Driven: Mercedes G63 AMG
As quantifiably bad as it is extremely cool, the 'new' twin-turbo G63 proves life really isn't fair, but Harris loves it all the same
been updated for 2012 with a new interior, some exterior tweaks and, in the case of the AMG variants, two apocalyptically silly new powertrain options. Replacing the old G55 Kompressor - largely because they'd run out of engines to bolt into the unsuspecting old shed - is the new bi-turbo, 5.5-litre V8 already starring in AMGs of the E, CLS, S and SL variety. This time it has 544hp and is limited to 560lb ft. Sitting above it is the newly elected crowning-star of silliness, the twin-turbo V12 G65 AMG. This offers 612hp and 737lb ft. The G63 is the only version available to test at this time. (And we won't be getting the G65 here, last we heard - Ed.)
Surprising, yet unsurprising
The G63 somehow manages simultaneously to be both the least surprising and most surprising vehicle I have driven in 2012. Everything you understand about it - the ancient body-on-frame construction, the immense power, the staggering 2,550kg mass for something that isn't actually that large - all confirms what is already known. Namely that this will re-adjust your perceptions of fast-truckdom. But even when mentally prepared for this you cannot fail to be astounded when you first get the chance to open the taps between 50 and 120mph. The engine and exhaust roar, the wind noise, the utter carnage of insect death on the vertical screen. It's madness. It's also addictive.
This thing belongs on the autobahn or the city centre. Anything in between is no-man's-land for all the reasons you would expect. Especially the new ESP system, which calls time so early you think it's broken. Switch it off and it allows a nanosecond of bad behaviour before regaining control and, thanks Hal, switching itself on again.
I suppose we should be exasperated that one of the world's great off-road machines, and the only SUV of its type in Europe that can still be bought with individually locking front, centre and rear differentials, has been turned into an urban dragster. If you want to get muddy, Merc will sell you a G350 CDI. The G63 is the definitive look-at-me truck. It burbles through quad side-exit exhausts and each tickle of throttle releases vast quantities of noise into the atmosphere. I'm sure it's been tuned to make the best possible use of reflections and echoes from buildings.
Its traffic light sprinting credentials are impressive. Now fitted with the AMG Speedshift 7G-Tronic transmission, it launches itself with a little Yokohama chirp, monsters first gear then shifts quickly and smoothly into second, by which time it has recorded 5.4 seconds for the profoundly meaningless 0-62mph sprint. I did it time and again, and never became bored. The heaving, the squat, the prow rising, the noise - all of it makes for one of the great motoring events.
The (daft) facts and figures
AMG claims a 13 per cent reduction in fuel consumption on account of the new seven-speed 'box and stop-start technology. I averaged 12mpg and wasn't being that badly behaved, but then people who spend €137,504 (around £122,000 when it lands here) don't really care about that - the 96-litre tank gives a half-reasonable range.
There is no earthly reason to buy this car, and for many that alone is the very reason to buy it. AMG already has over 300 orders for the LHD only, €264,180 G65 AMG, and it only sees its overall contribution to total G-Class sales increasing in 2012. In 2011, 40 per cent of all Gs were AMGs.
It's hard to deny that G63 sales are perhaps the ultimate barometer for the irresponsible use of wealth. But it is harder for those of us who love interesting machinery to deny that there is something undeniably appealing about this car - whereas the infinitely more capable BMW X6 M remains profoundly uncool. Why is that?
MERCEDES G63 AMG
Engine: 5,461cc V8, twin turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 544@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 560@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 5.4 sec
Top speed: 131mph
Weight: 2,550kg (LWB)
MPG: 16.8 (NEDC combined)
Price: £122,000 (est for UK)
....the new ESP system, which calls time so early you think it's broken. That's the bit that really kills me, same thing in every Merc I've driven.