F1 tech in a big, seven-seat Swedish SUV? You'd better believe it...
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What’s the occasion? The artisan off-roader formerly known as the G-Wagen – now the Mercedes G-Class – is 35 years old this year. Germany’s answer to the Land Rover Defender is still going strong, selling a couple of hundred examples every year to well-heeled rural types and city-larking playboys awaiting an oil empire inheritance. To celebrate, Mercedes has created a special version of the delightfully silly G63 AMG, which is a bit like opening a circus in the middle of Rio Carnival. It’s a sense-of-occasion overload. Meet the G63 AMG 463 Edition. So it’s only got 463 horsepower? That’d be a detune… Quite right, which wouldn’t do at all. ‘463’ is the massively nerdy ‘internal model code’ for the G-Class within Mercedes’ range. Power, in fact, is way, way up.
Go on, surprise me… The G63’s existing 5.5-litre, twin-turbo V8 has been lifted from a not-inconsiderable 537bhp to a faintly ridiculous 563bhp. Yes, this road-going brick shed has marginally higher power output than a Porsche 911 Turbo S. Or two Seat Leon Cupras. Torque is rated at 560lb ft, while the turbos spit the whole lot out from 1500 to 5000rpm. All jibes about Germans not having a sense of humour need to stop, right now. In truth, all model-year 2016 G63s get the power boost, just as the slightly-more-sensible G350d turbodiesel gained power and marginal efficiency gains. That ‘standard’ diesel costs £87,795, while a G63 will now set you back £131,675. And the 463 Edition? Are you ready? £149,970. If you read that with a straight face, it’s you that’s lacking a funny bone.
What’s my extra spending going on? Excellent stripes, which hark to the much-missed C63 507, stainless steel underarmour, and forged 21-inch wheels. If you’re thinking ‘hang about, aren’t forged wheels supposed to be the lightest rims around, reserved for McLarens and Porsches?’, you’re absolutely right. Yet here they are, resplendent on a 2.5-tonne ex-military veteran. Hold that thought. Inside, Mercedes has thrown its tailored ‘designo’ catalogue at the G-Class. You get two tone, diamond-quilted leather seats. Heated, ventilated, electrically adjustable, nappa leather seats. And a matching leather dashboard. Everything else is Pagani-spec lacquered carbonfibre. It looks utterly opulent, and a tad strange surrounding buttons for three locking differentials and a low range mode. What on earth is it like to drive? Like nothing else on Earth, really. Expect maybe a Defender being rear-ended by a runaway train. This is a truly absurd car. Just look at it. It drives exactly as you’d imagine. Take the steering. It’s yawningly slow and vague, with no self-centering effect, because it’s really designed to conquer deserts, mountains, and 1-in-2 slopes. Tipping the G63 into a bend requires two or three times more arm-flailing – guessing, really – than any car you’re used to. Then the centre of gravity wakes up and you’re leant over like a galleon in a maelstrom. Great fun, but pretty sketchy progress. The 463’s V8 is mighty. Whether it’s the (lack of) aerodynamics or saving the tyres, the top speed is limited to just 130mph. But the way the G63 gets there, snorting like a WWII fighter from its side-exit pipes, appears to care not for physics. In the wet, it’ll spin up all four wheels from standstill. Updated suspension and ESP attempts to manhandle all that shove down to the road, but what’s left over from creating a Battle of Britain soundtrack feels like to wants to escape out of the bonnet or tear out the driveshafts before it’ll be cajoled into creating forward motion. The whole car writhes and lunges its way down the road. Utterly inexcusable, ridiculous stuff. And the ride. Flipping heck. Adding forged alloys to a chassis this archaic and weapons-grade is about as futile as attacking a forest fire with a wet flannel. Sounds a bit rubbish… Of course it is. It’s an ancient tank being asked to deal with four times the power it was designed for. But it’s so politically incorrect, and downright devil-may-care a bit of kit, you can’t help but love it. You want character? This might be the most personable car in the world. And rather cool too. On the right tyres, this is still a truly mighty off-roader, capable of stuff far more modern cars would shudder at. Just watch those side exit exhausts – and the fuel gauge. It moves faster than the rev counter. Happy birthday, G-Class. Never change.