We are terrorising the south of France. On the sinewy tarmac snaking through the prized vineyards, this two-and-a-half-tonne behemoth is lapping up everything I’m throwing at it. My co-driver and I are gobsmacked by the way it’s devouring the corners, like raging teenagers devouring Jägerbombs on a Friday night out.

The V8 snarls through the crackling side-exit exhausts, the speeds rise and fall as this 585 hp skyscraper continues to defy the laws of physics. A small town – one of the myriad spread out across the rural countryside – looms in the horizon, and I hit the brakes to avoid tripping the speed camera. And breathe.

Alright, enough pummelling the blacktop. We’re pushing for time so I swing onto the onramp and head out on the highway. Nicki Minaj isn’t usually my kind of jam, but here it feels entirely appropriate, and we cruise along to Trinidad’s finest export like a pack of new-money rappers as the sun sets behind us. We roll into the gorgeous fortress surrounding the historic city of Carcassonne with plenty of time to spare before dinner.

That’s the long and short of the new Mercedes-AMG G 63 – it makes you feel like a rockstar wherever you go, and this absolutely dominates the driving experience.

Let’s pull back a bit here, because this isn’t supposed to happen. When Mercedes-Benz drew up the G-Class as an indestructible go-anywhere military vehicle – at the behest of the Shah of Iran, no less – nearly 40 years ago, not one person would’ve expected it to end up with a thumping great V8 at the front, swathes of leather in the middle and the letters “A”, “M” and “G” at the back.

But such was the demand from Americans suffering from eight-cylinder fever, and Affalterbach’s desire to fettle everything with a three-pointed star at the front, that the G 55 AMG came into being in 1999 – thus kicking off a weird dynasty of go-faster Geländewagens that stretches until today.

This year is a particularly important one for the G-Class, as it gets a full roof-to-tyres makeover for the very first time. It may not look like it, but Stuttgart has started with a clean slate, so “all new” really means all new here. Indeed, you can count the number of parts carried over from its illustrious predecessor on one hand – the headlight washer nozzles, the door handles and the outside spare wheel cover. That’s literally it.

Break out the measuring tape and the numbers are commensurate with this assertion. The new model is 109 mm longer, 64 mm wider and 15 mm taller than before, but the most important figure is the wheelbase, which has grown by some 40 mm to 2,890 mm. Mercedes claims this offers better legroom, shoulder room and elbow room, with rear passengers in particular receiving a generous 150 mm of extra knee space.

But those figures only tell half the story. The new G-Class may still be built on a ladder frame chassis for supreme toughness and off-road capability, but the high-strength steel used in its construction is thoroughly modern. The body is also made from a mix of strong, high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels, while the bonnet, fenders and doors are hewn from aluminium.

The biggest gain is a net 55% increase in torsional rigidity to an impressive 10,162 Nm per degree. There’s also a circa-170 kg reduction in weight – massive on a regular passenger car, not so massive on a hulking SUV still weighing as much as a small moon. Still, every little bit counts, I suppose.

All this points to a much greater focus on on-road performance, and this time Mercedes-AMG has been roped in from the get-go to maximise the potential of the new underpinnings. Previously, the in-house tuner’s efforts amounted to simply throwing in its largest, meanest engines and calling it a day, but it has now developed the suspension on not just the AMG models, but the entire G-Class lineup.

To that end, the front now sits on double wishbones rather than a solid axle, and these are attached directly to the frame, rather than being affixed to a subframe. The rear still features a solid axle, but its movements are now better controlled thanks to the use of four trailing arms and a Panhard rod. Despite all this road car technology, the ground clearance has actually increased by six millimetres, to an astounding 241 mm.

And yet, for all the new metal under the skin, the new G-Class retains the boxy design that has defined it for decades, seemingly unperturbed by Mercedes’ curvaceous Sensual Purity design language. Sure, the front and rear bumpers look a lot more streamlined and cohesive now, and the much slimmer panel gaps do give it that premium look that has long evaded the G.

