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For drivers wanting a luxury SUV with historic character and outstanding capability, Mercedes-Benz builds the G-class. Short for Gelandewagen (cross-country vehicle), the G-class had been designed for military-purpose before the first civilian version was produced in 1979. Opting to retain rugged charm instead of adding modern comforts, Mercedes has not performed many changes to the SUV since that first generation. However, though the exterior does remain relatively original, the G-wagen's interior has been thoroughly refined for 2013 to provide a higher-level of convenience.
The COMAND infotainment screen in the G550 is now placed at the top of the center stack with the corresponding COMAND controller positioned on the center-console behind the shifter. Minor exterior changes for 2013 consist of LED running lights and turn signals in the side mirrors.
A naturally aspirated 5.5L V8 engine provides 382 hp; mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission which puts down 75% of the V8’s torque at just 1,000 rpm. Unlike last year, this V8 is not the only available power source. Making its return for 2013 is the AMG trim of the G-class, the G63. Discontinued after 2011, the new AMG features a twin-turbocharged 5.5L V8 with a ridiculous 544 hp. Off-road driving is made easier by a low range transfer case and locking differentials, the latter having control switches located just below the infotainment screen on the center stack. Other updates to the Mercedes SUV include a rearview camera, new parking sensors and trailer-stabilizing functionality.
Nothing on the market is quite like the G-class, yet with an MSRP above $100,000, there are other luxury SUVs with better on-road handling and a lower price tag. The Land Rover Range Rover has a roomy backseat compared to the G and off-road performance is respectable. Though available options can cause it to soar, the base MSRP is much lower as well. With rugged roots also, the Lexus LX is a nicely equipped SUV that knows how to handle dirt. It has eight-seats and luxury features not available on the G-class. Another option to consider and known for its blend of size, accommodations, and drivability, the Cadillac Escalade is popular for offering a more complete SUV.
Practicality is not a strong suit of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, yet if you have the money and desire a true automotive icon not afraid to get dirty, there is no better option.
The G550 is the lower-priced of the two available models yet, already over $100,000, price may not be of much concern. Equipped with the second-generation mbrace2 telematics system, it connects with iPhone and Android smartphones to access online applications such as Google Search and Facebook. The 18” wheels have a twin-spoke design and entering/exiting the SUV is made easier by stainless steel running boards. A surround-sound system by Harman/Kardon fills the box-like interior cabin with premium audio and can be adjusted using controls located on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. A new standard for 2013 is the Distronic adaptive cruise control that monitors how far traffic is ahead of the G-class and automatically adjusts vehicle speed in order to maintain a preset distance.
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Not rugged yet still a capable off-road performer
Based on Toyota's Land Cruiser but with a high-quality interior
An all-around good performer and a roomy third row
Not a star when off pavement but does have a powerful V8