Welcome to Critic’s Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today’s edition: the 2017 Mercedes-Benz G550 4×4 Squared.
There may be no fresh-out-of-the-box new car on sale today that attracts more eyeballs than the Mercedes-Benz G550 4×4 Squared. Not even a supercar can compete with this mighty off-roader in the attention-grabbing game; after all, while a Lamborghini Aventador, Ferrari 812 Superfast, or McLaren 720S may boast the sort of hypersonic cruise missile shape guaranteed to make grown men weep, simple physics means in order to be fast, they need to be slippery, and to be slippery, they need to be low—which means they can slide unnoticed between taller vehicles in the thick flow of traffic.
You don’t run into that problem with the G550 4×4 Squared. Between the jacked-up portal axles and its iconic slab-sided design, the roof of the Maximum G-Class stands seven-feet-four-inches above the ground. (Hell, the headlights sit up so high, their line of sight cuts clean above most sports cars; a Miata driver might never even realize a G-Squared is behind him at night.)
Yet the widened fender flares needed to guard the tops of the 325/55/22 tires make it seem oddly proportionate; at seven-feet-two-inches wide, it looks almost square from the head-on view. The end result is a vehicle incapable of going unnoticed; while a regular G-Wagen’s boxy body can go somewhat incognito amongst other SUVs, you’d have to be blind—not just in the legal sense, but literally without the sense of sight—to not notice the Squared.
Clearly, Mercedes-Benz knows this. While a handful of buyers might spring for this house-priced sport-ute because they really do plan on humping it through 39-inch-deep moats on a regular basis, most G-Wagen Squareds will spend their days dallying about the well-maintained pavement of Bedford, New York and Greenwich, Connecticut, the closest they come to off-roading the occasional trip to the roughshod streets of Manhattan so its occupants can take in Springsteen on Broadway from their front-row center seats.
Which is likely why the company offers this goliath Gelandewagen in a bevy of bright hues more suited to Mopar’s muscle cars than a rock-crawler with military roots, including the highlighter-yellow shade it launched in and the Superman-blue paint slapped on my tester. (That paint, technically called “Mauritius Blue Metallic,” was the sole option on my G550…though it alone cost $6,500.)
And much like a supercar, this giant G comes with a giant price. While the Gelandewagen isn’t cheap to begin with—the base model starts at $124,595—the 2018 4×4 Squared sells for no less than $228,395 before you check the box for a single option. Or, to put it another way: For the price of this portal-axled G-Wagen, you could buy the still-remarkably-capable regular-height G550 and a 463-horsepower S-Class sedan.
- The height. That ludicrous, ludicrous height. Even at six-foot-four, I have to work to clamber up into the 4×4 Squared; God knows how those diminutive Kardashians pull it off. Once in the driver’s seat, though, you’re a good head above full-size pickup owners, almost staring eye-to-eye with tour bus drivers. It’s like driving a monster truck. (Obviously, this is a good thing.)
- It may weigh just shy of 6,700 pounds before you even load a soul aboard, but this brute isn’t nearly as slow as you might expect given its size. With 450 pound-feet of torque available starting at 2,250 rpm and 416 horsepower on draft near the top of the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8’s rev range, a solid shove of the gas pedal gets this SUV moving with surprising enthusiasm. It’ll hop from a stop to to 60 miles per hour more than two seconds quicker than a Toyota Corolla…a fact sure to startle more than a couple Toyota Corolla owners in person when they find themselves being passed by the Big G on the highway.
- Believe it or not, this damn thing actually handles oddly well. Pop the suspension into sport—a mode which seems like a ludicrous proposition at first (I actually laughed when I saw that button), and most of the floppiness in the suspension evaporates. There’s not nearly as much body roll as you’d expect; even doing 85 miles per hour on the tightly-winding Taconic State Parkway—which in some stretches feels like the Nordschleife, but with more minivans—it never felt close to out of control the way other big SUVs do over the same bit of road.
- It makes regular off-road machines look like chumps when the going gets rough. During a brief dalliance off the beaten path near a friend’s house in upstate New York, his father pointed out the giant dip on the trail where he’s always forced to call things off while driving his old Nissan Frontier. The G-Wagen, not surprisingly, bounded over it with nary a problem, thanks to its 18 inches of ground clearance. I’d kill to have a chance to push this brute to its limits off-road…but good luck finding a trail with terrain that challenges it. (At least, without driving all the way up to Monticello Motor Club.)
- Getting used to driving this mammoth takes a while. Driving it down a highway is, at first, rather disconcerting. The loose, slow steering, the poor sight lines, and the supertanker width make placing it between the lanes a nerve-wracking experience when there are other cars nearby. Things are a tad easier in town, where speeds are slower…and people more likely to move out of the way when they see that three-pointed star looming near the top of their rear window. Still, with a mirror-to-mirror beam of 86.2 inches, navigating the gaps in tight urban streets takes a steady hand and a lot of mirror-checking.
- All that slowly-acquired confidence in the Squared’s highway handling dried up damn quick when I went for the brakes on an exit ramp. Because while it may handle like a lighter SUV, there’s no cheating the physics that come into play when trying to stop a 3.5-ton car with a center of gravity three feet off the ground. Get on the brakes early, and get on ‘em hard.
- The interior is no place for a tall man, as much as the exterior may lead you to believe otherwise. In spite of all the leather, carbon fiber, and Alcantara slapped over all the surfaces, the G-Class 4×4 Squared suffers from the same upright seating position the G-Wagen has made its drivers endure since it was first designed for military use in the 1970s. The seat sits far too close to the upright steering wheel, forcing longer limbs into awkward positions unbecoming of the owner of a car that costs as much as a house.
- Sadly, the G550 4×4 Squared must do without the baller spare tire hard case on the rear door. Presumably because any spare tire mounted there would be so large as to render the rear window entirely useless, cover or no.
The Bottom Line:
In addition to their common attention-grabbing power, the Mercedes-Benz G550 4×4 Squared shares another trait with the supercars of the world: Nobody really needs it. Just as a Corvette Grand Sport delivers nearly as much real-world performance and fun as an Aston Martin Vanquish, a Jeep Wrangler can do 95 percent of what the Big G is capable of at one-fifth the price. But that’s kind of the point of the 4×4 Squared. Even more than the regular Gelandewagen, this big rig seems to embrace the ridiculousness of its very nature, flouting societal conventions and refined taste with equal glee: Think most people don’t need a regular SUV? Well, take a look at me, pal.
Indeed, it may seem an odd suggestion, but perhaps the G550 4×4 Squared deserves an honorable mention amongst the ranks of supercars. Its mission brief might be pretty much the exact opposite of a speed-minded exotic’s, but it shares three very prominent traits with the Lambos and Maccas and so forth of the world: It’s expensive, it’s capable of performing feats most owners will never ask of it…and it makes people take notice like nothing else on the road.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz G550 4×4 Squared, By the Numbers:
Base Price (Price as Tested): $225,395 ($232,425)
Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, 416 horsepower, 450 pound-feet of torque; seven-speed automatic transmission; full-time four-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: That’s a good one
0-60 MPH: 7.3 seconds
Top Speed: 130 miles per hour, if you’re brave enough
Maximum Approach / Departure Angles: 51.6° / 43.8°—again, if you’re brave enough
Number of reverse gears to be found in the seven-speed autobox: Two