A common conversation topic for car enthusiasts revolves around what your "forever car" would be, the one you'd be happy driving for the rest of your life. People usually take a while to decide, eventually choosing sports cars like a Porsche 911, maybe a classic like a '60s Ford Mustang or something modern and practical like an Audi RS6 Avant. My answer is always easy and immediate: the Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
I could say the feeling the G-Wagen gives me is hard to describe, but that would be a lie -- it's pure joy. No matter what car I'm driving or riding in, whether it be a Mazda MX-5 Miata, McLaren 765LT or Rolls-Royce Phantom, if I see a G-Wagen go by I think, "Man, I wish I was in that instead." Hearing the distinct V8 rumble from blocks away tingles my Spidey senses, like a dog hearing a squeaky toy from across a room. The sight of its boxy body and happy face brightens my day immeasurably -- there's really no other car like it.
The Geländewagen (German for "terrain vehicle") was originally developed for military use at the behest of the Shah of Iran, who at the time was a major stakeholder in Mercedes, but a civilian version was released in 1979. Initially a rugged and simple off-roader, the G got a major overhaul in 1990 to be more luxurious and on-road-friendly. It wasn't officially imported to the US until the early 2000s, when it quickly became a status symbol for those who deemed a Range Rover too basic and boring. Mercedes continued evolving and improving the original G-Class through the 2010s, coming out with ridiculous models like the V12-powered G65 and convertible Maybach G650 Landaulet. But even then, it still felt like the nearly 40-year-old truck it was.
Fast forward to January 2018, and Mercedes revealed the truly new G-Wagen in Detroit with the help of pyrotechnics, Arnold Schwarzenegger and waiters handing out shots of schnapps. That new G was something of a revelation, completely redesigned from the ground up but still maintaining the iconic design. Fewer than 10 parts carried over to the new generation, all of which were cosmetic items or unseen components. And crucially, the G-Class drove and felt like a car from the 21st century that was deserving of its $130,000-plus price tag, and its popularity exploded.
Mercedes sold 41,174 G-Class SUVs globally in 2021, its best sales result since the model's launch in 1979, with over 8,500 of those going to the US. That would be a pretty amazing number even without a global pandemic and devastating semiconductor chip shortage. Add on top of that the reports from eight months ago that Mercedes was closing order books for nearly all its V8 models for the 2022 model year (something that now has mostly been resolved), and G-Wagens around the country were getting six-figure dealer markups -- and selling like hotcakes anyway.
And yet, I'm not the slightest bit surprised. Living in Los Angeles, the undisputed G-Class capital of the US (and maybe the world), I typically see at least a couple dozen a day. The vast majority are the new generation, and almost all are the AMG G63 -- Mercedes says over 70% of G-Wagens sold globally are the AMG. I also see tons that have been modified by Brabus or Mansory, turning the dial well past 11 on the ostentatiousness scale. The G550 is honestly better to drive than the AMG G63, with a slightly calmer demeanor and a softer ride, but who wants calm in a G-Class? The G63 is overkill, and that's the whole point.
Over the summer I spent a week with a 2021 G63, using it as my daily driver to do everything from run errands across the city to a long road trip through the Mojave Desert with my parents. Over the course of the week it wasn't just me that fell further in love with the G-Wagen. I've found that typically people that "don't get" or hate on the G simply haven't been in one before. Even my mom, who has always been super cynical about the G (and luxury SUVs in general), came away from our road trip with a major soft spot for the G63.
For 2021 Mercedes expanded the G-Wagen's color palette with the G Manufaktur program, introducing newly developed shades and fabulous vintage paints. A ton of new interior color schemes also became available, with the option to cover nearly every surface in leather with contrasting stitching. My test car was painted China blue, a spectacular $6,500 option taken from the '80s E-Class option catalog. I constantly had people taking photos of the G63, and the reaction to the color was overwhelmingly positive, especially from other G-Wagen owners. Now, about eight months later, China blue is one of the most common non-grayscale colors that I see on local Gs.