But the bluff front end, exposed door hinges and hilariously upright windscreen and body sides remain, with little regard to aerodynamics or fuel economy. It’s almost as if Mercedes had simply sanded off some of the rough edges on the old car, but a lot of work has been done to preserve the G-Class’ iconic look. The protruding indicators on top of the front fenders, for example, are now collapsible for better pedestrian safety.

It’s quite baffling when you see this thing in pictures, because with the round headlights – especially with the circular daytime running lights on the optional Multibeam LED units – it has a somewhat cutesy look to it, a bit like the pint-sized Suzuki Jimny. Then one rolls up right next to you and you wonder why you’ve suddenly become two feet shorter. It’s enormous, and it certainly doesn’t struggle to make itself known in the flesh.

Time to step inside, and the chunky push-button door handle emits a satisfying click (someone should make an ASMR video out of it, it’s that good) as you pull open the bank vault door, clamber onto the side steps and perch yourself onto the seat. It’s here where you really get the sense that it’s an all new vehicle, as the furniture here has been lifted straight out of Mercedes’ latest passenger car range.

As with those models, a large flatscreen display panel is front and centre, available as ever in Widescreen Cockpit format with twin 12.3-inch instrument and infotainment screens. Even though the G-Class is – here’s that term again – all new, you don’t get the A-Class‘ latest-generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system, so you’re stuck with the same old Comand interface that works well enough but isn’t a patch on BMW’s iDrive. And no, the centre display is still not a touchscreen.

Amidst all the spangly metal-effect trim, turbine-style air vents and 64-colour ambient lighting, it’s reassuring to see that the typical G-Class cues, like the individual switches for the three locking differentials (the G-Class is the only production vehicle still to have this, Mercedes says) and the passenger-side grab handle (which was a nightmare to engineer to work with the airbag, apparently), are all present and accounted for.

Better yet, the driving position has been much improved over its agricultural forebears. You still sit way too high relative to the dashboard, but there’s more room for your knees and the steering wheel is more upright and less truck-like. It’s miles more comfortable to drive than the first-generation cabriolet I also manage to spend a few minutes driving, and the big windows mean that outward visibility is excellent.

It’s still not exactly roomy at the back, however, with legroom remaining at a particular premium – an S-Class this is not. And while the boot measures a cavernous 667 litres, the big, square box you get is still trimmed more like an old 4×4 than a modern car, and worst of all, the rear seats don’t fold flat. You do get a 12-volt socket and a roll-out cargo cover, though, so there’s that.

The launch variants, the G 500 and the AMG G 63, get the latest 4.0 litre twin-turbocharged V8 that has seen service in both AMG and non-AMG models over the past few years. The variant we’re focusing on is the one we’re getting, the G 63, and here the numbers reach biblical levels – 585 hp at 6,000 rpm and a tree-pulling 850 Nm of torque from 2,500 to 3,500 rpm.

This means that this huge SUV – body-on-frame construction and all – makes more torque than the top-dog AMG GT R sports car, and the performance figures are suitably epic as a result. Even though the G 63’s top speed is limited to just 220 km/h (or 240 km/h with the AMG Driver’s Package), it blitzes the zero-to-100 km/h benchmark in a scarcely believable 4.5 seconds – just three tenths off the much smaller, much lighter A 45.

But the superlatives pale in comparison to the sensation you get behind the wheel. Flooring the throttle in the G 63 is an event unto itself – it takes about a second or so to gather itself up and grab the right gear, but then it rears up in spectacular fashion and fires itself down the road with such alarming alacrity that you’d swear it weighs half as much as it actually does.

And remember, all this happens as you’re perched high up, almost as if you’re sitting in a loft over the road – so the sense of speed is magnified tenfold. You’re simultaneously thrilled by the speed, impressed that this giant brick can actually attain that speed, and terrified that you’re gaining that speed at that height, so you can’t help but laugh hysterically as you cling on for dear life.

Of course, the V8 is as effective as ever in scaring the bejesus out of you and your fellow passengers, its wall of torque and violent power delivery stretching all the way to the redline, backed up by the thundering soundtrack and Gatling gun exhaust. The nine-speed Speedshift Plus automatic transmission also does a sterling job – not quite as smooth or as whipcrack fast as the best autos out there, perhaps, but it responds quickly enough to the paddles and crucially doesn’t get in the way of the engine’s savagery.

