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Test Drive: 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG

 

Picture a mountain goat.

Now put running shoes on it.

And rocket packs.

Pretty cool, right?

But would you want to drive it?

That’s essentially what you get with the 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG, which is, without peer, the most awesomely ridiculous vehicle you can buy today. It’s also the ‘oldest’ new vehicle on the market, which simply adds to the surreality of it all.

After starting life as a military machine, the boxy G-Series went on sale to the public in 1979 and hasn’t left the market since. It’s only officially been available in the United States this past decade, but those with the means to buy such an extreme vehicle often found a way to get one before then.

To say there is nothing else like it on the road would be an insult. And by the looks of it, you probably don’t want to make it angry.

Sure, it’s a real deal body-on-frame truck with solid front and rear axles like a Jeep Wrangler, but over the years has evolved into full-on luxury vehicle with enough leather and technology on board to satisfy, well, me. And Kim Kardashian, who can actually afford a $135,205 bauble like this.

There’s a slightly more plebian G550 model available for a mere $113,905, but the G63 comes fully loaded with adaptive cruise control, an automatic braking system, Zagat restaurant ratings-equipped navigation system in case you fancy a bite before you set out across Moab for some extreme glamping, Harmon/Kardon stereo and many other features not normally found in a vehicle that looks like it was built from an Erector set.

It wasn’t, but the G63 is handmade. In Austria. Just like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Coincidence?

Under its hood is the same twin turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 found in many of the high-performance cars from Mercedes-Benz’ AMG division, here with an action hero-size 536 hp and 561 lb-ft of torque. And, no, your half-ton pickup truck does not have that much.

There’s also a crisp shifting 7-speed automatic transmission, stiffened suspension and stop-the-planet-on-its-axis brakes stuffed inside 20-inch five-spoke wheels. All of it on-road icing to the very tasty off-road treat that remains underneath, which is fortified by a two-speed transfer case along with front, rear and center locking differentials.

Considering how large the G63 is, the passenger compartment is a little on the cozy side and very old-school truck in that regard, but you sit way up high with one of the most commanding views on the road today or in any era. The rear bench is higher than the front, and even my 3-year-old could look down out of the side window. I’m sure he would have no problem spotting any hostiles, or cute puppy dogs coming in from the 3 or 9 o’clock positions.

Evolution has been good to this species. Nothing that weighs 5,622 pounds should be this quick, but few have a gas pedal that opens Pandora’s Box. Better still, it has side exhaust pipes sticking out from under the rear passenger doors, and the sound that comes out of them is somewhere between that of a Sprint Cup car and a rapid-fire howitzer.

Even with all of the modifications, though, I expected the G63 to be terrible on the road. It isn’t.

The steering is glacially slow, and crank the wheel you will, but considering it stands over 6’ 4” tall the G63 exhibits an amazing level of control. I took it to a favorite serpentine two-lane with more humps and bumps in the pavement than a motorcross track and I’m sure I heard it chuckle a few times. If, like the G63 and me, you’re old enough to remember when an E-ticket ride didn’t refer to a low fare airline flight, this is one of them.

Yes, in the tightest fast turns that live axle will lift an inside front wheel now and then, but unless you are being chased by SEAL Team Six, you probably won’t find yourself in that situation. If you do, the G63 has the most aggressive stability control system I’ve yet encountered. Take a corner even a degree too tightly and it cuts the power so abruptly to keep you from flipping that you’ll think you stood on the brakes.

The tradeoff is that if you don’t mind scratching those rims, you could pretty much drive the eminently off-road capable G63 straight out of the dealership and over the Hindu Kush while towing 7,500 pounds without it missing a beat. How much does a howitzer weigh, anyway?

That’s not to say there aren’t a few compromises that highlight the age of the G63. The Bundeswehr-grade doors need the hardest of pulls to fully close, and still often don’t; the backup camera is placed above the external spare tire carrier, which partially blocks its view and could lead to you literally backing up over another car monster truck style; and the sole cupholder is nothing more than hoop with a mesh pouch dangling under it that’s mounted in the passenger footwell. It’s not very good as a cupholder, but quite effective at bruising calves.

That is, of course, all part of the G63's unique charm (I guess,) but then there’s the matter of fuel economy, or lack thereof. Efficiency is one of the main reasons they don’t make ‘em like they used to (“‘em” in this case being trucks,) and at 13 mpg the G63 is the poster child for the modernization movement. The only EPA-rated car that’s worse is the multi-million dollar Bugatti Veyron, which at 10 mpg actually makes the G63 look like an affordable, environmentally friendly purchase.

Who knew Ms. Kardashian was such a savvy shopper? Perhaps I should watch more reality TV.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz G63

Base Price: $135,205

As Tested: $137,705

Type: 4-door, 5-passenger SUV

Engine: 5.5-liter turbocharged V8

Power: 536 hp, 561 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

MPG: 12 city/14 hwy