2019 Mercedes-Benz G550 Review: Daimler’s Retro-Looking SUV Status Symbol Goes Modern

Take note, everyone reading this: The 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class, née Geländewagen, sets a record that will surely never be broken among modern automobiles. This famously right-angled SUV replaces a model whose basic parts trace back 40 years. Even a Corvette, at its complacent peak, only went 14 years between full redesigns (1968-1982). Design studies for the G-Wagen go back even further, to wooden (rather than clay) models in 1973 that envisioned a militaristic off-roader that adventurous civilians might also favor.

Officially, the U.S. didn’t see its first G-Wagen until 2002. But gray market sales at six-figure price tags and that pillbox-on-wheels style had already made it a favorite among Americans who happily overpay for handmade designer goods with a great backstory. As The Drive contributor Brett Berk aptly noted, a G-Class is like a vintage Macintosh tube amp or a Purdey shotgun (I’ll add Patek Philippe watches to that list): It’s something you buy because of what that product says about you, or the way its authentic design and analog function speaks to you.

Of course, you also buy it because you can: For too many people, a G-Wagen is purely about badge status or spending a ton of cash, as evidenced by super-frivolous versions, including an all-new AMG G63 (starting from $148,495) that supplies 577 horsepower through a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, good for a 4.4-second assault from 0-60 mph. Unsurprisingly, more than half of G-Glass buyers have opted for mega-dollar AMG ones—a higher percentage than for any other Mercedes car or SUV.

She'll be comin' round the mountain...

But enough ancient history. Say hello to the 2019 G550—an SUV whose armor-like body fans will instantly recognize, but whose driving experience they won’t recognize at all. I realize the old model set a low bar for performance on pavement, but still, it’s incredible to bend a G-Class into a turn and feel like it’s not going to tip over. It’s also amazing to go over big bumps in a G-Class, and not have the steering wiggle and jiggle and threaten to redirect you into the next lane. (The old G had a archaic recirculating-ball design, invented in 1939 at GM’s Saginaw Steering Division.) This Mercedes basically skips four decades in terms of its ride, handling and comfort. Consider it Mercedes-Benz's in-house resto-mod, with a nostalgic body over a modern chassis and technology, delivering the best of both worlds.

G550 in its natural element. No, not Beverly Hills

And though I didn’t get a chance to go four-wheeling during my week with the Benz, the G-Class hasn’t sacrificed any off-road chops; it still offers a steel ladder frame, low-range four-wheel-drive, three locking differentials, and soaring suspension travel at all four corners. Ground clearance actually rises, including 10.6 inches beneath the lifted, newly independent front axle; approach, departure and breakover angles are improved; and the 4x4 crawling mode gets an even-lower gear ratio. A new “G-Mode” setting activates when you select low range or lock any differential via the familiar metal dash buttons, and adjusts the steering, throttle, adaptive dampers and transmission accordingly.

As brutally tested on the Schöckl—the local mountain near the G-Glass factory in Graz, Austria—the G-Wagen can easily climb or descend a 50-degree incline, or a more gut-wrenching (to me) 35-degree sideways slope. It can ford 27.6 inches of water—perfect for the day South Beach finally goes under—by automatically diverting air intake to a secondary channel mounted behind headlamps. Like a Rubicon-rated Jeep, the Mercedes flaunts those bona fides with a Schöckl badge, mountd below the B-pillar.

G550, harborside in Brooklyn

For city slickers who favor the G-Glass, the real breakthroughs include modern, variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering, an independent double-wishbone front suspension (replacing the old solid axle), and a roomier interior whose luxury finally befits the six-figure price. (At $125,495, the G550’s base price actually outstrips Mercedes’s equivalent flagship sedan, the S560, by about $24,000.)

