La Clusaz, France: This small ski resort town nestled in a valley of the French Alps is all but deserted. Spring has thawed the area and it is ghostly silent with the exception of a burbling stream. I leave the resort and drive into the foothills of the Beauregard Mountains, and what little traces of society that exist are gone with elevation. All that surrounds are magnificent vistas and majestic threads of twisty asphalt. Time to see what the refreshed 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG is made of.
I stab the throttle, forcing the direct-injected 5.5-liter V-8 to stoke the two turbochargers. With just a hint of lag, the 7-speed AMG-tuned transmission responds to the peak 544 bhp and 560 lb.-ft. of torque—numbers that tabulate to 44 bhp and 44 lb.-ft. of torque more than the G55 it replaces. Making most of its full-time all-wheel drive, the massive vehicle jolts forward. Mercedes claims the 5721-pound beast hits 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. I believe it.
When I approach a rising sweeper, the red-painted 6-piston fixed front calipers and single-piston floating rears claw the ventilated brake rotors (375 x 36 mm front, 330 x 20 mm rear). The AMG high-performance brakes work well, inside new 20-in. split 5-spoke wheels wrapped in 275/50 tires. However, the sloping turn proves challenging for this SUV with its ridiculously high center of gravity. AMG-tweaked or not, the G-Class wasn't built for carving up mountain passes, and the in-house tuner should have calibrated the steering wheel to be a bit more responsive. But then again, the G63 AMG's appeal doesn't come from flogging it on these kinds of roads.
Instead, what prospective owners (read: affluent) will appreciate is the G63 AMG's revised front fascia with its new grille and larger bumper inlets, the addition of LED daytime running lights and new mirrors across the G-Class line. The new color screen that looks like a mini iPad resting on the center dash will also be appreciated, as will the redesigned center console and instrument cluster. New owners may value the fuel savings that come from the ignition start/stop system, but they certainly benefit from new standard safety items on the AMG version, which include Parktronic, Blind Spot Assist, Distronic Plus and Hill Start assist. What I didn't appreciate, however, was the outdated cabin ergonomics—the driving quarters are tight for such a huge vehicle and my left elbow kept rubbing against the door panel.
Upgrades and AMG dynamics aside, few will truly appreciate what the is capable of. The original architecture from 1979 is still at the core of this vehicle, and the G-Wagen with its fully locking differentials remains a hard-core off-roader. So competent is the vehicle, a G-Class won the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1983 and militaries throughout the world still use it today. The latest iteration continues this tradition. And on a tight, technical course with steeply raked mounds filled with rocks, branches and mud, I got to taste what the G-Class could truly do in a stripped down Professional variant. In summary, a lot.
If the AMG version is a bit over the top, there is the less intensive G550. Equipped with a 388-bhp 5.5-liter V-8 (391 lb.-ft. of torque), the 2013 model year G550 is still quite competent. It just comes with less power and options.
The refreshed 2013 Mercedes G-Class goes on sale mid-July. Pricing has yet to be announced.