People laugh when I say this, but it's hard to think of a better city car than the G-Class. Despite its imposing appearance, the G is actually a few inches shorter in length than a new Toyota Camry. It's super tall, enough so that it's actually too tall for some parking garages, and the upright seating position and large, flat windows and windshield provide excellent visibility. Helping the G's maneuverability are the front turn signals mounted at the corners of the hood, which make this SUV super easy to place in tighter streets and parking lots. And unlike the G550, the G63 gets a surround-view camera as standard thanks to its lower brush guard. With 577 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque, the G63 hit 60 mph in about 4 seconds, which comes along with a slightly terrifying boatlike rise of the front end and a bellowing roar from the exhaust. The new independent front suspension, well-tuned electric power steering and modern stability control systems make the G63's acceleration easy to control, and it's fun as hell to zip through traffic. If you don't giggle like a child while driving a G63, you probably have no soul.
The G63 is also a lot better on a long road trip than you'd expect. Even with 22-inch wheels the ride is pretty damn good, and the front seats are supportive and highly adjustable. The rear bench, while a little tight on legroom for a large SUV, is nicely comfortable as well. Features like adaptive cruise control, massaging seats, a bangin' Burmester surround sound system, configurable ambient lighting and actually usable cupholders make the G's cabin a genuinely nice place to be on a long journey. The interior is great to look at, too, combining new Mercedes design cues with classic G-Class details. The new G also has the best elbow positioning I've ever experienced; both the top of the door card and the lower armrest in the door are the absolute perfect height and wide enough to comfortably rest your arm.
The redesigned G is still great off-road, too. In fact, it's better than it ever has been despite the moaning about its overhauled suspension from bros driving old Wranglers. Though I didn't take this specific China blue G63 off-road beyond a couple mild dirt roads, I've taken a G550 to an off-road park outside LA and it dominated the toughest black-diamond trail, all without breaking a sweat and to the shock of the veteran off-roaders in purpose-built SUVs at the park. The G63 is available with a rad Trail package that adds all-terrain tires and underbody protection as well.
But the G-Wagen's best attributes aren't found on a spec sheet. One of the only parts to carry over from the old G are the door handle mechanisms and locks, which sound like a bolt-action rifle being loaded and are absolutely addicting. The heavy doors produce the world's most satisfying thunk when slammed, which you have to do so they actually close properly. Even the act of stepping in and out of the G-Wagen is an event. It just feels special.
Of course, the G isn't without a few flaws. Its gas mileage is truly horrible; after putting nearly 1,000 miles on the G63, including multiple long highway stints, my average was about 8 mpg -- 5 mpg worse than the EPA's city estimate. (The 16-mpg highway estimate is achievable, at least.) The G also still uses Mercedes' old Comand infotainment system, which is controlled by thumbpads on the steering wheel or a dial on the center console. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but the G doesn't have a touchscreen, and the dated operating system feels leagues behind the MBUX setup in newer Mercedes models. And while the V8 should stick around for at least another couple years, it's definitely not long for this world.
A facelifted G-Class should arrive later this year, bringing a tech update and likely some new features, and a plug-in hybrid model is on the way. But most important is a new version of the G-Class that will arrive for 2024: the fully electric EQG. It left me in a state of shock for at least a couple hours after it was unveiled in concept form at the Munich Auto Show last fall, partially due to the debut video featuring tentacled aliens.
Sure, when the G-Wagen switches to an EV powertrain it'll lose that characteristic V8 rumble, but the benefits should far outweigh that one downside. The EQG will have a motor at each wheel, giving it a monstrous amount of torque and better off-road capabilities than the standard SUV. Even if the range ends up being short, the EQG will still be vastly more efficient, plus it'll be able to go in congestion zones and HOV lanes. With a lower center of gravity thanks to a large battery pack, driving dynamics should be improved, as well, and the EQG's light-up grille and styling updates make it cuter than ever. Most importantly, the existence of an EV model will greatly prolong the G-Wagen's lifespan.
I would be extraordinarily happy to drive nothing but a G-Wagen for the rest of my life, and the EQG makes that dream scenario even more possible. Now I just need to scrounge up a few hundred thousand dollars.