Knowing the previous model all too well, I was curious to see if what most reviewers were saying, namely that the 2019 G-Wagen really did represent a night and day improvement over its aging predecessor, was true. Over the course of a few days, I came to realize that it did – and, at the same time, didn’t. Sounds contradictory? Better start from the beginning then.
Forget utility, embrace the opulence
Updating such an iconic design is far from easy, but Mercedes did a fine job keeping the familiar grille and circular headlight design at the front. There’s also a new hood and front bumper, new taillights and a few other minor exterior changes to help you pick out the 2019 G-Class from a crowd of 2018 models.
While it may not be evident at first, the G-Class is 2 inches (53 mm) longer and 4.7 inches (121 mm) wider than before. You wouldn’t know it by looking at it though, and to get a sense of it while behind the wheel would really require terrific insight and experience with the previous-gen version, which I last drove roughly a year ago in G350d spec. Anyway, I, for one, honestly couldn’t tell this new one was bigger until I hopped in the backseat.
Before we address practicality, however, we have to talk build quality and on-board tech, because that’s what really sets this 2019 model apart from older iterations. It no longer feels outdated, not even one bit.
On the other hand, while the quality of the materials is better than before, yes, it’s still not as good as in an S-Class – or even the new CLS for that matter. To be fair though, Mercedes did have to maintain the cabin’s iconic and utilitarian aesthetic, and making it as plush as a Maybach would have probably been too much. That said, it could have been better.
As for all the goodies embedded within the dashboard and center console, you have the two 12.3-inch displays sharing the same glass cover, plus modern buttons and switches – the old G-Class used the same buttons and steering wheel design as the pre-facelifted GLE, aka the M-Class. Our test car also came with the optional Burmester 3D sound system, which is stunningly good, even if it’s not the the best in the series (there’s an even more high-end one in the Mercedes-Maybach S 560).
Other than that, it’s definitely worth noting that there’s more knee room in the back than before, but at the same time there’s a little less room in the trunk, with 454 liters (16.0 cu.ft) versus 487 liters (17.2 cu.ft) in the previous-gen model.
A mixed bag on the road
Let’s get something straight right away: the G-Class will probably never feel as planted on the road as a regular large SUV like the GLS, for example. Its shape, size and weight will always get in the way of that. However, Mercedes really insists on how the 2019 model is improved in terms of driving dynamics, which is achieved thanks to the new independent front and rear suspensions.
The truth is it feels more stable and easier to maneuver than the old G-Class, but only slightly. In the end, it still feels wobbly and massive, just a little less than before, maybe not even sufficiently so as to make such a big difference. A stiffer ride might help with that, sure, but that’s reserved for the G63 and not this “lesser” G500.
You know what’s great, though? The engine. It’s a 4.0-liter twin turbocharged V8 good for 421 PS (416 HP) and 610 Nm (450 lb-ft) of torque. In a straight line, it will get you from zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.9 seconds (0-60 mph in 5.6 sec), before maxing out at 210 km/h (130 mph), yet it’s the “pick up” that impresses most – keep in mind this is a two and a half tonne (5,510 lbs) behemoth. The V8 is punchy, throaty and a delight no matter what gear you’re in, and in the end, the G500 is only 1.4 seconds slower to 100 km/h than the G63, although there’s no doubt in my mind that the latter would be more fun to drive.
Should I get this or the G63?
In the United States, the G550 is priced from $124,500, whereas the G63 costs upwards of $147,500. If you can swing it, then by all means go for the latter, because why not? But a more practical decision would probably favor the G550/G500. There’s just not much else you can do to improve on what the second-gen G-Class brings to the table, at least not without nitpicking at the little things. It’s more than fast enough and outstanding at everything it was designed to excel at. It’s hard not to fall in love with it.
Here’s the kicker, though. If pricing is an issue and you just want to get a decent G-Class as your daily driver, you’re probably going to feel almost as good in a previous-gen 2017 or 2018 model as you do in the 2019 one, because the cool-factor is the same.
Let’s face it; the G-Class is not really the SUV you buy for its outstanding off-roading capabilities, nor for the new-gen’s improved road manners. There are much cheaper, and dare we say better, options out there. It’s the one you get because you just want a G-Class.And there’s nothing wrong with that. The G-Wagen is one of the few cars that have transcended their origins, and even their makers’ intentions, and are status symbols more than anything else. So, in the end, it comes down to whether you can afford, or are willing to pay, the price of the new-and-improved model. And only you can answer that question.