Since the New York area is lousy with G-Classes, it was easy for me to find a departing version at the curb for a little compare-and-contrast. The fresh model is nearly five inches wider, about two inches longer, and rides a 1.6-inch longer wheelbase. Mercedes has reworked the grille and its three-point star, smoothed out some sheetmetal, including the formerly rippled hood, and panel gaps are tighter. Round headlamps remain, but they’re now full LED units, including an attractive ring of daytime diodes that fades out simultaneously whenever headlamps glow to life. But signature elements remain, including the protective bull bar up front, the charming, bus-like turn indicators atop flat fenders, and the exposed spare tire out back. Naturally, Mercedes didn’t touch the old-school, pushbutton-and-latch doors, lest it face a torch-wielding mob of G-Wagen fans. And those doors close with the satisfying ka-chunk—think of an industrial walk-in fridge—of the original.

New cabin definitely says

Expanded dimensions and a reworked chassis pay off with a more-livable cabin. The rear seat is (finally) habitable for adults, with 5.9 inches more legroom. There’s appreciably more elbow and shoulder room front and rear. You even get two actual cupholders in front, rather than the former sad little Nerf-basketball-hoop for the passenger’s beverage. A largely hand-built cabin also makes room for a boatload of Benz luxury, including the lovely Widescreen Cockpit—for some reason, an $850 option—which sandwiches a pair of 12.3-inch displays under bonded glass. Striking, turbine-style metal air vents mimic the headlamps’ shape.

My G-Unit kicked things up a notch with a $12,200 Exclusive Interior package, including one of several available Designo treatments; mine contrasted diamond-pattern “Macchiato Beige” leather with natural walnut, a fine match for the eggplant-colored exterior. The Exclusive package’s multi-adjustable seats featured some of the most robust, magic-fingered massagers in the industry. That package also gift-wraps the short, shelf-like dashboard in a beautifully fitted layer of Nappa leather. The passenger grab handle looks fit for a pricey attaché, faced with wood veneer and trimmed in more leather.

Gotta love those handles

A downside is that, like a Jeep Wrangler, the G550 still isn’t an especially practical SUV. (An upside is that the Mercedes is shorter than it first appears, making it easy to park). Even with the expanded rear seat, lanky types may be asking front occupants to slide up a few inches. I drove to dinner with my girlfriend and her elderly parents, and I cringed a bit as they gamely helped each other climb into the Benz and back out again. Rear seats are set higher than the cargo area, so there’s no semblance of a flat cargo floor when they’re folded. Fuel economy is still terrible, as you’d expect from this aerodynamic brick with permanent four-wheel-drive: The EPA rates it at 13/17 mpg in city and highway, and I saw 14 mpg overall.

Raised second row means no flat load floor with seats folded

Of course, those practical demerits are the price you pay for having a hardcore 4x4. And for the first time, the G-Class’s Olympian off-road abilities don’t utterly compromise the experience on-road, where most owners will be spending 99 percent of their time. The G-Class and its stellar powertrain now feel like they’re on speaking terms, rather than fighting each other. The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 brings 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, and it’s exactly right for this application, delivering a confident 5.6-second charge to 60 mph, accompanied by an exhaust blat that’s forceful without being excessive. The old seven-speed transmission makes way for Benz’s nine-speed paddle-shifted automatic that brings smoother gear changes and a wider ratio spread.

Widescreen Cockpit brings tag team of 12.3-inch screens

As noted, a major leap in steering and chassis control turn this former oaf into a credible performer. The rack-and-pinion steering banishes the obnoxious dead spot on center, and can be adjusted through Comfort, Sport and Off-Road modes. The stovepipe-tall body still leans into corners, but this SUV now takes a firm line and corners without disconcerting bobbles or course corrections. The effect isn’t sporty—a Chevy Traverse handles better, along with every car-based SUV in the Mercedes lineup—but the G-Wagen can finally stay out of its own 5,500-pound way. (That weight is actually down by about 375 pounds, thanks to more high-strength steel and aluminum in the structure.)

