Grandest Mercedes G-Wagen Honours Its Humble Roots

In imposing matte black with opulent gold accents, the Mercedes-AMG G 63 Grand Edition rolls into view with some serious presence and poise. Out of its four side-exit exhausts (a G 63 staple for more than twenty years) the authoritative roar of a mighty V8 is emitted from an engine hand-built by a single, highly skilled technician. And to up its individuality, just 1,000 of these limited edition G-Classes will be made worldwide, with only a handful bound for Canada. But every single one celebrates of one of the most iconic vehicles to ever hit the road.

Comparing a burly, boxy off-roader to a Ferrari might seem strange, but when discussing the sheer desirability of the G-Class, it’s where we must start. Because of the G’s reputation as the chosen ride of both the rich and the famous, demand has always far outstripped supply, particularly when it comes to the AMG versions. That means even deep pockets won’t guarantee you’ll get your hands on one.

Mercedes-AMG G 63 G-Wagen dashboard and steering wheel

The Grand Edition pays tribute to this status symbol identity with a host of gold accents both inside and out, choosing to flaunt its star presence. The three-pointed Mercedes star is picked out in a colour the brand calls Kalahari Gold Magno, the same shade you’ll see on the spare tire ring and front underbody protection. Its massive, AMG-specific 22-inch wheels are also gold, and on its hood the Grand Edition boasts a full, golden Affalterbach crest, blending the coat of arms of AMG’s home city with symbolic engine parts.

Beneath the hood is proof positive of AMG’s performance expertise: a 4.0 litre, twin-turbocharged V8 pumping out 577 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque. And, by tradition, the single AMG technician who assembles every engine affixes their signature to the motor as a sign of pride.

The G 63 has already, justifiably, become a social media star — even among Hollywood traffic. Everyone knows what it is and what it means. As a projection of wealth and prestige, there’s no missing its broad-shouldered charisma. And yet, for a vehicle with a starting price of $242,000 CDN, the G-Class has surprisingly humble roots.

Mercedes-AMG G 63 G-Wagen handle

Like the Land Rover, the original G-Class was a bare-bones off-roader with only the slightest compromises when it came to comfort. Spurred on by an order for 20,000 military vehicles placed by the Shah of Iran in the 1970s, Mercedes set about building what it called a Gelandewagen (“gelande” being the German word for terrain). The mission brief was simple: to create a vehicle that could handle even the most brutal landscapes. Military versions were referred to as Wolves, but most civilians came to know the car as the G-Wagen.

Introduced in 1979, the model quickly gained notoriety for its unrelenting all-terrain capabilities. Forty years ago, Belgian racing driver Jacky Ickx thundered a 280 GE Gelandewagen to victory in the 1983 Paris-Dakar Rally, a gruelling race across the sands of the Sahara. Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, the G-Wagen’s rugged 4×4 powertrain and locking differentials enabled it to clamber to some of the most remote places in the world.

By 1990, the G-Wagen had started to climb in social standing as well. A more luxurious update to the interior positioned the G as a potential rival to early Range Rover products, though it was only available in Europe. However, after a few G-Wagens were imported across the Atlantic — and had no difficulty in selling for six figure price tags via private importation companies — Mercedes took notice.

Mercedes-AMG G 63 G-Wagen

When the car officially arrived in North America, it came with some serious firepower. Both models — the G500 and AMG G55 — were powered by brawny V8s. And, two years later, AMG shoehorned a supercharged 5.5 litre V8 into the G55 and created one of the most unusual performance SUVs ever made.

The G55 is the ancestor that the new Grand Edition is truly paying tribute to. With its ferocious acceleration, roaring V8, and unmistakable curb presence, the G55 hit the zeitgeist with a force few other motors ever mustered. Every rapper wanted to flex in a G. Every celebrity wanted to be photographed in one. From Rodeo Drive to Manhattan, the G ruled the streets.

This popularity must have bemused Mercedes’ engineers somewhat, especially since they’d planned to phase out the G-Wagen in favour of the GLSclass in 2006. But well-heeled G-Wagen fans wouldn’t hear of it. And so, when it came time to replace the G-Wagen with the G-Class, Mercedes was careful not to tweak the recipe too noticeably. The G grew very slightly in length and width, but it retained the boxy proportions everyone loved. Its road manners were greatly improved, with a ground-up redesign that saw everything from the steering to the suspension entirely revised. And Mercedes obsessed over getting details — like the way the G-Class doors close with a military-grade click — just right.

Mercedes-AMG G 63 G-Wagen

The on-road performance of this latest limited edition will be unchanged from the standard Mercedes-AMG G 63, which is incredibly potent. A twin-turbo V8 is paired with a nine-speed transmission, and Mercedes-AMG estimates a 0-100 km/h time of just four seconds. If you need to run from the paparazzi, the G 63 hauls itself to highway speeds quicker than most sport sedans, and both air-ride suspension and huge tires give it shockingly competent lateral grip despite its high-riding silhouette. It will, of course, shrug off any off-roading challenges, but it still rules the streets.

Ultimately, gilding the G 63 with gold accents is a fitting tribute to an icon that has stood the test of time for more than four decades. Its mission has radically changed over the years, but the G has rolled on, unfazed, cultivating an appeal that stretches far beyond the automotive realm. When a G 63 rolls up, no-one needs to explain what makes it so special or why it has become so beloved. Its appeal is obvious. And the Grand Edition is a decadent distillation and celebration of that everlasting, enchanting charm. All hail the G — may it live forever.