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Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

2023 Mercedes-Benz G550 review

2023 Mercedes-Benz G550 overview
Mark Savage
Savage On Wheels
2023 Mercedes-Benz G550 overview

There’s no use pretending we all wouldn’t like to live like the one percenters, the CEOs, movie stars, sports heroes, and rocket-building entrepreneurs.

But experience teaches that there’s also a bit of embarrassment in the pleasure that comes from driving one of their pretentious, extravagant, and aristocratic battle tanks, if even for a week. One feels prying eyes at stoplights, a less than friendly gaze from passersby, and some disdain when filling the beast at a local Kwik Trip.

Welcome to my week aboard (quite a climb) an Arabian Gray Mercedes-Benz G550, known to the automotive know-it-alls as a G Wagon, short for Geländewagen.

If this looks like it might be used by the military, or at least a high-end gated community’s police force, well, you’re onto its history. The G Wagon was built for military use on a suggestion by the then Shah of Iran in 1979. It’s a heavy-duty off-road musclebound SUV that could take a few heavy clubings or some rocks tossed its way during a riot or protest.

Yet because it was aimed at a high-end monarchy market, the G Wagon, now in its G550 cladding is both luxurious and sturdy. Plus, need it be said, packs oodles of power.

Some would call it garish or showy, but once inside you’d call it plush and, well, still showy.

Before I wander into its stats and driving nuances, let’s consider its pricing, mainly so you don’t get your hopes up for owning one.

List is $141,050 with delivery, thank you. But only a junior executive or rookie pro athlete would get an unadorned G550. Let’s be real, one wants some bling in this price range, and for many that would start with color.

I considered this a battleship gray, which is indeed one of the hottest colors for all new vehicles these days, but really enhances the Mercedes’ militaristic look. While the G’s styling seems barely to have budged since its late 1970s intro, this blah gray paint job doesn’t help and it runs $6,500 extra. Sadly, that now seems the going price for high-end luxury vehicles paint schemes.

One assumes such unsavory option pricing is expected by luxury buyers.

The test truck (body on frame) adds a few other minor, yet pricy, upgrades, such as black open-pore ash wood trim for $1,300. But it really goes full-on exorbitant with its interior package and G Professional package that run $12,400 and (gulp) $25,350, respectively. Total after add-ons was an amazing $188,650, officially making this the priciest vehicle I’ve ever tested.

The interior upgrade includes Nappa leather seats with diamond stitching and leather dash, plus microfiber headliner. To that it adds rapid heating and cooling front seats. Take the word rapid out and that’s what most makes now offer as standard, or at least much less coin. More impressive though are the multi-contour massaging front seats with a dynamic feature.

This is pretty cool, and who wouldn’t want massaging seats with nine, count ‘em, settings, a couple that include heat to back and/or shoulders. That said, there were so many choices it took me the week to dial through them all, and to be honest, most offer similar massages, the air-filled bladders rising and lowering up and down the back, or pressing into the shoulders or a person’s derriere. Sometimes the bladders releasing air sound like poppy paper being snapped. Three or four settings would do.

As for the dynamics, some folks will love this as they rocket their G550 through sharp turns, others may find it deeply annoying. Here, the car’s motion sets off opposing side bolster inflations to hold a driver or passenger firmly and more uprightly in their seats. I’ve experienced this before, but in a sports sedan where speed and handling were of more obvious benefit. Still, all this makes the G Wagon interior special.

To me the G Professional package pricing seems more extreme for what is essentially an appearance package, much like other makes that tout Dark or Nightshade trims. It adds black grille and badging, plus an underguard to protect the Mercedes when off-roading. The package also blacks out the wheels and adds all-terrain tires for deep mucking.

Certainly, none of that would seem to justify the additional cost equivalent of a compact car. But then there’s also a full metal jacket type roof rack that one could build a small hut atop, and of course a ladder on the tail to get to said platform. It’s so big that it covers two-thirds of the SUV’s small sunroof, nullifying its function.

The Professional option also adds a chunky spare wheel/tire holder on the rear-opening door, much like on a Jeep. This partially blocks a driver’s rear view. The package also includes a very high-end look cherry wood cargo floor. Ritzy!

Note though that the cargo floor inside that massive rear door is not flat, even when the split rear seats are manually lowered. There’s a rise of a couple inches across the width of the floor, one suspects part of the suspension system that couldn’t be lowered if Mercedes wanted to retain the G Wagon’s impressive 9.5 inches of ground clearance.