Bull bar and fender-topping turn indicators are signature elements; LED headlamps are new

With about $14,500 in options aboard, my G550 reached $140,105. Yeah, that’s a lot. But where the Mesozoic-era model was indefensibly overpriced, especially in AMG trim, the new G550—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—seems almost fair by the standards of high-zoot SUVs. Look, a short-wheelbase Range Rover V-8 starts at $106,000, just $19,000 below this G-Class. The Rover represents a better value overall—as does Mercedes’s three-row GLS-Class, but both (and the GLS in particular) are as staid and suburban. Then you’ve got a Bentley Bentayga V-8 from $165,000 (or $200,000 in W-12 guise), a Lamborghini Urus for $200,000, or a Rolls-Royce Cullinan for $325,000. Those are all base prices, mind you—a far cry from what these ultra-luxury SUV's really cost with bespoke options. The Bentley, Rolls, and Lamborghini SUVs all have outstanding qualities, but their uninspired, hard-to-ID exterior styling isn’t among them. In contrast, people can recognize a G-Glass from a sniper's distance; it's a classic, inimitable design statement. Pull up to a valet stand alongside the Bentayga, Cullinan, and Urus, and it's the G-Wagen that will draw the most attention.

Fashion play or otherwise, modernized G-Class seems certain to lure buyers

This G550 reminds me of the Jeep Wagoneers and International Harvesters my late father used to drive, only with interior luxury on par with any Range Rover, and not far off the Bentley’s mark. Price aside, if you love old-school trucks, it's impossible to drive this thing and not come away charmed. (The Kardashians will take three, but don't blame Benz for that). And one thing's certain: With the success of its 2.5-ton cash cow seemingly assured, Mercedes won't be waiting another 40 years for the next redesign.

Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence.ulrich@gmail.com.

This Near-Perfect 1973 Iso Grifo Is Bargain Priced at $475,000

A restored 1973 Iso Grifo, one of the finest supercars of its day, is on sale in New York City for a cool $475,000.

Iso was created by industrialist Renzo Rivolta, who made his fortune manufacturing refrigerators. Based in a suburb of Milan, Italy, the company manufactured scooters and the iconic Isetta three-wheeled bubble car that provided cash-strapped Europeans with transportation in the aftermath of World War II. BMW purchased the rights and tooling to the Isetta in 1954 and sold more than 160,000 of them through 1962.

The Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Grifo is decidedly rarer than that; only 412 (some say 413) were produced between 1965 and 1974. The Grifo featured open headlights and Corvette engines for most of its run, but later models, like the one featured here, had semi-covered lights and Ford powerplants. The 351-cubic-inch Cleveland V-8 puts out 350 horsepower in this Grifo, allowing for an impressive 160-mile-per-hour top speed. Some earlier Isos featuring giant 7.0-liter Chevy engines could approach 186 mph, which was almost unheard of at the time.

Decades-old Italian supercars aren't known for ease of maintenance, but basic upkeep on the Iso shouldn't be too bad, thanks to its stout muscle car heart. These were well-built and well-finished cars with strong steel frames, four-wheel disc brakes, and all-independent suspensions. Dependability, paired with a luxurious interior and large trunk made them reasonably practical for daily use. The Grifo even featured a vestigial back seat over its rear storage area suitable for the fancy pedigreed dogs of the upper class, or two of their lesser-loved children.

Finished in red with a light brown interior done in rich leather, this particular Grifo appears as-new. Its pronounced hood scoop features fine metal slats along the front and sides to let in air. The car is from the collection of designer and film producer Stuart Parr and is listed at $475,000 on the Classic Driver auction site. The seller notes the car has a new interior with Wilton carpeting, factory air conditioning, and power steering. The odometer shows 43,500 kilometers (27,029 miles).

Now, $475,000 may seem like a lot to ask, but not when you consider the stratospheric pricing achieved by contemporary competitors such as the Ferrari Daytona, of which more than 1,400 were sold. At press time, Hemmings had two Ferrari Daytonas listed for $675,000 each—a 42 percent price premium for a more "common" car.

See? The Grifo is practically a bargain.

