Boxy, bulletproof and built like a brick outhouse, the Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4² is already popular in Europe, where it’s badged as the G500.
Mercedes execs decided that with a name change — G550 — its near-indestructibility and legendary Mercedes-Benz comfort and performance would attract American buyers, as well. Bound for our shores in early 2017, this almost absurdly overengineered German billy goat of an SUV will no doubt thrill all-terrain warriors and soccer moms alike.
First of all, there’s the classic boxy look of the Gelandewagen (literally “off-road vehicle”), which has hardly changed since its 1979 debut — it’s rugged yet endearing, all-business but with a playful wink. And thanks to its extraordinary ground clearance and wide-track width, it looks like a dinosaur huffing and puffing to devour its prey, especially when seen by terrified drivers in their rear-view mirrors.
Then there’s the legendary Mercedes-Benz interior: safety with style, entertainment options galore and luxury touches throughout. Seating is promised to be ridiculously supportive yet comfortable, with diamond-stitched leather and an Alcantera roof liner, and a variety of luxury features as options.
An 8-inch Comand infotainment system, featuring satellite navigation, is standard and helpful when determining exactly which mountain peak you’re scaling.
Then there’s the performance. The tiny “2” after the 4x4 nomenclature stands for “squared,” because this cube is one exponentially steroidal all-wheel-drive monster.
Built like a tank (or “Panzerkampfwagen” — German is sooooo funny), the G550 4x4² boasts a newly developed 4.0-liter Biturbo V8 4x4² that bangs out 416 horsepower and a stump-pulling 450 pound-feet of torque. The aluminum alloy crankcase is light yet strong, and the cylinder walls feature something called Nanoslide technology, which sounds like a science-fiction cocktail but creates a surface twice as hard as a conventional cast-iron cylinder liner, reducing friction and improving fuel economy.
Power gets to all four wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission called 7G-Tronic Plus that features no interruption in power between the super-smooth and short-gear changes.
Mercedes claims that the steel ladder-type frame, which requires more than 6,400 individual welds before being dip-primed and powder-coated, is superior for off-road use because it protects the body from twisting forces that could damage a conventional unibody. They add that it offers ideal protection for the fuel tank, exhaust system and drivetrain if the vehicle bottoms out on an off-road obstacle (or a speed bump in the carpool line).
Portal axles are a technical highlight of the G550 4x4². Unlike conventional axles, portal axles allow for axle input and the wheel center to be two drastically different heights. They also reduce the load from all reciprocating components, especially the drive shafts, and provide ground clearance of more than 17 inches while increasing track width over a conventional G-Class by 9 inches in the front and 10 inches in the rear.
What all that basically means, as we semi-understand it, is that the G550 4x4² can scale vertical cliffs while the kids watch a movie in the back without yakking on the fancy upholstery. Works for us.
This latest beast joins the Mercedes-Benz family of SUVs in the U.S., which includes the standard 416 horsepower G550, the 563 horsepower AMG G63, and the truly monstrous 621 horsepower AMG G65. Pricing hasn’t been announced but is generally rumored at press time to be around $200,000.
So if you’re itching to storm an impossible-to-reach fortress, run down to your nearest Mercedes dealer and plunk down a deposit on the all-new terrain-chewing, gravity-defying Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4². Before you know it, you’ll be conquering new worlds in this addictively powerful and ever-popular box on wheels.
And even if those worlds are only country club parking lots, it’s nice to know you can get to high ground in a jiffy if you need to.
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