Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4²
Perhaps the auto industry’s most unlikely icon, the Mercedes-Benz G-wagen was originally developed for the German military way back in 1979. The civilian model gained popularity for its rugged chic and anti-style style. Then AMG got its hands on the G-wagen, and the muscled-up variants including the G63 and the twin-turbo V-12–powered G65 eventually eclipsed the standard G-class in sales. It became clear that the more outrageous Mercedes made the G-wagen, the more buyers loved it. That realization led to vehicles such as the triple-axle G63 AMG 6x6, the Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet, and this: the G550 4x4².
Although we’ve just driven the all-new G-class, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to strap our test gear to this final iteration of the (nearly) original G-wagen, which literally towers over the standard model. The additional height—the 4x4² is almost exactly a foot taller than the pedestrian G550—as well as a set of portal axles and 36.1-inch-tall 325/55R-22 Pirelli Scorpion ATR off-road tires are the defining elements of this extreme G.
Naturally, with its 17.2 inches of ground clearance, we had to take the 4x42 off-road. The portal axles, which use in-hub gears to locate the wheel centers below the axles’ driveshafts, combine with the massive wheels and tires to deliver 7.9 inches more air between this G and the ground than in a standard model. Factor in the steep approach and breakover angles (not so much the departure angle, owning to the comparatively low-hanging rear bumper), and there wasn’t an obstacle this Benz couldn’t overcome. At least, not at ground level. We had to back out of some trails when overhanging branches threatened the roof-mounted LED light bar—this beast towers seven feet four inches high. And other trails proved too narrow for this machine’s 82.7-inch girth, which is more than nine inches greater than the width of a regular G550. With its three locking differentials (as in all G-class models—except the 6x6, which gets five), it can really dig in and crawl like a tank. Good thing, since there are no recovery tow hooks that we could find. Really, though, rather than on the trails, a better place to experience this machine’s incredible off-road prowess would be blasting across the open desert or clambering through the detritus of a post-apocalyptic landscape.
The G550 4x4² proved less at home on the blacktop landscape of our test track, although by a lesser degree than you might expect. Powered by Mercedes-AMG’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8, which musters 416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque—the latter sent to all four corners via a seven-speed automatic transmission—the 4x4² will launch itself from zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. That’s just 0.4 second behind the standard G550 (with the same powertrain), which is a pretty narrow difference given that the tall-boy version is 753 pounds heavier, vaulting past the three-ton marker to crush the scales at 6635 pounds. The quarter-mile comes up in 14.8 seconds at 93 mph, again just a shade behind the regular version’s 14.4 seconds at 97 mph. Stay with it, and the 4x4² will keep accelerating past 100 mph—although it seems imprudent to do so—eventually topping out at 121 mph. Hauling it back down, we recorded a 196-foot stop from 70 mph, which is heavy-duty-pickup territory; then again, this thing is heavy-duty-pickup heavy. (The regular G550 comes to a stop in 183 feet.) On the skidpad, stability control intervened early and often as the 4x42 generated 0.69 g of grip; thanks in part to its additional width, that’s actually better than the standard G’s 0.66 g, and it tied the recently tested two-door Jeep Wrangler JL.