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