Iso Grifo interior 351 Cleveland in Iso Grifo

JATO: Tesla, Model 3 Top Global BEV Sales Charts

Tesla was the top-selling EV maker in the world in 2018, followed by China’s BAIC and BYD, renowned data house JATO Dynamics said today in an emailed statement. JATO tracks actual registrations, as opposed to sometimes elastic data published by OEMs.

According to JATO, 230,000 Tesla cars were registered in 2018, followed by 152,000 BAIC BEVs, 95,000 made by BYD, 92,000 million by Nissan, and 64,000 by China’s Zotye. World’s best-selling BEV has been the Tesla Model 3 with 138,000 units registered, followed by 92,000 BAIC EC, and 95,000 Nissan Leaf, JATO says.

It has been occasionally suggested by parties critical to Tesla that many of its new Model 3 could be sitting unsold in lots around the country. JATO’s registration data do not bear that out. Referring to the Model 3, Tesla’s Q4 shareholder letter talked about “nearly 140,000
units sold,” which should be close enough to JATO’s 138,000.

According to JATO, 1.261 million battery electric vehicles were registered 2018 in the 54 countries JATO covers. That's up an amazing 73.5% from the 727,000 BEVs registered in 2017. Tesla's 230,000 units translate into a global BEV market share of 18%. While their sales are impressive, BEVs are far from taking over the world. The global best- seller is the sport utility vehicle. According to JATO data, nearly 30 million SUVs were registered globally in 2018. This gives the SUV a global market share of 36.4%, compared to a global BEV market share of 1.5%

Tesla, Model 3 Top 2018 Battery Electric Vehicle Sales Charts

Tesla was the top-selling EV maker in the world in 2018, followed by China’s BAIC and BYD, renowned data house JATO Dynamics said today in an emailed statement. JATO tracks actual registrations, as opposed to sometimes elastic data published by OEMs.

According to JATO, 230,000 Tesla cars were registered in 2018, followed by 152,000 BAIC BEVs, 95,000 made by BYD, 92,000 million by Nissan, and 94,000 by China’s Zotye. The world’s best-selling BEV model last year the Tesla Model 3 with 138,000 units registered, followed by 92,000 BAIC EC, and 95,000 Nissan Leaf, JATO says.

It has been occasionally suggested by parties critical to Tesla that many of its new Model 3 could be sitting unsold in lots around the country. JATO’s registration data do not bear that out. Referring to the Model 3, Tesla’s Q4 shareholder letter talked about “nearly 140,000 units sold,” which should be close enough to JATO’s 138,000.

Tesla, Model 3 Top 2018 Battery Electric Vehicle Sales Charts

Tesla was the top-selling EV maker in the world in 2018, followed by China’s BAIC and BYD, renowned data house JATO Dynamics said today in an emailed statement. JATO tracks actual registrations, as opposed to sometimes elastic data published by OEMs.

According to JATO, 230,000 Tesla cars were registered in 2018, followed by 152,000 BAIC BEVs, 95,000 made by BYD, 92,000 million by Nissan, and 94,000 by China’s Zotye. The world’s best-selling BEV model last year the Tesla Model 3 with 138,000 units registered, followed by 92,000 BAIC EC, and 95,000 Nissan Leaf, JATO says.

It has been occasionally suggested by parties critical to Tesla that many of its new Model 3 could be sitting unsold in lots around the country. JATO’s registration data do not bear that out. Referring to the Model 3, Tesla’s Q4 shareholder letter talked about “nearly 140,000 units sold,” which should be close enough to JATO’s 138,000.

Flight Instructor Draws Pair of Penises, Writes ‘I’m Bored’ in Sky Over Australia

A pilot in Adelaide, Australia is gaining worldwide attention after drawing a pair of peckers and tracing the words "I'm bored" in the sky over the coastal city this week. That's right, it's the return of the sky penis—and appropriately, this time it's from the land down under.

