Mastery. It’s exceedingly rare, though I’ve seen it with my own eyes a few times. Caught an Alfred Ladzekpo drum solo once. Front-row seats at a Johnny Cash concert a quarter of a century ago. Performances that transcended what feels possible and ascended to the realm of the magical. But what does any of this have to do with a China Blue 2021 Mercedes-AMG G63?
I’ve driven more cars than I can count all over Los Angeles. None has received a more positive reaction. Human beings seemed to be universally smitten with this China Blue G. Some degree of mastery is needed to achieve so much positive feedback. But can this softly leathered, pastel blue G-wagen be a masterpiece when it’s a universe away from its not-so-humble origins? Initially conceived by the Shah of Iran as a military vehicle, the G has transcended every definition and categorization car marketers can think of. Remember, Mercedes was done with the G-Class back around 2007, and the GL (now the GLS) was supposed to replace the icon. Didn’t quite work out that way. A quickie Google just showed me a 2021 G63 with an MSRP of $190K and 1,100 miles on the clock on sale for $340,000. What other vehicle on earth does that?
After spending 72 hours with this particular G and contemplating how the concept of mastery applies to it, what can I say? What can I add to the conversation about an SUV that’s literally selling for $150K over sticker, used? A little bit, I hope.
The G63 would be better as an EV. Here come the slings and the arrows, I know, but hear me out. Yes, the twin side pipes make an awesome noise. Only AMG could have figured out a way to make twin-turbocharged V-8s sound this deeply angry, and the short-piped G might be the loudest and most brutal of them all. However, the EPA estimations for this 5,784-pound solid steel wildebeest are 12/16/14 mpg—terrible, and that I barely cracked 10 mpg was even worse. I’d like to leave my son a world worth inheriting, and if this G were an EV, it would ever so slightly help move us toward that goal.
Nearly three tons of China Blue fun is already heavy, and going electric would obviously make the thing even heavier. How heavy are we talking? The downright amazing Rivian R1T weighs about 7,150 pounds, and that’s a bit more than the 6,750 pounds I bet an EV G would clock in at. The Rivian has four motors, while the the Mercedes-EQ EQS580 has but two. But even if the upcoming EQG580 (Mercedes’ lousy nomenclature, not mine) weighs more than the Rivian, its efficiency will likely more than quadruple, as the R1T is EPA-rated at 74/66/70 mpg-e. That’s, frankly, huge.
An electric G would probably be quicker, too. Not that the current car is a slouch. Our test SUV hit 60 mph in a quick but not otherworldly 3.9 seconds. Does the 577-hp G63 have any real competition? Not really, and that’s part of what makes it such an icon. The 5,122-pound Jeep Wrangler 392 with a 470-hp V-8 hits 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, whereas the 835-hp Rivian R1T does so in 3.1 seconds (or 3.2 with off-road tires).
The G63’s quarter-mile time is 12.5 seconds at 109.9 mph, which is respectable for a brick. Nearly as bricklike, the 392 is on the G’s heels with a 12.9-second run, though its trap speed is just 100.4 mph. That Rivian truck? It initially smokes the AMG with an 11.6-second blast down the quarter (or 11.7 on the off-road meats). But note the R1T’s trap speed: just 110.8 mph. Looks like the Rivian’s accelerative advantage is over after 1,320 feet.
As for braking, it took AMG two years after the G63 launched in 2019 to come up with 20-inch wheels that would fit over its massive rotors. China Blue here rode around on 22s. Braking from 60 mph took 116 feet, which is neither great nor bad. Pretty average for a passenger vehicle, actually. The Wrangler 392 takes a spooky 133 feet (though, sadly, that’s decent for a Jeep Wrangler), whereas the R1T stops from 60 mph in an even worse 135 feet. Let’s hear it for those 14.8-inch front/13-inch rear rotors.
Around our figure-eight test track, the G63 pogoed its way around in 26.8 seconds, exactly as quickly as a Mini Cooper S Convertible. Not quite sure what that means. The Jeep 392 turned in an embarrassing 29.3-second performance. For various reasons, we have yet to figure-eight a Rivian, but we will. That said, heavy pickup trucks tend to perform poorly in that particular test.
Aside from the dreadful fuel economy numbers and a comically expensive barrier to entry—this example stickers at $180,150, before dealers add on their cruel market adjustments—is there anything not to love about the 2021 G63? No, I can’t think of anything. It’s perfectly sized (about the same as a Wrangler Unlimited and four-door Ford Bronco), and around town, it’s just a joy to drive. Especially if your idea of joy is imperious, effortless cruising that makes you feel like a master of the universe. To use the parlance of our times, G-Wagens just hit different.
I’ve heard some rumblings about Mercedes’ impressive MBUX touchscreen system being unavailable (yet) on G-Wagens, including from a friend I partially strong-armed into buying a G550. But he’s since recanted, telling me, “I like the scroll wheel better than a touchscreen, and there are no fingerprints all over the place.”
Like most owners, he’ll never take his G off-road. However, I have no such scruples, and I took a different G63 equipped with the new AMG Trail package on some pretty treacherous trails, and the luxo-truck performed admirably. Scraped its chin a few times, but that’s nothing a 1-inch lift wouldn’t solve.
Are we talking about an automotive masterpiece? I wager we are. The 2021 AMG G63 is as close to the mythical notion of perfection as a vehicle is likely to get. Others playing on this elevated field? The Porsche 911. That’s kinda it.
Here’s what I mean: If the excellent Honda Accord went out of production tomorrow, I’d be miffed, but a dozen competitors would eagerly step in to take its place. Did anyone lose sleep over the death of the Ford Fusion?
Like Mercedes with the G-Wagen, there was a time when Porsche actively tried to kill off the 911. But exactly like Mercedes and the Geländewagen, Porsche just couldn’t do it. Irreplaceable? Essentially. What both Stuttgart-based manufacturers figured out is that the world would be worse off if their icons weren’t in it. If that doesn’t make a machine a masterpiece, I don’t know what does.
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