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Beating sand in the 6-wheel-drive Mercedes G-Wagen

There is now a G63 AMG with six wheels, just because.

By AutoWeek Mar 1, 2013 10:55AM




What is it?

The largest and arguably most extreme SUV to ever hail from Mercedes-Benz passenger car operations -- the lunatic 536-hp, six-wheel G63 AMG 6x6.


Set to be produced on a limited basis at Magna Steyr's operations in Graz, Austria, this fall, the colossal pickup started life as a six-wheeled military version of the G320 CDI created for the Australian army and is use since 2011.


The plush, leather-lined civilian version is designed to appeal to some of Mercedes-Benz's most affluent clientele. It comes with a four-seat cabin, six driven wheels, low range gearing, five differential locks and a tire-control system for its standard 37-inch wheels, providing what the German car maker bills as "the last word in forward thrusting power for the beaten track."


Pricing hasn't been announced, but the head of G-class development, Axel Harries, suggests the G63 AMG 6x6 will be Mercedes-Benz's second most-expensive model behind the new $457,000 (350,000 euros) SLS Electric Drive. Sales officially begin in October.


Mercedes G63 AMG 6x6 (c) Autoweek

There are five differential locks on this rig.



Unlike the military version, which is fitted with Mercedes-Benz's 3.0-liter V6 diesel, the G63 AMG 6x6 gets a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 with 536 hp. Torque is a solid 560 lb-ft and is crucial in providing the shove required to haul the truck's 8,322-pound curb weight.

Another significant change is the adoption of Mercedes-Benz's 7G-tronic seven-speed automatic transmission in place of the old NAG1 five-speed automatic used on the military version.


The truck has a transfer case capable of channeling drive between a 0.87:1 high-range ratio for on-road driving and 2.16:1 low-range ratio for off-road conditions to all six wheels in a nominal 30:40:30 split. The power take-off for the rear-most axle is by way of an extra drive shaft. There are five electronic differential locks offering 100 percent lockup of all six wheels, operated by three switches on the dashboard.


At the ends of each axle are the massive 37-inch wheels featuring a bead-plate design. They are shod with 12.5-inch-wide wheels.


At 231.3 inches long, 83.1 inches wide and 87.0 inches tall, the G63 AMG 6x6 is 43.5 inches longer, 8.9 inches wider and 10.7 inches taller than the G63 AMG SUV.


Ground clearance is a whopping 18.1 inches while the fording depth is 39.3 inches -- some 9.8 inches and 15.7 inches more than its standard sibling. At the same time, the approach and departure angles have been increased by 16 degrees and 27 degrees at 52 degrees and 54 degrees, respectively, while the breakover angle has increased by 1 degree at 22 degrees.


The truck's cargo bed continues the luxury theme, trimmed in polished bamboo. But beware, the maximum payload capacity is put at a somewhat disappointing 1,433 pounds. Structural strengthening comes via a stainless-steel roll cage.


What's it like to drive?


Mercedes G63 AMG 6x6 (c) AutoweekFuel economy is somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 mpg on the European test cycle.



A blast, at least in the wide-open space of the Dubai desert, where the G63 AMG 6x6 has sufficient room to strut its stuff. We're not sure how it would fare running down to the shopping mall on a Saturday morning to collect the groceries, but there's no doubt you'd be noticed. And really, that's what this new Mercedes-Benz is all about.


That said, it's more than just show. The early prototype we drove was well engineered -- as complete from a technical standpoint as you'd expect any model from Mercedes-Benz, whose first deliveries are planned to get under way in just six months.


But before we got behind the wheel, we were taken for a wild ride over the dunes by a Mercedes-Benz test driver, who fired the big pickup across the sand at breakneck speeds before performing a round of donuts on a dry lake bed to prove just how well engineered the G63 AMG 6x6 really is. The fact that it was originally conceived for military use helps, of course. The big surprise is just how well refined it is, both mechanically and in terms of how it goes, stops and handles. 


Mercedes G63 AMG 6x6 (c) AutoweekThe Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6x6 includes a truck bed for hauling cargo.



It's a big climb, but once you've heaved yourself up on to the substantial step plate and introduced your backside to the leather-lined comfort of the truck's heavily contoured sport seat you discover a cabin that is little changed from the standard G63 AMG.