Just before 9am local time on Tuesday, flight trackers picked up a single-engine Diamond DA40 as it took off from Parafield Airport, a small regional facility near Adelaide. The plane flew north from the city at around 3,000 feet before cutting west across the Yorke Peninsula and continuing northward along the edge of the Spencer Gulf, where it proceeded to trace two separate outlines of male genitalia. One big, one not so big.

<a href=Link to the flight overview." />

Of course, none of this was visible to people on the ground. Pilots have learned their lesson since a U.S. Navy crew out of Whidbey Island caught hell for using their jet engine contrails to literally draw a floating penis in the sky in 2017. Since then, the tasteful art of painting privates among the clouds is done in invisible ink, showing up only on radar screens and flight tracking websites like FlightAware—which is exactly where people first noticed this pilot's handiwork.

If anyone happened to catch the live show, and watch him put the finishing flourish on that second, bigger penis, they might have wondered: Why? The answer came during his return journey as he spelled out "I'M BORED" in large capital letters on the trip back to the airport. All in all, not a bad way to kill three hours.

Perth Now reports the unnamed pilot is actually a flight instructor with a local school, and that morning he'd been assigned to fly the plane for two hours with the throttle at a specific level as part of testing a new engine. Not satisfied with his particular station that morning, he decided to have some fun and join the ranks of great sky penis painters.

"Young instructors, what can you do?" Pine Pienaar, the head of Flight Training Adelaide, told Perth Now.

For one, you can tell them to step up their game. Winging willies is a good laugh, but pilots have been known to make real artistic statements with their flight paths, especially in today's age of public-facing tracking sites. Even companies get in on the act. In 2017, Boeing used an 18-hour test flight of the 787 Dreamliner to draw an immense outline of the plane across the middle of the United States, its wingtips nearly touching the northern and southern borders. Not to be outdone, later that year an Airbus A380 test flight traced a Germany-sized Christmas tree—ornaments and all—over Europe.

Got a tip? Email the author: kyle@thedrive.com

Check Out This Red Carbon Pagani Huayra You Probably Can’t Afford

Are you the comic book arch-villain of a blue-suited superhero looking for a new set of wheels? If so, we just found the perfect car for you. Spotted for sale by Millers Motorcars in Greenwich, Connecticut is this seriously cool, red carbon Pagani Huayra. The woven, already sinister-looking exterior will look as though it's been dipped in the blood of your enemies while the optional Tempesta performance package will let your foes know you mean business.

The red theme extends into the car's cabin as well with the same red carbon being found on the steering wheel and in front of the passenger seat. Bright red leather trim and stitching are scattered across the interior. The Huayra also comes with a seven-piece, red leather luggage set. Perfect for concealing exotic bombs, mystical weapons, the heads of your victims, and other villainous paraphernalia.

In case your Italian hypercar lore is a bit rusty, the Pagani Huayra comes with a 720-horsepower, 6.0-liter, twin-turbo V-12 sourced from Mercedes-AMG. It gets from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 2.8 seconds and tops out at 238 mph. The Dallara co-developed Tempesta pack adds a lighter underbody, front splitter, rear diffuser, different and lighter aluminum wheels, tweaked aerodynamics, tweaked suspension including new four-way adjustable Ohlins, as well as a lighter exhaust system.

Millers Motorcars hasn't publicized the price of this particular car, asking prospective owners to "Call for Price" but we suspect it's one of those things where if price really is a deciding factor, don't even bother picking up the phone.

Then again, you didn't get into the supervillain game to talk to salespeople and pay full retail price for your exotic cars, now did you? If you're truly a worthy owner of a machine this devilish, I'm sure you'll be able to add this car to your collection...one way or another.

H/T: Carscoops

ViaVan Is Launching an Uber-Like, On-Demand Bus Pilot Program

ViaVan, a joint venture of mobility company Via and Mercedes-Benz Vans, will launch an on-demand bus service in London. The venture was awarded rights to operate a one-year pilot program by Transport for London (TFL), the city's transportation agency.

