Blame it on the Kardashians, Brad Pitt or Bradley Cooper wannabes, even The Terminator himself Arnold Schwarzenegger. But whichever celebrity you know, they have one thing in common, they are Mercedes-AMG G-Class owners.
And herein lies the problem in New Zealand; everyone wants to join this exclusive group.
The Mercedes G-Class is more commonly referred to as the G-Wagen (short for the German “Gelandewagen”, or “cross country vehicle”) and has been in production 40 years.
On sale New Zealand is the Mercedes-AMG G63, with this model making up 70 per cent of local sales, plus the G350d.
But here is the sad news. If you go into a Mercedes-Benz dealership today, you’re going to have to wait until 2020 before you take ownership of the G63. And that is a problem.
Mercedes-Benz New Zealand has never had a G-wagen as a test vehicle because every time the company brings one into the country, it doesn’t go on the press fleet, instead it goes to a customer. Because Kiwis love them so much.
Across the Ditch, there are G-wagens to spare, literally, so Mercedes-Benz NZ was sent a matt black First Edition G63 for exclusive test drives for a limited time, with Driven being the first to get behind the wheel of this rare vehicle.
But again this caused problems. Before I got my hands on the key fob, it sat in Mercedes-Benz Botany Downs, where fans were demanding it, yup demanding, as in “I’m not leaving this dealership until I buy it”.
I laughed at this behaviour. Until I got behind the wheel of the G63, post my amazing drive of it at the global launch of the G-wagen at the famous rally testing ground of the Chateau de Lastours estate in southern France near the Spanish border.
At the rally testing ground, we put the G63 through its paces on the test track, where I raced by the wind turbines, channelling my inner Sebastien Loeb.
But back home, there was one word to describe the G63 after my seven-day test: invincible.
And again, the G63 caused problems. I took the vehicle to a friend’s farm and they fell so in love with the vehicle that I had to make a call to Mercedes-Benz NZ to make sure the G63 had to head back to Australia.
Sorry everyone, back it goes.
But there is so much to love about this latest G-wagen. For a start it makes previous G-wagens look tiny and, to be honest, inferior.
The latest G63 has several features never-before-seen on the G-Class, including two 12.3-inch widescreen displays, multibeam LED headlights, and AMG ride control adaptive damping.
Other key improvements include a new Burmester surround sound system with 15 speakers; Active Parking Assist and 360-degree camera; a sliding glass sunroof with tilt function; and a selectable AMG sports exhaust system.
Further standard equipment includes three 100 per cent differential locks plus an off-road information centre.
Safety and security is taken care of by the addition for the first time of nine airbags, including rear seat airbags and a knee airbag, plus the distronic Active Distance Assist system with Active Lane Keeping Assist. Other key measures include Blind Spot Assist, Active Brake Assist, Traffic Sign Assist, and the pre-safe system.
The G63 gets the all-new 4-litre, V8 bi-turbo engine with 430kW of power and 850Nm of torque, up from the 420kW/760Nm produced by the previous model’s 5.5-litre V8.
It also has the AMG 9-Speed automatic transmission to a permanent all-wheel-drive system, including a low-range ratio with shift-on-the-move.
The new Mercedes-AMG G63 accelerates from 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds.
Looks-wise, there are only five main visual parts that carry over from the previous model, including the push-button handles, cover for the rear-mounted spare tyre, sun visors, and the headlight washer nozzle.
But the classic G-wagen parts are there; the indicators on the edge of the front guards so you know exactly how wide the vehicle is; door hinges positioned on the outside, and the surface-mounted bonnet.
The new G-Class is 53mm longer and 64mm wider than the previous model but is more agile and comfortable.
Inside, the G-Glass gains a classy interior and dash found in the E- and S-Class with dual infotainment screens, turbine-style air vents, sophisticated leather seats and more refined textures and panelling.
Under the floor, the G-wagen has a stronger ladder frame, which increases torsional rigidity 55 per cent, plus three 100 per cent diff locks and low range off-road gear reduction.
Mercedes has given the G-Class better off-road clearance, including 700mm wading depth and 6mm more ground clearance.
The latest model weighs 170kg less than the previous G-Class, but is still a hefty 2.5 tonnes.
The G63 starts from $263,900 but our test model included the Edition One Package that had 22-inch AMG wheels, AMG carbon fibre trim in red pepper and red seat belts with a final price tag of $283,400.
My G-wagen also had Mercedes’ amazing massaging seats that I used every time I drove it.
Sure, at that testing ground in southern France it was formidable but in New Zealand it was equally impressive. In a country where utes rule the roads, I had Ford Rangers moving aside so I could go first.
There then is the invincibility on our terrains. On my friend’s farm I easily (and in comfort mode only) negotiated a steep grassy hill, where even a rural vehicle would fear to tread.
The ride out to the farm there was equally as enlightening. The engine sounds delightful, although pedestrians and close neighbours would disagree, and I’ve never felt so safe (or formidable) in a vehicle than this.
From my experience at Chateau de Lastours, I know its capability in Europe. So how about a New Zealand testing ground?
I headed to Hahei and the Leadfoot ranch, home of the iconic Leadfoot Festival (leadfootfestival.co.nz).
The two and half-hour ride was simple. For a large vehicle, it handles any road surface or curves with surprising ease. Even when I drove it around central Auckland, manoeuvring into carparks or narrow streets wasn’t an issue.
On the open road to the Coromandel, I put the G63 into sport mode and for added fun had the sport exhaust on it. That amplified the power of the engine and the sound front and back.
At the Leadfoot ranch, Kiwi motorsport legend Rod Millen went behind the wheel and took it on the newly built off-road course (see Facebook.com/DrivenNZ for the video). Even in just comfort mode, it took on log crossing, undulating mounds and a rough track. Simple.
●Thank you to Parihoa.co.nz for the use of the farm.