x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mercedes' G 63 AMG is quite possibly the maddest SUV on the planet

The Mercedes GLK is the sensible brother to the mad G 63 AMG, which is liable to be a hit in the UAE.

A mainstay in the Middle East market, Mercedes' G 63 AMG has a luxury cabin to rival any manufacturer and a bonkers 5.5L V8 engine that appeals to the more feral part of people's nature. Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz
A mainstay in the Middle East market, Mercedes' G 63 AMG has a luxury cabin to rival any manufacturer and a bonkers 5.5L V8 engine that appeals to the more feral part of people's nature. Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Another switchback completed and I'm confronted by a sight few men ever want to see. Across the road ahead of me are at least 15 sweaty men in Lycra, one of whom is bending over in a vague attempt to unravel the chain that his svelte racing bicycle seems keen to have shed.

As I zip by, a few turn their heads in anger at all the noise I'm making, but more than a few look in wonder as a two-and-a-half-tonne 4x4, with the aerodynamics of a brick, thunders sportily off into the middle distance.

This could only be the Alps in May and I can only be driving what is best described as the maddest SUV on the planet; the 5.5L V8-powered Mercedes G 63 AMG.

They say a good chin makes a beautiful face, so perhaps a good set of mountains makes a pretty good-looking country. Either way, the Swiss part of the Alps in bright sunshine is tough to beat. I could be on the set of Heidi, but it feels more like Death Race 2000, as the incredible sound from the G-Wagen's side exit exhausts rattle the sheep and cuckoo clock makers for miles around.

The day had started well, with a late breakfast and briefing, before heading out to drive the new Mercedes GLK. Our goal was lunch on the French side of the border and a chance to rattle some teeth with the G-Wagons. That's quite an incentive to get across the Alps, so the GLKs were pushed perhaps a little harder than usual.

Launching the GLK and then offering journalists the chance to drive the G 63 is a bit like buying everyone a nice lunch and then Wagyu beef for dinner. All minds will be focused on the tasty cow.

The GLK is awkward - there's no other way to say it. The bonnet is far too low for an SUV and gives it the look of a saloon with an overinflated cabin. There's no getting away from that and it spoils what is otherwise a truly good car. The GLK has a lovely interior and drives very nicely indeed. In fact, the driving experience is only let down by the lifeless electronic steering. It also has great visibility, a very nice driving position and there's a fair bit of room in the back, so fitting in the family won't be a worry.

Under that low bonnet, you can opt for a range of engines, but the 3.5L V6 petrol version is the one that most Gulf buyers will opt for. My question about there being an AMG version of the GLK gets a firm "no" from the men in suits.

After a lunch on top of the Alps, gazing at one of the best views I've ever enjoyed a salad with, it's time to head down the mountain to the waiting G-Wagens (and the hordes of Tour de France wannabes). The trip from the top to the bottom is only about a kilometre but, in true alpine style, it's straight down and the only form of transport short of a base jump is the local cable car.

Safely back at the bottom, our hotel and a gaggle of G-Wagens await. I can't help thinking that this car shouldn't exist. It shouldn't be able to do what it does. But it does and it can. It might all be a bit silly, but it really is a feat of engineering and I am more than happy to spend the day throwing one at the Alps.

The G-Wagen is, of course, the choice of many of the GCC's Royal families and a true sign of status across the region. In fact, they've been a favourite for so long that it's hard to imagine the roads of the UAE without them. Unlike other countries, most Gs here wear the AMG badge, whereas back in Europe, the few you see on the roads tend to be of the more subtle G 500 flavour.

Although most Gulf drivers wouldn't know it, there's actually a whole range of G-Wagens, including diesels, a stripped-out utility version called the "Professional", and even a convertible one. But it's the 63 that everyone wants. Mercedes has brought along a G 65 AMG for us to look at, but the V12 version doesn't have that same exhaust note and is actually only fractionally quicker, despite boasting an extra four cylinders. Shame they didn't let us drive it.

Back on the mountain road, the AMG sounds like a Spitfire on full chat. Perhaps that should be a Messerschmitt, but you get the picture. If you've heard an SLS going for it, you'll know the sound I'm talking about.

The Lycraists (or cyclists, depending on your standpoint), are long gone, but the brutal acceleration hasn't. I'm sure the 63 could move the world off its axis if you could hook it up somewhere appropriate, such is the force pushing you back into the seat. This car shouldn't exist, but it does and I for one am very pleased about that.

In truth, the G 63 is actually quite compromised. It is simply impossible to make something of this weight handle like a sports car, and despite a good effort by the Mercedes technicians, the car loves to understeer when pushed. Give it a tight corner and, unfortunately, it'll try to go straight. In the Alps, that usually equates to a long drop, so caution is definitely the watchword here.

The gearbox is also quite obviously protecting itself, with slow, protracted shifts, ensuring all cogs are in the right place, before unleashing the engine's brutal power on them. On that note, the G 63 produces 760Nm of torque and will use all its 544hp to hit 100kph in just 5.4 seconds. Top speed is limited to 210kph. What is even more incredible than the performance figures is the level of luxury in the cabin. The seats are firm and yet comfortable, the dash clear and concise. Everything is, of course, fully electric. There's even heaters and air conditioning built into the seats. Unfortunately, there's only heating in the rear seats for now but I'm sure the tech guys are working on that as you read.

The finish is excellent and up there with any of the top luxury car makers. Just running your hand across the Alcantara roof lining is a joy in itself. I decide to hand the car back before my touching and feeling starts to get a bit embarrassing.

I can't see the GLK selling well in the UAE. The GLK is too small and has very little road presence when compared with the big boys. That's a real shame as it's great to drive, extremely well built and a nice place in which to spend a few hours. With a bit of metalwork and a blowtorch, I think I could have a good go at raising up that bonnet and we'd be all set. But as it is, I can't see it moving in large volumes here.

The flip side to that is the bonkers G-Wagen. Forget the other models, as almost everyone will opt for the G 63, even over the G 65. The region hasn't been too kind to 12-cylinder engines when an eight is on offer, and I think that trend will continue.

The interesting thing is that the GLK is in so many ways a better car than the G 63. It makes sense, isn't too mad and is excellent at doing what it does. No one in his or her right mind should buy a G 63 over a GLK, but I would and you would, too.

As the Lycra men on the mountain prove, we're not all as sane as we might look.