The Weirdest, Wildest and Most Insane 4X4 We Have Ever Tested
Let’s get this out of the way right now: this thing is completely insane. It costs as much as a Lamborghini, has 36-inch tall tires, portal axles, and even three diff locks straight from the factory. It makes absolutely no sense for Mercedes-Benz to produce a vehicle like this, but we’re glad they do.
The massive G550 4×4 Squared (even the name is ridiculous) is an over-the-top final edition of the legendary G-Wagen. The Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen (G-Wagen or G-Class for short) is the oldest vehicle design for sale in North America. It was initially launched in 1979 as a civilian and military-spec machine for markets around the world. The basic truck you see here isn’t all that different from the one of the late-1970s. That’s kind of astounding—it would be like Jeep still producing a version of the CJ-7 today. This year all that changes as the G-Wagen is going to be entirely new. And that includes an independent front suspension replacing today’s solid front axle of this 2018 model. Boo.
This giant machine isn’t the only wild G-Wagen Mercedes-Benz has ever produced. From 2013-2015, the company made a six-wheel drive version called the G63 AMG 6×6 for markets outside the US with 536 horsepower, a locker in all three of its portal axles, and a price tag of $500,000. A few years ago, the twin-turbo V12 G65 AMG arrived on our shores. That one is normal height and has just four wheels, but the twelve-cylinder engine under its hood produces (hold on to your hat) 621 horsepower and a Cummins-like 738 lb-ft of torque. Every version is the G-Wagen is hyper-expensive. Even the least-expensive model will set you back $132,000. It’s no surprise that the company only moves between 3,000 and 4,000 of them each year.
We’ve never had a chance to get a G-Wagen dirty. So, when Mercedes-Benz said the ultimate G was available for testing we jumped at the chance. The Paprika Metallic G550 4×4 Squared you see here will drain $232,425 from your bank account. That’s obscene, and we’re not going to pretend it’s worth the money. After all, you could have a house — or a 4×4 fleet of Ford Raptors and Jeep Wrangler Rubicons — with plenty of dough left over for fuel. No matter how you figure it, the math will never favor this Mercedes-Benz. But with lockers, tall tires, and serious ground clearance, it should be a lot of fun. So, we hammered this beast on our 300-mile test loop, which included a longer-than-average visit to Hungry Valley SVRA in Gorman, CA. Exactly how capable is this hyper-expensive hulk? Let’s find out.
Yes, the bones of the G-Wagen date back to the late 1970s. And part of the reason the G has lasted so long is that it has a beefy, fully-boxed frame. In some areas, the old-school steel frame measures 0.16-inches thick and according to Mercedes-Benz requires 6,400 welds to complete. Interestingly, the longitudinal frame rails themselves aren’t pushed out to the sides of the bodywork as they are on most 4x4s. Nope, here they are in-board with enough room to clear a muffler on each side.
The front and solid rear axles are connected to the frame with radius arms, similar in both design and the way they are mounted to those found on early Broncos and F-150s. However, the 4×4 Squared receives its height from a suspension and axle system unlike any other G-class or production 4×4 for that matter. At each corner are dual coil springs with Ohlins adjustable dampers with settings for either “Comfort” or “Sport.” But the axles themselves are perhaps the most interesting part of the whole vehicle. The G-Wagen axles are redesigned and modified by LeTech in Germany with a portal gear reduction that uses 3-inch wide straight-cut gears for durability. The portal design does a few things for the G-Wagen. First, it provides a lift of about 6 inches. Second, it maintains the factory suspension and steering geometry of “normal” G-Wagens. And finally, it provides a gear reduction of 1.7:1 to handle larger-diameter tires. The rig uses electronic, fully locking differentials in both axles with 3.58:1 gears. The axles are capped with huge 15-inch cross-drilled disc brakes up front and 14.6-inchers in the rear.
Under the hood of our G550 4×4 Squared is a 4.0L twin-turbo V8 packing 416 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and a robust 450 lb-ft of torque down at 2,500 rpm. The boosted V8 exhales through side pipes just like a hot rod. It’s paired to Mercedes-Benz’s proven 7-speed automatic with a first gear of 4.38:1 and overdrive ratios in sixth and seventh gears. The transfer case has permanent all-wheel drive with a lockable center differential and a reduction in low range of 2.16:1. The excellent gearing afforded by the portal axles allows the 4X4 Squared to easily turn the 36-inch tall, 325/55R22 tires, with a crawl ratio of 58:1.
At our local scales the over seven-foot tall monster, which is almost a foot wider than a regular G-Class, weighed 6,700 lbs. That’s insanely heavy for an SUV and just 300 lbs. lighter than the last gas-powered Ford Super Duty Crew Cab pickup we tested. The G550’s GVWR of 7,694 lbs. meant it can handle a payload of 994 lbs.
On the Street
If you want to look famous in Los Angeles (or anywhere really), drive this thing. Wherever we drove this beast, the camera phones came out. It looks absolutely crazy driving down the street. But here’s the thing: because the portal axles maintain proper steering and suspension geometry, it doesn’t drive crazy. In fact, it drives better than any lifted vehicle we’ve ever been in.
