Clambering over moss-clad stones and slogging down slippery embankments, we slowly meander onward, turbo spool and throaty exhaust notes the only noises to be heard over the clattering of limestone beneath our wheels. Somewhere toward the top of the summit, a red-tailed hawk shrieks a warning, as our lead vehicle winds its way northward over the ridge. It was a great day to go wheelin’ in a quarter-million dollar SUV, and by Zeus’ beard did it seem just as happy to be out in the wild as we were.
For all intents and purposes, we might as well have been in the heart of Germany’s Black Forest, what with the amount of canopy coverage, mist, moss, and mountain around us. The Dirty Turtle off-road park in northern Kentucky features 270 acres of trails and endless off-road challenges, and with the guys from All-Terrain Outfitters serving as lead recovery vehicle/spotters, we were ready to put the 4×4² incarnation of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen through its paces.
While the majority of the general public either gasped in disgust or applauded the sight of our oversize German loaner, close friends stood slack-jawed upon learning that yes, we would indeed be taking this quarter-million dollar SUV off-roading. Naturally, we ignored hater and disbeliever alike, testing the G550 4×4² as both a daily driver and as a mudslinging, Biturbo steamroller.
Built to be about as badass and brutish as it gets, the last hoorah for the outgoing generation of the G-Wagen is an exercise in extremism and simplicity. Loaded with cabin opulence and reinforced with Unimog underpinnings, this demilitarized G-Wagen is arguably one of the most rewarding trucks money can buy — assuming one has a whole heck of a lot of it.
Outfitted with everything from carbon-fiber fender flares to adjustable KW dual-tube coilover suspension, the 4×4² is packaged to both look and perform the part of presumptuous power player. Unfortunately, being that the majority of people who might purchase one of these beasts are far more prone to gallivanting around town than learning how to sequentially engage the G’s lockers, the first portion of our review will remain reserved for street driving impressions.
On the road and in urban environments, the 4×4² towers over the majority of its vehicular compatriots. Yet despite its notable lift, hulking size and unavoidable steering slack, once you grow accustomed to this G’s 7-foot 4-inch height and almost identical breadth, commanding it becomes incredibly simple. Just be sure to remember that there’s a reason why this tank is “squared,” and that most parking decks will not accommodate it, so searching for adequate parking may take a little time.
And we’re not kidding when we say simple. There is no head-up display or drive settings for one to toggle. Hell, there isn’t even cruise control on this thing — just brake and gas pedals, a steering wheel and some fancy alloy switches for various climate and driving needs. The driver controls follow the same philosophy as the straight lines of G’s body. It’s an incredibly simplified, old-school approach to piloting an automobile, a breath of fresh air for weekend warriors.
Off-roading in such extremes while enjoying the amenities of a $250,000 Mercedes-Benz feels like flossing with Persian silk threads. Name the hill climb from that day and this monster bested it, all while ventilated seats cooled our posteriors and Mozart coated our eardrums in symphonic bliss.
Boasting a reinforced front skid plate, portal axles, ported and tucked exhaust piping on both sides and a solid stainless Mansfield bar out back, there’s a lot to like about this G if standard off-road appeal is your thing. Wheel articulation, breakover points, power-folding side mirrors, low range settings, and 18 inches of clearance all make the 4×4² an extremely formidable off-road machine, one that delivers burbling exhaust notes every time you mash the gas.
The only snags encountered during our nearly five-hour off-road test was the vehicle’s turning radius, having to constantly fret over the SUV’s broad 86.2-inch width and ground clearance issues with the Mansfield bar out back, plus a lack of grip from the Pirelli Scorpion All-Terrain tires during hill climbs. And a bit of nitpicking: There also a few times when a front-mounted undercarriage camera would have come in handy when cresting hilltops, especially when safe spotter positions are unobtainable.