Speaking of which, there’s a massive leg lift to enter the G550 as no running boards are included. Thankfully the passenger gets two handles to help pull themselves aboard.

How’s it drive?

Well, certainly it’s an off-roader if one doesn’t mind beating up their nearly $200k luxury SUV. A few years back Mercedes promoted the G Wagon’s steep hill climbing ability with tests on an impressive ramp at the Chicago Auto Show. There, Mercedes gave us automotive journalists a taste of how easily the G can climb. It was flawless, what any military unit would demand.

Amazingly though, the G Wagon is a delight to drive around town, especially on our crumbling Midwestern streets. The suspension, here with adaptive damping ($1,400) does a tremendous job of smoothing the roads and providing a ritzy ride that most luxury sedans would envy.

Handling feels light, easy, and fairly precise too, so maneuvering in town is much easier than say in any other large SUV, foreign or domestic. Note though that the G550 feels top heavy and delivers a noticeable amount of lean in tight turns.

Power is suffiecient with a silky twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8, something that is nearly unheard of in today’s increasingly battery-powered or turbo V6-powered world. The V8 kicks out 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque and is harnessed to a smooth 9-speed automatic transmission. The G Wagon will tow 7,000 pounds. Yet this nearly 5,800-lb. SUV ironically feels rocket fast and nimble. Impressive!

Naturally the G expects premium petrol and plenty of it, burning gas like it’s at an OPEC cookout. I managed just 14.4 mpg while the EPA rates this at 13 mpg city and 16 highway. Depending on your location gas guzzler taxes apply.

The interior is beautiful, comfy and showy to the max with bright red leather seats and door trim including satin chrome trim everywhere from gauges to air vents to all the climate control toggles on the dash’s center stack. Fit and finish are impressive.

The Burmester surround sound system is excellent and there is a power tilt/telescope steering wheel along with three seat memory buttons on the doors for both driver and passenger. The sunroof? Forget it. Need to charge your phone? No wireless, but a hookup in the center console storage box.

Like some other luxury makes the info screen is mostly adjusted via a rotary knob on the console, not a great system, and there are so many functions buried beneath that first level this really should not be used unless the vehicle is parked. Set it, then forget it.

Wind noise also is massive from that overhead metal platform, but tire noise is minimal.

One might expect perfection at this price point, but experience informs that all vehicles are compromise, no matter the cost. For the record the G550 undercuts its main competition, the Lamborghini Urus (about $235k) and the Bentley Bentayga ($270k). Yet bargain hunters may want to consider a Land Rover Defender or Lexus LX 600, or even a Jeep.

Fast Stats: 2023 Mercedes-Benz G550

Hits: Excellent twin-turbo V8 power, superior ride, retro boxy looks, major off-roading ability, easy handling. Beautiful interior seats and trim, heated/cooled seats, Burmester surround sound system, comfy multi-adjust massaging and dynamic front seats, power tilt/telescope wheel, ladder to reach metal support plates on roof, big grille guard.

Misses: Feels top-heavy in turns, a lot of wind noise inside, massaging seats sound like poppy paper being snapped, rear hatch opens out like door, tire on door makes it heavy and partially blocks rear view, cargo floor not flat, high step-up and no running boards. Info screen controls many functions adjusted by knob on console, metal plates on roof block most of sunroof opening, no wireless phone charger.

Made in: Graz, Austria

Engine: 4.0-liter twin turbo V8, 416 hp/450 torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 5,746 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113.8 in.

Length: 189.7 in.

Ground clearance: 9.5 in.

Cargo: 38.1-68.6 cu.ft.

Tow: 7,000 lbs.

MPG: 13/16

MPG: 14.4 (tested)

Base Price: $141,050 (includes delivery)

Fair Market Price: $137,398

Major Options:

Arabian Gray paint, $6,500

Open-pour ash wood trim, $1,300

Suspension w/adaptive damping, $1,400

G logo pkg., $650

Interior pkg. plus (Nappa leather seats, microfiber headliner, Nappa leather dash, diamond stitching, multi-contour front seats w/massage, rapid heating/cooling fronts seats), $12,400

G Professional pkg. (roof rack, spare wheel holder, cheery wood cargo floor, high-gloss M-B badging and star, black mirror housings, black trimmed grille, black underguard, 18-inch 5-spoke matte black wheels w/all-terrain tire), $25,350

Test vehicle: $188,650

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.kbb.com

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is the former executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.
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