By Jan R. Wagner
As a recent off-road drive demonstrated, when it is time for some serious off-roading, the Mercedes-Benz G550 is up to the task. Originally developed over 30 years ago for off-road military duty, this time-tested vehicle is as about as tough and off-road capable as they come. It is also very expensive, with a base MSRP of $113,000.
The G550 is designed for durability, from the rigid front and rear axles that can take a beating, to the galvanized steel body that is hand-welded at over 6,000 points for exceptional rigidity. There are more than eight inches of ground clearance and an equal amount of wheel travel. The articulation over rocks and other obstacles that might be in your way is nothing short of incredible. The side-opening rear door is counterbalanced to open with minimal effort, even on an incline and despite carrying the weight of a full-sized spare tire – where it is easy to reach if needed. Extremely short overhangs front and rear enable steep approach and departure angles, to provide the capability to tackle rugged terrain that would stop lesser vehicles. The G550 can climb or descend an 80-percent incline, and handle a 54-percent lateral slope.
There is plenty of power, thanks to a 5.5-liter V8 engine that produces 382 horsepower and a stump-pulling 391 lb-ft of torque. That is routed through a 7-speed automatic transmission, 4MATIC® permanent all-wheel drive, a two-speed transfer case (low range) and three independent differential locks.
The G550 is luxurious and comfortable, with heated and ventilated power memory front seats, heated rear seats, rain sensing intermittent wipers, harman/kardon® surround sound audio, power tilt/sliding sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation and Bluetooth connectivity. Coil springs and gas-charged shocks smooth out the ride, on- and off-road.
Safety features are state-of-the-art, as you would expect in a Mercedes-Benz. Blind Spot Assist helps guide you along multilane highways and the rear view camera helps when you’re in tight places. The Electronic Stability Program has ESP® Trailer Stabilization. Adaptive braking technology adds Hill-Start Assist and Automatic Brake Drying.
After a long period of driving on freeways at the speed limit, it is all too easy to get lulled into a false sense of security and not immediately notice if the traffic ahead is coming to a sudden and unexpected stop. In conjunction with the cruise control, DISTRONIC PLUS remains ever vigilant, using advanced radar sensors to look ahead and provide automated responses in milliseconds if the traffic stops.
With Blind Spot Assist, when radar sensors in the rear bumper detect that a vehicle is alongside yours, a red icon lights up in the side mirror to let you know. If you signal a lane change, an alert sounds.
PARKTRONIC helps the driver find a suitable parking space and monitor the distance to the vehicle’s front and rear, making parking much easier.
While features are important, the true test of an off-road vehicle is how it drives off-road. One of the first things I noticed was the incredible amount of headroom. After adjusting the driver’s seat and the steering wheel (fore and aft only, not tilt), I began by selecting Low Range and Drive. The differential locks were not necessary on today’s relatively mild course, although it was reassuring to know that if I did manage to get lost, I was in a vehicle that could negotiate the toughest trails.
Once I was moving, I noticed that the ride was soft and compliant. The G550 smoothed out the large bumps and boulders. I had been expecting a bone-jarring ride to match the rough terrain, so this was a pleasant surprise. Driving it was effortless.
The G550 is surprisingly sure-footed over loose gravel. Earlier in the day I had been on foot taking pictures, and more than once I nearly slipped and fell. It was almost like trying to walk on ball bearings.
The short overhangs and ample ground clearance really do the job, enabling the G550 to easily transition between steep ascents and descents without any scraping front or rear.
If you want even more power, take a look at the G63 AMG version of this vehicle. Like the G550, it also has a 5.5-liter V8 but with 536 horsepower and 561 lb-ft of torque – at 2,000 to 5,000 rpm. Zero to 60 takes just 5.3 seconds. The G63 starts at $134,300.
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Copyright © 2013 by Jan Wagner – #296