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Off-road test: Mercedes-AMG G63

24 June 2016

The coolest 4×4 brick in the world. In a country where the fuel price is constantly on the rise, is the Mercedes-AMG horribly outdated? We spent a week with the recently facelifted model to find out.

We often differ in opinion about test vehicles. But then a 4×4 like the Mercedes-AMG G63 lands up in our parking lot. For once there were no arguments – it has a spot in all of our dream garages. And here’s why this R2.3-million brick on wheels moves us so.

All about the base
Absolute power corrupts, but it corrupts so beautifully. It turns normally responsible human beings into giggling idiots, constantly in search of the next open stretch to punch the throttle. The G63 does this to its driver. It has a massive 420kW of power and a ridiculous 760Nm of torque, courtesy of the twin-turbocharged V8 hand-built engine. But it’s not so much the power that’s addictive… it’s the sound of the thing.

Try to imagine the sound effects of an Australian V8 supercar racing machine at full revs, mating with an angry rhino. At idle it’s a soft burble, which gets progressively louder the harder you step on the throttle. At around 4 000r/min it turns into a crescendo of eight angry cylinders, thundering through the twin AMG pipes, peeking out under the G-Wagon’s doorsills. When the rev counter reaches 6 000r/min… birds scatter in panic, older ladies clasp their hands over their ears and the earth shakes. It’s beautiful (sorry about that, old ladies).

When you drive a R2.3-million vehicle, other motorists normally look at you in a ‘you rich so-and-so’ manner. In the G63, they give you the thumbs up and open their windows to better hear the angry V8 sing its tune. On a few occasions we found ourselves stopped at a red traffic light next to whatever middle-of-the-road sedan/hatch/bakkie, of which the owner would press his hooter to get our attention. He would then proceed, with an open window, to give us the universal sign for revving it a bit and we’d be only to happy to oblige.
It may be unnecessarily large, stupidly powerful and as environmentally friendly as fishing with dynamite, but just about everyone loves it.

Okay, it is ridiculously heavy on petrol. But for once, feeding this machine petrol did not depress us. Instead, spending about R2 500 in a week was no hardship at all – it’s so worth the thunder from those four AMG exhaust tips.

What if there’s a bend in the road?
If you’re in a hurry, you mostly get worried. There’s a simple formula when it comes to driving the G63. You hammer down the road, enjoying that thunderous V8 soundtrack. When a bend presents itself, you slow right down, crawl through it at normal pace until the road straightens out again. Then it’s right back on the throttle. Repeat. Enjoy.

If you do happen to get very brave in a corner and floor the throttle, the G63’s computer will immediately intervene with the life-saving move of closing all power taps until you are in a straight line again. Remember, it has solid front and rear axles, and the chassis is still military grade.

A Mercedes-AMG GLE63 is much better at this sort of thing, and, it has to be said, cheaper as well. But in terms of sheer presence it’s way down compared to this turbocharged brick. But hey, who cares about corners, anyway?

What if the road is muddy? Mud? What mud? You can keep right on going. The AMG model is equipped with every single mechanical component and electronic nanny that makes lesser G-Class’ at home in the veld.  It has differential locks front, middle and rear, as well as low range. All of these additional features might seem meaningless in a 4×4 like this. You’d be forgiven for assuming it would mostly be used as a tool for showcasing how fat your wallet is, but in the case of the G63, it’s a different story.

There are only two things standing between it and ultimate off-road glory. The first problem is its lower-profile, high-performance tyres (a necessity considering the engine’s output). However, for G63 owners who really want to go off-road, this beast will most likely be able to afford a set of extra 16-inch rims with mud terrain tyres for just such an occasion.

Issue number two is the location of the side exhausts. They look so cool protruding from under the doorsills but we shudder at the thought of what a big nasty rock might do to those AMG numbers.  Another possible sound-over-practical issue is the fact that rear seat passengers, if they are not mindful of the position of those pipes, may end up with second degree burns on their shins if they exit the Benz after a drive. But who cares about the shins of rear seat passengers anyway, right?

Logically, the G63 makes no sense. There are SUVs that are faster and SUVs that are better off-road. The more we think about it, the more we realise how many vehicles there are that make more sense than this one. You could, for example, buy a Mercedes GLE, kit it out with an off-road package and still have enough money left over for a brand-new C63 AMG sedan. That’s before you even get to the moral implications of driving a vehicle as valuable as this in a country where the average daily income is less than R20.

And yet each of us would have one in our perfect five-car garage. It’s so wonderfully excessive that we can forgive its shortcomings, of which there are many. It’s an off-road supercar and like any other supercar, you buy into it knowing that sacrifices will have to be made. If only we had R2.3-million and an unlimited fuel budget. If only…

Engine 5.5-litre biturbo V8
Power 420kW @ 5 500r/min
Torque 760Nm @ 1 750r/min
Gearbox Seven-speed automatic
Drivetrain Full-time
Driving aids Three differential locks, traction control and low range
Ground clearance (Claimed) 210mm Fuel tank: 100 litres Average consumption: 19.8l/100km
Range 505km
Maintenance plan Six-year/100 000km
Price  R2.3-million