As you approach a corner at a substantial clip, you’ll no doubt wonder if this rolling, towering anachronism will actually make it to the other side unscathed. Thankfully, the G 63 has a few weapons in its arsenal to help it do just that – in addition to the aforementioned new chassis and suspension, it also gets AMG Ride Control adaptive dampers, AMG speed-sensitive steering and front and rear anti-roll bars.

The result of all this reengineering is that the G 63 now handles with something approaching composure and – whisper it – even verve. The ancient recirculating ball steering of yore has been jettisoned in favour of a rack-and-pinion setup with electromechanical power assistance, and the helm, while still not the last word in precision or feel, is sharper and more accurate than a bona fide off-roader has any right to be.

And once it tips into the bend, you’ll notice that this leviathan – which would struggle to slip under the two-metre height restrictors of most multi-storey carparks – exhibits reasonable control of roll and body movements, even though the slight nervousness on turn-in hasn’t been completely eradicated.

While you still need to be cautious coming into the corner, the AMG Performance 4Matic all-wheel drive – now defaulting to a rear-biased 40:60 torque split instead of the previous 50:50 ratio – provides plenty of grip, allowing you to slingshot out with remarkable ease. Put it all together and the effect is one of unbridled hilarity, as this gorilla of a vehicle covers ground at a rate that draws shock and awe from all corners.

Wring it by the scruff of its neck, and it’s easy to forget that the G-Class’ primary focus isn’t to eat up the corners, but to scale all but the most treacherous of terrain. Mercedes only allows us to try the AMG model on smooth, occasionally undulating gravel, but we do snag a go in a G 500 on some sizeable rocky outcrops that would challenge even the bravest of mountain goats.

The indomitable G takes it all in its stride, crawling up near-vertical boulders with nary a slip-up – occasionally pausing only so that we can lock the right differentials and switch on the low-range gearing. With a more road-biased suspension setup and those fat 295/40-section Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres all around, the G 63 is probably a little less capable off the beaten track, but put on a set of proper all-terrain rubber and I wouldn’t count against it doing the course just as easily.

Given all the on- and off-road prowess built into the G 63, the fact that the ride is a little busy over rough roads is excusable; it isn’t uncomfortable and it’s entirely characteristic of other AMG models. There’s also plenty of wind noise at speed, no thanks to the steep windscreen, but other than that there’s little else to fault with its rolling refinement – something that isn’t really a strong suit on most hardcore 4x4s.

At the end of the day, as you step out feeling like a champion, one thing is clear – the new G 63 is a monumental triumph. No, it still doesn’t possess the on-road driving dynamics to trouble more conventional performance SUVs, but the fact that it can now keep pace with these vehicles in the twisties and then show them a clean pair of heels when the going gets tough is no mean feat.

In recent months, I’ve given a lot of thought about whether Mercedes has lost the plot – whether it has become so obsessed about dazzling buyers with tech and big screens and bling and multicoloured lighting that it has forgotten about its peerless history of indestructible engineering. Those concerns are still valid, of course – the middle-of-the-road A-Class being a case in point.

So I approached the new G-Class with a bit of trepidation, fearing the company had either not moved the ball forward enough from the old model, or softened the big G too much to fit the tastes of a changing market. But Stuttgart has shown it still has a bit of that spirit left, and has put a lot of effort into expanding this stalwart’s already inimitable skillset whilst keeping all of its greatest strengths and every single bit of its charm.

Yes, it’s huge, loud, prohibitively expensive, flashier than all the Birkin bags in the world and swills fuel like there is absolutely no tomorrow. But those in the market for a G-Class won’t care about any of that – they want a G-Class, and this one is better and more capable than ever before. Stronger than time? You bet.

The Mercedes-AMG G 63 has been launched in Malaysia, priced at RM1,464,888 on-the-road without insurance. Browse full specifications and equipment on CarBase.my.



GALLERY: 2019 Mercedes-AMG G 63 official photos
GALLERY: 2019 Mercedes-AMG G 63 launched in Malaysia