Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2015 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

1. What’s new for 2015?

This distinctive SUV enters 2015 with no notable changes, just like it has for most of its 30-plus-year life. Tall, boxy, and priced over $100,000, it continues as a lifestyle accessory for the rich and famous. The G-Class, also known as the G-Wagen (short for Geländewagen, or cross-country vehicle), entered production in 1979. It was designed as a military vehicle with a spin-off available to civilians, similar to the out-of-production Hummer H1. A luxury midsize-class SUV that uses traditional truck-type body-on-frame construction, it boasts outstanding off-road ability backed by a standard four-wheel-drive system with fully locking front, center, rear differentials. Most owners, though, purchase for the unique look and likely never set a wheel off-road. It returns for ‘15 in entry-level G550 form and high-performance G63 AMG guise.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

If you have to ask… Actually, the answers are, it costs a lot and don’t expect much off sticker price. The G550 starts at $116,325, the G63 at $138,075. Both figures include Mercedes’ $925 destination charge. Limited supply and strong demand across the globe ensure prices stay high. Pricing service says transaction prices are trending only $1,100 or so below MSRP, regardless of model. And remarkably, of the 3,090 G-Class sales in the U.S. last year, just over half were G63s. If you really want a G-Class, it might be best to take whatever deal you can get. There’s likely someone behind you willing to pay more.

3. When will the next big change be?

Mercedes won’t comment, but reports say it’ll add a super-performance G65 AMG for model-year 2016. It’ll have a 604-horsepower twin turbo V-12 and cost more than $250,000. Other unconfirmed reports suggest an update to the entire line around model-year ’17, but without sacrificing the unique styling or dumping the body-on-frame construction. The last significant update to this SUV was in 2012 with new engines, front-end styling tweaks, and a revamped interior. Even with these changes, the G-Class doesn’t look a whole lot different from the original models that rolled off the production line in 1979. We’ve heard of no plans to offer U.S.-market versions with the diesel engine available elsewhere in the world.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

Given that this looks to the uninitiated like a ‘90’s Mitsubishi Montero, your aim is to impress those in the know. That means a G63 with the extra swagger of its monochrome exterior trim, lowered suspension, 20-inch wheels (versus the G550’s 18s), and those telltale side-exit exhaust tips. A G63 says: after midnight, in the city. A G550 says sunny Saturdays in the Hamptons.

As for options, let your checkbook be your guide. A vehicle with an eye-watering price needs an eye-watering range of standard equipment. The G-Class delivers. There’s too much to list here, but highlights include: navigation system with Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated “multicontour” front seats, and heated rear seats. A host of exterior colors – including matte finishes — is optional starting at $2,300 and ranging to $6,500.

Standard on the G63 and a $1,950 option on the G550 is Mercedes’ exclusive “designo” Nappa-brand leather upholstery. G63 buyers can add a $4,950 designo Exclusive Leather Package that brings quilting to the upholstery, contrasting-color panels on the seats, and extended Nappa leather on the doors.

A variety of woodgrain finishes is available, including lacquered piano-black, burl walnut, and poplar. Genuine carbon fiber trim is optional on both trim levels. A heated steering wheel is standard on the G63 but optional on the G550; it’s only $250 extra and certainly worthwhile if you live in a cold climate. The only other option of note is a $2,650 rear DVD entertainment system, which is available for both models.

5. What engine do you recommend?

G550 buyers get Mercedes’ workhorse 5.5-liter V-8 with 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission. The company says this drivetrain can propel the G550 from 0-60 mph in 6 seconds flat.

The G63 AMG employs a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8 good for 536 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque paired with a 7-speed multi-clutch automated-manual transmission. Despite its 154-horsepower advantage, the G63 is only about 0.7 seconds quicker, according to Mercedes. Both vehicles are capable of a 130-mph top speed, which is impressive considering that the G-Class is as aerodynamic as a brick.

6. How is the fuel economy?

If you have to ask….Actually, the answer is, terrible. EPA city/highway combined fuel-economy ratings are 13 mpg for both the G550 and G63 on the required premium-grade gasoline. For comparison, the Toyota Land Cruiser rates 15 mpg combined while V-8 versions of the Land Rover Range Rover rate 16.

