The Mercedes-AMG G63 shows that flaws are fun
As a young man in my early twenties, dreaming of one day making it as a motoring writer, I'd thumb my way through issues of Evo magazine with something approaching religious fervour.
I'd subconsciously memorise every car that earned the holy grail of five full stars. Cars such as the Ford Puma, the Lotus Elise and the Pagani Zonda F. These were cars that, in the eyes of Evo's hugely experienced road-test team, were as close to dynamic perfection as it can get. The sort of cars in which you'd discover delightful handling nuances on every drive, cars that would force the thrill of driving down your throat like some poor goose.
Why is this relevant now I'm a balding thirty-something? Because today I finally had the chance to spend a few hours driving the G63. You know, the 2,555kg, 585hp, V8-powered, four-wheel-drive off-road-ready brick. A car that by its very design should be anathema to motoring pleasure.
So here's my final score and considered opinion, which I've spent… ooh, at least three hours pondering.
It's exactly the sort of car Evo magazine would award a generous two stars, but mention in the copy that although it can be fun, it's fun in the same way that spinning an MR2 on a track day and missing the barrier by an inch is fun. Well, that may have been true of the old G-Wagen, but the new-for-2018 (I know, I'm late to the party) Mercedes-AMG G63 is quite a lot of fun in a much better way. But it's still fun because it's wholly at odds with itself.
This is a notorious dogging spot also favoured by car journalists for photos. Coincidence?
For a start, it looks like a utilitarian box, but it feels like an old-school hot rod. Sure, there's a permanent four-wheel-drive system (including three diff locks and a low-range box), so it can go off-road, yet you'll still see the traction control light having a Barney when you floor it. And you'll feel the car tracking all over the place as the tyres and suspension load up, even when you're aiming to progress in a straight line.
When you're still accelerating hard beyond 60mph the chassis' fluctuations can still give you the odd slightly hairy moment when the car decides it would much rather be half a foot to the left. But it's fine, you'll laugh it off, pat the steering wheel, mutter 'silly G-Wagen' and roar onwards.
And my god does the G63 roar. I'd spent the morning driving various other 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 AMGs and they each sounded there or thereabouts the same. Not so the G63. While it gets that familiar engine – now shared with the Aston Martin range – it sounds very different. I'm not sure whether it's the side-exit exhausts or some trickery with the headers, but it has a proper old-school woofle, which rises to a properly flapping racket at full throttle. It has that wonderful old-school V8 noise that's largely missing from turbo'd engines.
It sounds a bit like someone sucking up phlegm from deep in their lungs while summoning a dragon. That noise. That ogreish blare. It sounds for all the world like the old SLS GT3 car hammering through forest-lined bends of the Nordschleife. Which, in my mind, is a magnificent thing. I wish I sounded like a G63. Meetings would be much more fun.
Is it fast though?
The sense of speed you get along with the noise is just something else as well. On paper, it's not insanely fast at 'just' 4.5 seconds to 62mph, but when you're sitting high up in the G's oh-so-comfy leather seats, it feels certifiable. Hammer the throttle and the car pitches backwards on its suspension and the nose rises like a D-Day landing craft's prow over the crest of a wave. The rear tyres will give way to the torque and jink out of line, then they'll hook up and you'll be off, on a rasping wave of pure joy.
Look, it's just a very fast, very loud brick. But it looks right, and therefore feels right. Until 80mph.
Right up until around 80mph at which point you become aware that the G-Wagen is really not meant to go that fast, and you back off. You'll get a wobble over a bump, or a weird response to a steering input that doesn't fill you with confidence, and you'll slip back down to lower speeds. And then you'll crave the endorphin rush of pure V8 happiness and do it all over again. On the gas, hysterical laugh, wobble, nervous laugh, off the gas. It's the sort of cycle that will net you nine mpg over a two-hour drive. Ask me how I know.
But you really won't care. The G63 is a hugely fun, hugely silly and just plain wonderful thing. It's not a car to be judged with a sneer on your face or a monocle in your eye. It's not a car for car journalists who are interested in things such as steering feel or body control.
And if you're the sort of person who dollops judgement on anyone in Knightsbridge in a G63 who nails it away from every set of lights, then you just need to remind yourself that they're having a lot of fun, and they're definitely not taking life so seriously.
Sometimes we all need to be a bit more G.
It gets five stars, for being a car that is so anti- everything a modern car should apparently be.
Want a G-Class in time for Christmas?
The green G63 I drove cost a shade over £150,000 after options. Which is a lot of money. But we've found a far more affordable G-Class that your little ones can spend Christmas driving around and over most of your belongings. What're you waiting for?