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Test Driving the 2024 Mercedes-Benz G550 with Its Last V8 Engine


The current “G-Wagen” is the evolution of what began as a military vehicle. Originally known as the Geländewagen (“all-terrain vehicle” in German), the rugged SUV has been made for civilian use since 1979. Now, beloved by rappers and affluent suburban housewives, the G-Wagen has become a status symbol, a significant departure from its utilitarian origins. You’re far more likely to see a pristine G-Wagen slowly rolling through a Starbucks drive-thru than one caked in mud up to its windows.

Yet Mercedes-Benz still doesn’t compromise on the G-Wagen’s tremendous power and off-road capabilities. The biggest change for the boxy big boy will come in 2025. Shy of the top trim, twin-turbo V8, 577-horsepower G63 AMG, the G550 with 416 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque stands alone as the last V8-powered G-Wagen for 2024. Next year, the brand will migrate to a 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-6 + a 48-volt mild hybrid setup that delivers more horsepower but less torque. Unsurprisingly, the impetus behind this change is the increasingly stringent emissions regulations imposed on automakers. Output for the G550 will jump to 442 horsepower, but torque will drop by 37 to 413 lb-ft.

Credit: Amos Kwon

I got behind the wheel of this dying V8 breed, in the form of the $143,000 (base MSRP) G550 with the wallet-imploding $23,350 G Professional Package that adds details like 18-inch matte black wheels shod with all-terrain tires, a roof rack with access ladder, a black brush guard, and even a schmancy cherry wood luggage floor for the cargo area. That last feature seems at odds with the rugged bits, but you’ll get it once you see the diamond-quilted red leather interior. I would’ve traded the wood deck for a bonafide snorkel to complement the G550’s impressive 27.6-inch water fording depth. It was not to be.

You’d never guess it, but the G-Wagen was redesigned back in 2019. Hardly anyone noticed, of course, because Mercedes wanted to keep the iconic boxy shape and classic silhouette that made the G-Wagen what it is today. They did give it slightly bigger exterior dimensions, a new LED headlight system, and a wholly new interior that kept with the spirit of its predecessor but modernized virtually everything. Thankfully, the G-Wagen has kept its body-on-frame construction, three locking differentials, rifle bolt door locks, and those bank vault doors that require more closing force than most average humans manage on the first try.

Nothing on the road (or off) looks quite like the G-Wagen, and the G550 with the dark G Professional Package looks more apocalypse-ready than the bling-y G53 AMG, especially with the downsized (18” versus the stock 19”) and all-terrain rubber. The black body trim, the matte black metal hardware on the front, rear, and the roof notch up the aggressiveness over the normally silvery bits. The slab sides, prominent fender lips, and the flat glass all over made our G550 anathema to the company’s electric and lozenge-shaped EQS SUV. No matter the trim, the G-Wagen has more street presence than almost everything in the Merc stable, except for the supercar-like AMG-GT Coupe.

Credit: Amos Kwon

The famously heavy doors and the rifle bolt door locks are something else. The good news is that no one Gen Z or younger will be able to figure out how to open the doors on the first try. They’re wonderfully mechanical, and the sheer notion of having to push the bolts deep and hard to open the door will have people scratching their heads waiting for a non-existent sensor in the handle to work. The interior of the G550 is luxurious, but also sticks with tons of physical knobs and buttons like an old-school SUV. Hell, that big infotainment screen doesn’t even respond to touch. You have to use the control wheel on the center console, just one more reason why I love the G550. It strives to keep things simple in an age of overly complex in-car tech.

Credit: Amos Kwon

That’s not to say the nearly $200,000 price tag doesn’t provide some real luxury. The bright red diamond-quilted leather seats are both posh and nicely bolstered. The matching red leather door cards, brushed and knurled aluminum, matte wood, turbine vents, and the insanely fancy cherry wood luggage deck remind you that this G-Wagen is also pretty good at showing off its wares. Front occupants get ample head and legroom, while the rear passengers get a comfy bench seat but a snug-feeling 39.5 inches of legroom, especially if the front seats are pushed back.

Credit: Amos Kwon

All of this rugged capability and juxtaposed luxury will remain for the G550 in 2025 but the burbly turbocharged V8 engine will not, and that’s just wrong. Yes, we get that Merc’s hand is being forced by emissions regulations, but some of the spirit of the G-Wagen will be lost when the mill changes to that turbo inline six + mild hybrid setup. You can only understand this behind the wheel (with the windows down), and you don’t even have to mash the gas hard to get the sound and the fury. The G550’s V8 engine is a marvel, delivering aural and tactile delights that can’t be replaced by an engine that’s down two cylinders. A G550 doesn’t have to be insanely quick, which it already is and will be even more so with the new powertrain. But it does, at least in my book, need to feel and sound like the monster that it is. I can’t imagine that this feeling will remain next year.

The G550 gets off the line and down the straight like a locomotive that belongs in an asylum. 60 mph arrives in 5.5 seconds. That’s ludicrous given its 5,554-lb curb weight. The V8 sound startles everyone within earshot, but it’s so sonorous it should be quickly forgiven. The 2025 G550 will supposedly rocket to 60 in 5.3 seconds, but we prematurely argue that the quicker acceleration by a scant 0.2 seconds won’t come close to making up for the loss of the V8. Will the G-Wagen’s character be bred right out of the thing? No, not completely, but it will be palpable through your eardrums and the seat of your pants. I get it, everything is going smaller displacement, hybrid, electric, whatever. Almost no high-performance vehicle will escape the wrath of the lesser, but for now, I just want to bask in the excess that the G550 is, and it is wonderful.