Despite those running boards, it isn’t easy to hoist yourself up into this truck. This is one of tallest production trucks available in North America. It’s so tall that it actually looks down on a Ram Power Wagon. The G-Wagen always feels like a truck, and we dig that. It’s such an old design, the door locks and latches open and close with a loud, “ker-clunk” sound. Once inside, the upright windshield and windows make it feel old-school and the visibility is great. And because this is a Mercedes-Benz, everything is wrapped in leather, made of aluminum, or covered in carbon fiber. The massaging sport seats are supremely comfy. Although it’s huge on the outside, the interior isn’t very roomy. It’s rather narrow, and there’s no place to put your stuff, like a phone. Okay, there is a cup holder, but it’s this weird basketball net thing. Trust us, just hold onto your coffee or leave it at home. These are first world problems for sure. The second row of seats is raised slightly, offering passengers a great view in all directions. The cargo hold is reasonably generous, too. When that rear seat is folded, it provides a solid 75 cubic feet of hauling space.
Under the flat hood is a gem of a motor. The 4.0L, 416 horsepower twin-turbo V8 feels far stronger than it really should, and it sounds incredibly mean exhaling though those side pipes. This giant machine shouldn’t be quick, but it is. Our pals at Car and Driver clocked one to 60 mph in just 6.1 seconds. It ran through the ¼-mile in 14.8 seconds at 93 mph. That’s incredibly fast for an almost 7,000 lb. machine with the aerodynamics of a barn door. It feels like you’re driving a muscle truck on stilts. The G-Wagen is all-wheel drive so you can feel a little of the torque routing to the front axle at full throttle. The 4×4 Squared rides well too, as long as the suspension is in “comfort” mode. What’s cool (and strange) is that it doesn’t feel unstable or awkward hustling it around town. But it runs out of grip early, and if you push it too much, stability control intervenes. Given the height of this Mercedes-Benz, that’s probably a good thing.
On the highway, the big G is relatively smooth, although certain freeway sections can induce a little suspension porpoising. There’s plenty of wind noise, which we expected, considering the boxy shape. As we made our way out of the city and into the mountains, the V8 had plenty of torque at 70 mph to maintain overdrive in the tallest gear (7th) with 2,000 rpm on the tach. Only on a few big climbs did it drop into 6th gear, with the engine spinning at 2,300 rpm. As one might assume something this tall, heavy, and square won’t deliver great fuel economy. The EPA rates this truck at 11 mpg for both city and highway. And (surprise!) that’s what we got on our test: 11.2 mpg. That’s easily the worst fuel economy of any vehicle we’ve tested. But if you can afford one, we doubt you’re concerned about saving money at the pump. More than likely you can afford the gas for it or possibly own an oil company.
On the Trail
Climb underneath this monster and it’s astonishing how much ground clearance it has. We measured 18.25-inches underneath each differential, and almost two feet under that front skid plate. Mercedes-Benz says it has a 51.6-degree approach angle and a 43.8-degree departure angle, despite that goofy little dropped bumper. The 4×4 Squared can ford a 39.4-inch stream too. Just imagine if it had a snorkel!
Impressive numbers aside, the real test is when the tires touch the dirt. The G-Wagen didn’t disappoint. We tackled our notorious test spots and this Mercedes handled it all quite easily. Much of the milder terrain in the park can be negotiated without effort in high-range, without even locking the center diff or the axles. The credit, of course, goes to giant tires, insane ground clearance, and solid axles.
The toughest hill climbs were no problem at all, either. Just lock all the differentials and it crawls like a tractor. However, we were expecting a bit more articulation from the suspension. So, on those steep and twisty climbs, the front suspension would sky a front tire. But thanks to the lockers and low gearing, it continued to climb without tire slip.
The incredible ground clearance allowed us to explore parts of the park we rarely go in a stock 4×4. The rocky areas that would almost certainly hang up or cause body damage in most test trucks were easily traversed in this beast. It’s an effortless experience when you can run through a rock garden without worrying about smashing a diff. Now, in preparation for a serious rock crawling trail, we’d probably unbolt those wheels and tires and mount a more aggressive package with a thicker sidewall and bigger lugs. But the G-Wagen did well for a truck on street-biased tires.
In the sandy washes, the big truck felt heavy and a little sluggish. The steering is relatively slow and when combined with a choppy ride from the suspension, we didn’t play here too long. On fire roads, the G was far better. The suspension softened up at speed and we could cruise with control at a little over 30 mph — faster than most 4X4s we test here.
On our usual axle-twisting rutted climb, the G-Wagen was a little bit of a disappointment. Make no mistake it handled it all without locking the diffs. But it wasn’t a pucker-free experience. The G-Wagen has decent wheel travel, but on certain parts of the trail, when the frontend is unloaded, the front axle won’t easily drop into holes. And that, combined with the somewhat short 112.2-inch wheelbase, meant the tires would lift as we went through the deepest and steepest parts. That’s no problem on the ascent. But on the way down, as we crawled through the deep ravines riding the brakes, the rear of the truck became un-weighted and began to lift high into the air. We felt a roll coming and quickly let off the brakes and squeezed a little throttle. The back end came down and we finished the trail section safely. Our co-pilot, who was watching outside the truck said it looked “a little scary.” If we hadn’t let off the brake perhaps it would have gone over on its side. Or maybe it would have remained stable. Either way, we weren’t about to chance it. Have we mentioned this thing costs over $200,000? On this very same section we’ve taken plenty of Wrangler Rubicons and never had that happen. Perhaps Jeep tests their 4X4s in these very conditions.
The Bottom Line
The Mercedes-Benz 4X4 Squared makes absolutely no sense. It’s hyper-expensive, weirdly capable off-road, and returns worse fuel economy than any vehicle for sale in the US. But it’s also very quick, stunningly cool to look at, and pretty fun to drive. Whatever you think of the big machine, credit goes to Mercedes-Benz for producing something that’s just so, well, bonkers.