Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG is square throwback

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The unusual-looking Mercedes-Benz G-Class sport utility vehicle, tested in G63 AMG form, includes modest design changes for 2013.

It has more luxury touches and a more powerful V-8, and it puts passengers at such seat heights that they tower over traffic – though gas mileage is another matter entirely.

Even the old Hummer SUVs that fuel-conscious drivers loved to hate years ago didn’t have the awesome 544 horsepower and whopping 560 foot-pounds of torque that come with the top-of-the-line G63 AMG.

This translates into a government fuel rating of 12 mpg in city driving and 14 mpg on the highway, though the test G63 AMG managed just 10 mpg in city driving and 12.1 mpg in mixed city/highway travel.

With just 1,330 sold in the United States last year, the swaggering G-Class vehicles are not seen much on our roads. Still, their road presence, the intoxicating exhaust sounds of the bi-turbo V-8 and the sumptuous alcantara-and leather-clad interior make these vehicles unforgettable.

They rank as the highest-priced SUVs from Mercedes-Benz. The base G550 with 388-horsepower V-8 has a starting price, including destination charge, of $113,905. The starting price for a G63 AMG is $135,205.

All G-Class models come standard with seven-speed automatic transmission, trendy light-emitting diode running lamps, blind spot assist, and front and rear parking sensors with rearview camera.

Where competitors such as the Porsche Cayenne and Lexus LX look like the more mainstream SUVs, the G-Class retains an old, utilitarian and quirky appearance.

The G-Class isn’t rounded and aerodynamic, for example. It has upright side windows and an upright windshield with a small amount of glass area. The metal pillars at the sides of the windshield are much narrower than those in other SUVs, so they don’t block views the way they do in other SUVs. But the upright side windows also mean it can take some getting used to seeing reflections of the driver, passengers and dashboard appear on the side window glass in certain daylight and at night.

There is a big climb up to get inside, so the side rails, set next to the shiny and illuminated door sills, got lots of use, as did the big handles at each doorway.

Each leather-trimmed front seat had more than eight controls, including bolster and lumbar controls, to make it eminently comfortable. Passengers sit upright, in chairlike fashion, so front-seat legroom is an amazing 52.5 inches.

Back-seat cushions were shorter than expected, but there was good support, a nearly flat floor and 41.9 inches of legroom.

The G-Class does not offer third-row seating, and although the test G63 AMG topped out at more than $137,000, it did not include rear-seat entertainment.

The SUV had awesome engine sounds that were readily heard inside the passenger compartment because the tailpipes – two on each side – protruded from just below the step rails at the back of the rear doors. These side exhausts were shiny silver-color and provided a race-car look that’s not expected on an SUV.

The big, 5.5-liter, double-overhead-cam, bi-turbo V-8 bristled with power and came to life quickly. It also managed slower, city traffic well without requiring the driver to tap the brake pedal often.

The 25.4-gallon gasoline tank didn’t take long to empty, however, and premium fuel is required. There is a 5.3-gallon reserve tank, too.

The seven-speed transmission shifted smoothly in leisurely travel. Upshifts were noticeable during aggressive driving, and the driver can select sport mode, manual without a clutch pedal or eco, which automatically shut down the engine at stoplights to save fuel.

The G-Class is a capable and durable off-roader, with healthy ground clearance, three differential locks and a low range transfer case for rugged terrain.

Four-wheel drive is always engaged.

SPECS

THE VEHICLE: 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG, a front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger, large sport utility vehicle

BASE PRICE: $113,000 for G550; $134,300 for G63 AMG

DESTINATION CHARGE: $905

PRICE AS TESTED: $137,505

ENGINE: 5.3-liter, double overhead cam, bi-turbo, 90-degree V-8 producing 544 horsepower

TRANSMISSION: Seven-speed automatic

EPA MILEAGE: 12 mpg city, 14 mpg highway

TOP SPEED: 130 mph

LENGTH: 184.5 inches

WHEELBASE: 112.2 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 5,622 pounds

BUILT IN: Austria

OPTIONS: Designo package, $2,300

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