not perfect, nowhere near. Nevertheless, its slightly rough edges only serve to make it even more endearing than it is, which is ludicrously endearing indeed. There are faster and more capable performance SUVs than this, but there is nothing - nothing - we can think of that has the drama, the mesmerising entertainment value, the sheer, giddy joy of driving than this thing. It is tremendous.
What you get for your money
Well, the G-Wagen is a special-order vehicle in Ireland (you have to ask at your dealership how much one will be - reckon on it being in the ballpark of €276,750 or thereabouts, which is a rough calculation off the price of the G 63 in the UK) and its simply frightful CO2 emissions, leading to top-rate annual tax, mean it'll be the rarest of the rare automotive unicorns on our roads. However, the G 63 is hand-built in Austria and it has the sort of badge cachet and desirability levels that are off the charts, which somewhat justifies the stratospheric price tag.
Furthermore, it comes stuffed with kit as standard: Adaptive Multibeam LED headlights, metallic paint, the rear-mounted full-sized spare wheel, three-zone climate control, AMG Nappa leather, electrically adjustable and many-multifunction seats, a heated steering wheel and rear seats, a 15-speaker Burmester surround sound system with 590-watt output, Distronic adaptive cruise control, Blind-Spot Assist, AMG high-performance brakes, Parktronic parking assistance with a 360-degree camera, AMG Ride Control with Dynamic Select driving modes, 20-inch alloys, running boards, the electric sliding sunroof and full Comand Online satnav with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are all part of a comprehensive equipment list.
The Mercedes-AMG G 63 is unfettered, demented lunacy on wheels, with quite a significant amount of dynamic talent thrown in. It's not inexpensive to buy. It's sure as sin not cheap to run. And there will be odd moments where you wonder whether you've lost your marbles by buying it, over and above some of the more sensible opposition. But, sometimes, you need a little excitement in your life, rather than level-headedness. And the G 63 is the biggest hunk of automotive excitement we can currently think of.