7. How does the G-Class handle?

This is one rational argument for the G63. Its suspension and steering are tuned for on-road handling, and engineers deserve credit for getting this six-and-a-half-foot-tall box to react with reasonable quickness and poise. Both models benefit from good outward visibility and a short wheelbase that drains the drama from maneuvering in close-quarters. The G550 does suffer more body lean and less grip in turns and slower reactions to steering inputs.

Believe it or not, both have a primitive solid-axle suspension front and rear. Ground clearance is 8.1 inches with the G550 and 7.8 with the G63. Off-road, the G63 is hampered by its handling-oriented tires and the vulnerability of those side-exhaust outlets as you traverse rocks and tree roots.

Still, a G-Wagon in the wild is a beast. With aggressive approach and departure angles (the maximum angle from the ground that an obstacle can have and that the front and rear of the vehicle can still clear) and the ability of the driver to push three dashboard buttons and essentially lock all four tires into a Panzer-like grip, the G-Class will get you there and back. If you want to buy this SUV, you owe it to yourself to go off-roading at least once during your ownership experience.

8. Are the controls easy to use?

Not especially, though it’s more their positioning relative to the driver than their operation itself. The seating position is quite elevated, so accessing the audio and navigation functions requires a stretch. The climate controls are at the bottom of the central dashboard stack; many drivers will have to physically bend over to reach them. It’s best to make any temperature or fan-speed adjustments when the vehicle is stationary. Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system takes some acclimation, but it’s not overly difficult to use. The full-size keypad is handy for storing radio presets and dialing phone numbers. The gauges are a touch on the small side but not too hard to read at a glance.

9. Is it comfortable?

For something that looks so imposing, the interior is surprisingly cozy. Headroom is vast, but that’s about the only thing you can say is roomy about this vehicle. The front seats have very limited fore/aft travel. Folks over 6-feet tall will feel the pinch. You already sit very high, which renders up/down adjustments almost moot. The back seat has no surplus of legroom. At least the upholstery feels nice – the designo leather is especially supple.

Once situated, and on the road, the ride is expectedly trucky. The body bounds and jiggles over bumps, which is what you get on a vehicle with no independent suspenion. Wind noise is a problem, as you might guess from the boxy design. What you might not guess is that the engines are muscle-car loud, bordering on unsophisticated, which isn’t entirely in keeping with Mercedes-Benz’s character.

10. What about safety?

A rearview camera, blind-spot alert, obstacle detection, Mercedes’ mbrace telematics, and a fully complement of airbags are standard. The four-wheel-drive system should easily handle the worst of what Mother Nature can throw at you. Neither the U.S. Department of Transportation nor the industry-funded Insurance Insititute for Highway Safety has rated the G-Class for crashworthiness.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

The G-Class doesn’t come with as many electronic technology as other Mercedes-Benz vehicles. With less to potentially go wrong, consumer-research firm J.D. Power says these SUVs will have above average reliability.

ALG, a company that tracks vehicle residuals, says both the G550 and G63 AMG will retain just 34 percent of their values after five years of ownership. That’s better than a Range Rover (25-30 percent) but well below the Toyota Land Cruiser (41 percent). Research firm Intellichoice, which tracks cost of ownership including depreciation and maintenance, rates the G-Class as “Poor,” saying this SUV will cost well above the class average to own over five years.

12. Is it better than the competition?

Automakers like to say their vehicles “are like nothing else on the road.” For better or worse, there’s truly little to rival the G-Class. It’s a decades-old design that’s found a rarified place in today’s automotive firmament. In most objective and subjective categories, a Land Cruiser or Ranger Rover is easier to recommend. And with other six-figure SUVs on the way – the Bentley Bentayga, Maserati Levante, and one from Rolls-Royce(!) — there will be more competition. Still, the G has an undeniable charm. Don’t be surprised to break a smile every time you get behind the wheel.

Read More about the Latest Models

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]