- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

When you enter the heady world of superluxury sport utility vehicles, often ego, testosterone and bank account size have more to do with spurring sales than real need. Propping up the sales of Cadillac Escalades, Hummers, Lexus LX 470s and the like, these motivators have buyers plunking down tens of thousands of dollars more than they need to spend for vehicles bigger, heavier and more off-road capable than they will ever require. You can probably add Porsche’s new Cayenne to this elite list, too.

Owners who also want a touch more exclusivity have yet another choice: the Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG. It’s even more exclusive, expensive and powerful than the run-of-the-mill $73,000 G-Class. The G55 AMG has 55 additional horsepower, 51 extra foot-pounds of peak torque and $18,000 added to its suggested retail price. You want extravagance? There you go.

Sort of Germany’s H1 Hummer, the G-Class (or the Galaendewagen or G-Wagon as it used to be called) is derived from a vehicle supplied to the German army. It’s basic design hasn’t changed in decades, so it is quirky (or charming if you happen to own one), as well, and this evidently increases its appeal. G-Class owners don’t see themselves coming and going at every intersection, and that adds to the allure, too.

Despite its somewhat dated suspension and milk-truck profile, the G-Class does have some up-to-date systems. Its four-wheel disc brakes are monitored by an anti-lock system. As part of its ABS, the G-Class has anti-skid and traction control. Its all-wheel-drive system is full time and includes low gearing for more serious off-road efforts.

AMG is the in-house performance division for Mercedes-Benz and has launched a modified version of just about every other Mercedes class. For larger Benzes like the G-Class, this means replacing the stock engine with a 5.5-liter V-8. It develops 349 horsepower and 387 foot-pounds of peak torque. A five-speed automatic transmission translates engine output to forward motion — and the forward motion can be almost breathtaking.

Some of the G55’s quickness can be attributed to its relatively light weight. Its clunky appearance is misleading. Tipping the scales at just over 5,400 pounds, the G55 is 400 pounds lighter than Escalade and 200 pounds lighter than the LX 470. Of course, it’s 14 inches shorter and more than 7 inches narrower than the Escalade, too.

Size, however, doesn’t save the G55 where fuel economy is concerned.

It insists on premium fuel, and it needs it in supersized doses.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates its miles per gallon in the city at 14 and a robust 15 on the open highway. You can expect much less in real-world driving.

Exclusivity has its price, after all.

The ride is abrupt on road or off. The G-Class’ body-on-frame architecture and stiff suspension make for sharper reactions to highway imperfections. The narrow stance provides a less stable platform for cornering and severe highway maneuvers than some of G55’s wider competitors.

The steering is heavy, but the brakes are up to the task of reining in the G55.

Beyond the high-performance V-8, it’s the interior that is most likely to win hearts. Although rather intimate for a full-size luxury SUV, the cabin is well-equipped, fulfilling expectations of utility and luxury.

The seats are supportive, headroom excessive and the view of the road impressive.

Leather seating, burl wood accents, automatic dual-zone climate control, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power sunroof and nine-speaker audio system with six-disc CD changer are just a few of the standard appointments.

A global positioning satellite navigation system is standard, as are integrated blinkers in the dual remote power outboard mirrors.

Buying a G55 AMG isn’t going to win any friends among the greenies, and that sound you hear upon phoning your accountant to tell of this purchase will probably be him hitting the floor. However, if exclusivity, eccentricity and jack-rabbit acceleration are what you want in an SUV, the G55 may just be for you. With destination charges included, the suggested retail price is $90,565.

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