Drives:

NOT FOR THE SHY AND RE­TIR­ING: ALAN DUG­GAN HITS TOWN IN THE MERCEDES- AMG G 63

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Contents -

Mercedes AMG G 63, Subaru Forester XT

Com­ing from the driver of a Toy­ota FJ Cruiser, an odd but sur­pris­ingly ca­pa­ble body-on-frame SUV with devo­tees across the world, it was high praise in­deed: “So you’re the one driving the Gelän­dewa­gen. We’ve been perv­ing this ve­hi­cle for the past two days.”

The speaker was Jo­han Hugo, co-owner of the Ka­roo Don­key Sanc­tu­ary in the quaint Ka­roo town of Prince Al­bert, where we’d jour­neyed from Cape Town. Hugo is clearly some­one able to dis­tin­guish be­tween an or­di­nary off-roader and some­thing at the OMG end of the scale. More specif­i­cally, the Mercedes-amg G 63, V8-pow­ered mon­ster that sells for R2 376 000 (that’s with­out nice-to-have ex­tras). This is no or­di­nary 4x4.

Jo­han – an in­fec­tious dis­eases physi­cian in Cape

Town when he’s not res­cu­ing or tak­ing care of don­keys along­side part­ner Jonno Sher­win – was pre­sum­ably ex­press­ing re­spect for an eye-catch­ing, beau­ti­fully en­gi­neered and ex­tremely ef­fi­cient piece of Ger­man-de­signed ma­chin­ery. Hav­ing spent a week with the Gelän­dewa­gen flag­ship, I get it.

Un­der the de­fi­antly squared-off bon­net, the 5,5-litre, twin-turbo V8 pro­vides enough mo­tive force to pro­pel two and a half tons of G 63 from stand­still to 100 km/h in just 5,4 sec­onds. Hot-hatch-trash­ing abil­ity aside, ar­guably one of its most com­pelling fea­tures is the trio of dif­fer­en­tial locks: one at the front axle, an­other on the rear axle and the third on the trans­fer case. The diff-locks al­low you to achieve trac­tion in a va­ri­ety of driving con­di­tions rang­ing from slip­pery mud to deep sand and ir­reg­u­lar humps, even if only one wheel has grip. It goes with­out say­ing that if none of the four wheels has trac­tion, you’ll need to get out and do some­thing about it.

Three num­bered switches on the cen­tre con­sole are used to ac­ti­vate the diff-locks in se­quence (cen­tre first, then rear, then front). These are used only in low range and only at low speeds on slip­pery sur­faces; oth­er­wise, you risk dam­ag­ing the driv­e­train. Power is de­liv­ered to all four wheels via the 7G-TRONIC au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, which works very well both on and off the hard stuff.

Neigh­bour­hood kids, drawn as if by a pow­er­ful mag­net, in­sisted that the G 63 was the coolest car in the world, if not the Uni­verse. Af­ter the umpteenth re­quest to start it up and rev the en­gine, I pointed out that V8s tended to burn a lot of petrol, and they nod­ded po­litely. In­stead, we set­tled for a demon­stra­tion of the re­vers­ing cam­era, voice-op­er­ated GPS nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, Blind Spot As­sist (which em­ploys prox­im­ity radar sen­sors to mon­i­tor the ve­hi­cle’s blind spot and lights up a red tri­an­gle in the cor­re­spond­ing ex­te­rior mir­ror), Har­man Kar­don au­dio (an el­e­ment of the COMAND mul­ti­me­dia sys­tem al­ready fa­mil­iar to a gen­er­a­tion of Mercedes-benz driv­ers) and other cabin- fo­cused good­ies.

Fi­nally, sated with un­de­served ad­mi­ra­tion (re­mem­ber, it wasn’t my car), I pulled in at a lo­cal garage and felt the blood drain from my face as the tum­blers on the petrol pump spun… and spun… un­til even­tu­ally, af­ter what seemed like a life­time, the 96-litre tank was full. At the quoted econ­omy rate, that would be good for around 700 kilo­me­tres.

At high­way speeds, the G 63 feels solid and com­fort­able, although there is only so much you can do with a lad­der-frame chas­sis and its as­so­ci­ated sus­pen­sion chal­lenges. What I re­ally en­joyed was its abil­ity to kick down and over­take just about any­thing in a mat­ter of sec­onds, start­ing at 120 km/h and ac­cel­er­at­ing with bound­less gusto un­til I sud­denly re­mem­bered I was not driving a sportscar.

Dur­ing a visit to the Prince Al­bert show­grounds, while croon­ers belted out retro pop and stall­hold­ers dis­played ev­ery­thing from home-grown olives to serendip­i­tous junk­yard finds, a man fixed me with a stare and an­nounced: “You are driving the best car in town.” Risk­ing the abrupt ter­mi­na­tion of a po­ten­tially beau­ti­ful friend­ship, I in­formed him that the Gelän­dewa­gen didn’t be­long to me. “That doesn’t mat­ter,” he re­sponded. “It’s still the best.”

JUST THE FACTS EN­GINE V8, 5,5 litres POWER 420 kw at 5 500 r/min TORQUE 760 N.m be­tween 1 750 and 5 250 r/min GROUND CLEAR­ANCE 22 cm RAMP AN­GLE 27 de­grees FORDING DEPTH 60 cm TOP SPEED 210 km/h ECON­OMY 13,8 litres/100 km

Above: Stan­dard dis­play has re­vers­ing cam so you can see what you’re about to crush. Left, be­spoke in­te­ri­ors are avail­able for those not flus­tered by the nearly 2,4 bar base price. Three-diff driv­e­train bol­sters off-road mas­tery.

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