The upright driving position is decidedly old school, as is the steeply angled windshield and shallow dashboard. But it all affords great forward vision with those traditional indicators mounted atop the front fenders acting as positioning points. Less well resolved, however, is the rear vision, which is hampered by the tall rear seat backs and a small two-piece sliding window.


Reflecting its luxury billing, there's a liberal covering of Alcantara throughout, and the standard three-across rear bench seat is replaced by two individual leather lined AMG sport seats. They get electronic backrest adjustment and are divided by a rear center console.


There's an engaging blare through the four sidepipes that exit underneath the rear doors as you hit the starter button to fire the engine, lending the big Mercedes-Benz an eager demeanor before it has even turned a wheel. Blip the throttle and it squats on its springs like a true muscle car.


Once under way, the G63 AMG 6x6 proves remarkably easy to drive. It may have been conceived for the rough and tumble of the Australian outback, but the conversion for civilian use gives it a straightforward nature together with level of comfort you'd hardly expect from such an extreme looking machine.


In the dunes of the Dubai desert where we drove it this week, the G63 AMG 6x6 felt every bit as invincible as it looks. Those big tires work in concert with the complex driveline to provide plenty of traction, allowing you to accelerate away from standstill with great urgency and cruise at typical highway speeds on narrow, sandy tracks without any great trepidation. 


Mercedes G63 AMG 6x6 (c) AutoweekLarge storage tanks hold air to reinflate the tires.



The heady torque of the engine combines with the traction-enhancing qualities of the six-wheel-drive system to deliver impressive speed, even in deep sand.

Mercedes-Benz isn't prepared to quote official acceleration claims just yet, but Harries indicates the production version will be capable of running 0-62 mph in less than six seconds. Top speed, limited by the balloon-like tires, is electronically governed to 100 mph.


Given room to move, the G63 AMG 6x6 motors along with great authority, providing surprisingly stability that's far better than the regular G63 AMG. You also experience much less vertical movement through the suspension, resulting in a terrifically smooth ride even in the worst terrain.


There is good deal of lean in corners, but body movements are superbly controlled thanks to a unique spring and damper package.


Fuel consumption? Again, Mercedes-Benz has yet to publish any official figures, but we're told it will be in the region of 13 mpg on the European test cycle. It's good that the G63 AMG 6x6 is planned to come with two fuel tanks with a combined capacity of 42 gallons.

The prototype's vague hydraulically operated steering system, geared at a lazy 3.4 turns lock-to-lock, needs some fine-tuning to make it better suited to the big tires.

But even when confronted with steep dunes and daunting sink holes, the truck managed to take it all in stride, powering on with terrific determination and a wonderful baritone exhaust note.


When the conditions become really tough, its excellent wheel articulation and myriad differential lock combinations ensured it kept all six wheels firmly planted on the ground for impressive progress. An onboard compressor with four separate high-pressure air tanks fitted along the sides of the underbody allow you to adjust the tire pressure, taking just 20 seconds to increase from a sand-friendly 7.3 psi up to the 26 psi required for on-road use.


Do I want to buy one?


Mercedes G63 AMG 6x6 (c) AutoweekRear passengers in the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6x6 get comfy seats and a center console.



You could argue long and hard about the merits or otherwise of the G63 AMG 6x6. However, one thing holds true: It is a fun thing to drive and hugely capable in the right conditions.


But with a price tag more than three times that of the G63 AMG, it is going to be a super exclusive proposition for all but the mega-rich.


Right now, Mercedes-Benz is looking at an annual run of between 20 and 30 trucks per year. But if the interest it stirred during our time in Dubai was any indication, that's not going to be enough. Not when members of the Dubai royal family, who showed up during Autoweek's exclusive drive, get their way.


-- Greg Kable

 

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3Comments
Mar 1, 2013 11:52AM
avatar

I'll take mine in OD green.

 

I'm wondering about the diff locks. You have three driven axles and the transfer case diff. If my math is correct, that's four. What's the fifth for? Warp drive?

 

And they are 37" tall TIRES, not wheels.

 

I see this mistake time and time again here. Is the difference between tires, wheels, and rims really that hard?  The TIRE is the black round rubber thing that mounts to the WHEEL. The RIM is where the bead of the tire seats on the wheel. 

Mar 2, 2013 2:15AM
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Paris Hilton, meet your new runabout.
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