2020 Mercedes-Benz G550 review: Eminently more livable
Do you enjoy antique military hardware? Do you enjoy driving around and having the general population wonder if you're a celebrity of some kind? Do you enjoy knowing that, in the event of Armageddon, you could reliably escape to just about any remote corner of your country without having to change cars? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then the 2020 Mercedes-Benz G550 is absolutely up your alley. If you only answered yes to some of those questions, then hell, this is probably the SUV for you, too.
Aesthetics are likely a big factor in a buyer's decision to purchase a Mercedes G-Class and you can't really blame anyone there. The Geländewagen is certifiably badass, especially my tester, which is kitted out with matte black paint ($3,950), 20-inch black wheels ($300) and a Night Package that eliminates all instances of chrome from the window trim to the front bumper bar ($1,900). Throw in a near-complete lack of curvature and I'm staring down one of the most menacing vehicles on the road. It demands attention at all times. There's no subtlety here. Even the daytime running lights are instantly recognizable.
Before I talk about the interior, there's something that happens on the transition from outside to inside that is, for some reason, incredibly satisfying. I'm talking about operating the doors. They produce an incredibly satisfying click when you throw them shut (which you have to) and both locking and unlocking creates an even louder and somehow more pleasing sound. It's one piece of theater that I'm glad survived the move to a new generation, of which there weren't very many. The side-hinged cargo door does the same thing, but with that tire mounted on the back of it, it's a slightly cumbersome affair, so I'm less likely just to open and close that one just for funsies.
There's no pared-down military influence inside the G-Class. It's the full-on Mercedes-Benz experience here, especially when the seats and lower half of the interior are covered in bright red Nappa leather. While it's not my personal cuppa, it's incredibly well executed and the leather is some of the best I've encountered. Throw in some open-pore ash wood trim ($1,300) and it's a look with a capital L.
To get this aesthetic in its entirety requires some serious largesse, though. My tester has an Exclusive Interior Package that throws even wilder bits into the mix, like a microfiber headliner, diamond stitching just about everywhere, a full Nappa leather dashboard wrap and massaging front seats with both heating and ventilation. It costs $12,200, or nearly 10% of the car's MSRP. Your accountant will have some questions.
As you may assume, the comfort level is top notch. But nothing in this world is perfect. While the G550's upright body means there's enough headroom for players of every major professional sport, and while there's sufficient legroom for all aboard, cargo space is a little limited, lacking the depth for, say, taking a full family on a trip. Storage options aren't top of the pops when it comes to door pockets (small) and the center armrest cubby (also small), either. Just watch out for the tailgate; since it swings outward from the side, backing into a tight parking space may prevent you from getting back there at all.
Many of you might not have any experience with recirculating ball steering or solid front axles and I'm sure some Boomers will tell me to go back to TikTok after I say my piece, but the last-generation G550 absolutely sucked to drive. Imagine a 20-year-old Jeep Wrangler , but somehow worse. It's a miracle the Kardashians made it this far, to be honest.
The G-Class will never cruise like the S, but by picking up an independent front suspension and an electromechanical steering setup, it's eminently more livable (hey, that's the headline!) than it was before. At no point do I forget I'm piloting a 5,500-plus-pound office building, but at least I don't have to saw at the steering wheel and careen over bumps anymore. Thanks to the 50-series sidewalls on my tester's Pirelli Scorpion Zero all-season tires, undulations are eaten whole and summarily disposed of. This specific G550 also wields the $1,400 adaptive suspension; my colleague says it's plenty cushy without this tech and I don't know what insane person would hit the button to make this brute stiffer, so I guess you can probably pass this option over.
The undercarriage isn't the only contributor to the G-Class' newfound smoothness. There's also the matter of its engine. In the G550, there's a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 providing 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. Combined with the AMG Line package's sport exhaust, the thing sounds positively mean, which is impressive considering it's not an actual AMG model. Further blurring that line is the actual straight-line performance: It will shoot forward with alarming haste. You might not think that 5.6 seconds to 60 mph sounds all that quick, but in this rolling phone booth, it feels like a slingshot to the sun, and it's only 0.3 seconds off the G63's sprint times. The nine-speed automatic transmission can be a little janky at low speeds, but when moving around town it's mighty smooth and eager to just fade into the background.
But roads, whether they lead to the mall or not, only comprise half of the G-Class' full equation. This SUV continues to be the monster off-roader that it's always been, if not moreso. There's 9.5 inches of ground clearance and between 7.3 and 8.8 inches of suspension travel. The approach and departure angles are about 30 degrees a pop and break-over is pegged at 26. It'll claw its way up 45-degree inclines and push its way through 27.6 inches of water without breaking a sweat. While I didn't quite get the chance to take it through its full paces (unless you count that curb I intentionally drove over, just for fun), our own Emme Hall took a G-Class into the dirt and you can check out her thoughts on the matter.
The one thing the 2020 G550 doesn't do well, though, is sip gas. The EPA rates this thirsty boy at 13 miles per gallon city, 17 mpg highway and 14 combined, which is… not great. I mean, maybe it's great when you compare it to a similarly sized chunk of congealed aggregate and most G-Class owners are probably too rich to even know what gas costs in 2020, but still. I mean, it's one gallon of fuel, Michael. What could it cost? 10 dollars?
It's fine, but it's not MBUX
Trying to time vehicle releases alongside infotainment upgrades is tricky. That's why, like the model year before it, the 2020 G-Class does not have Mercedes-Benz's MBUX telematics. Instead, you're still stuck with the improperly spelled COMAND (could they not find another M for the acronym?). It's a fine system, with sufficient response times from its 12.3-inch screen and standard kit like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot. That said, you can't touch the screen and you don't have all the latest tech doodads like natural-language voice recognition and augmented-reality turn-by-turn directions. Hell, you still have to shell out $850 to replace the standard gauge cluster with a second 12.3-inch display.
But while you might get nickel-and-dimed when it comes to cabin tech, there's a delightful amount of standard safety equipment baked into the 2020 G-Class. My G550, and every G550 for that matter, comes with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors and traffic sign recognition. There are no optional add-ons here, either; it all comes standard. I'm… actually genuinely impressed, but then again, I've seen how people in LA drive.
How I'd spec it
Hoo boy. These things cost quite the pretty penny, with this tester starting at $130,900 and ballooning to a wild $158,065 (including $995 for destination). My ideal G550 is… not cheap either, starting with a $6,500 matte-brown paint job and tacking on the $5,370 AMG Line and Night Packages, removing any instances of chrome from the outside while adding the $300 20-inch AMG wheels my tester has. Inside, I'll opt for the full-fat interior package that adds dark brown Nappa leather, massaging front seats and all that jazz. Tack on $850 for the digital gauge cluster and all of a sudden I'm staring at a $157,370 window sticker. Sheesh.
Down to brass tacks
The G-Class has a few solid competitors. The ubiquitous Range Rover packs nearly the same amount of capability in a similarly sized shell, albeit one that has even less cargo capacity than the G550. The Toyota Land Cruiser is less expensive and it feels it, but it's impressively spacious and the two-row Heritage variant packs an obscene amount of storage out back. The Land Rover Defender keeps it close to the G-Class in terms of both size and off-road prowess, but the Landy is significantly less expensive, even when it's gussied up with Land Rover 's fancy options.
There's no denying the awesomeness of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz G550. It looks the absolute business, it's surprisingly smooth and easy to operate and it will carry you just about anywhere on this green earth in serene comfort. Sure, it's expensive as hell, but specialized tools like these usually are.