Riders will be able to hail ViaVan vehicles using an app, just like Uber and Lyft, but the pilot program will use 14-passenger vans in order to get more people into a single vehicle. The program will operate in the borough of Sutton, which has some of the highest rates of private-car usage in London, and is underserved by public transit, according to ViaVan. The vans won't operate on set routes; they'll pick up and drop off passengers as requested. However, vans won't stop everywhere: passengers will be directed to "virtual bus stops" for pickup to increase efficiency.

The pilot program is intended to demonstrate an alternative to private-car use, as well as conventional ride-hailing services, where a single passenger typically occupies each vehicle. ViaVan, which already operates its own shuttle service in London using Mercedes vans, was the winning bidder in a tender process organized by TFL.

London officials have sought a transportation service that provides the convenience of ride hailing, but the efficiency of public transit. The city has butted heads with Uber, temporarily suspending the American company's operating license over what officials viewed as poor safety and security practices.

Via's model of using high-capacity vans makes sense in terms of efficiency. If more people can fit in one vehicle, then fewer vehicles need to be on the road. But this type of service hasn't proven as popular with customers as Uber-style ride hailing. Ford recently shut down its U.S. Chariot shuttle service due to low demand (Via continues to operate in some U.S. cities). After all, why share a van when you can have a car to yourself?

There Are Currently 9,000 Unsold Chevrolet Corvettes Crowding Dealer Lots

Every boomer's favorite American-made sports car (also known as the seventh-generation Corvette) has officially reached its fifth production model year. As the upcoming mid-engine Corvette is nearing market availability in the second half of 2019, would-be buyers are sitting on their cash in favor of the new cars, and according to dealer-to-dealer supply data from eInventory, the result is a pile-up of unsold cars from around the country.

C7 Corvette sales as a whole seem to have peaked in 2016 and have been steadily declining since. In fact, customer-facing sales reached a new low in January 2019 after data revealed that only 800 Corvettes were sold during the entire month, a 20-percent decline from a year prior. This comes at little surprise given that General Motors isn't offering any eye-catching dealer incentives at present time despite the model nearing the end of its lifecycle.

Yet, dealers around the country continue to requisition new stock of the aging sports car in an effort to avoid having their future allocations limited.

When purchasing a Corvette, customers go through the typical new-car ordering process. If one isn't available at the dealer in the color, trim, or package that is desired, the customer can place an order to have a vehicle built to their exact specification and invoiced accordingly. However, if a constraint is placed on a particular configuration and the dealership isn't able to order enough volume to guarantee stock, the customer's order could be delayed for some period of time until the allocation can be made to the dealer.

Small dealers, in particular, are at the highest risk of being limited by constraints due to lack of competitive purchasing figures when compared to larger entities. While this may seem futile at the end of a model generation's life, it's important to note that passing up on current allocations could directly impact a dealer's availability of the C8 Corvette upon release.

Though sales are slim and inventory numbers continue to rise, GM shows no sign of ending production in the near future. Perhaps the automaker is boosting its inventory numbers while it prepares to shut down production at its Bowling Green plant in order to complete the assembly line upgrades for the next generation C8. The facility's last major shutdown occurred in the second half of 2017, rumored to be the result of C8-related plant retooling. The rumors began to hit harder when it was coupled with the news that the factory would be closed for visitors until late 2018, before the revelation that the C8 production was delayed due to electrical issues.

Aston Martin Boss Teases Project 003 Hybrid Hypercar’s Behind Via Twitter

After confirming its existence back in September 2018, Aston Martin is teasing its upcoming Project '003' once again. To recap, the mid-engined hybrid hypercar will drop in late 2021, after the Valkyrie and Valkyrie AMR Pro (hence the 003 designations). It'll feature technology trickled down directly from the Valkyrie and be limited to just 500 units worldwide.

Based on the single shot released of its backside, the 003 will feature a pair of taillights laid out horizontally, a sumptuous-looking hypercar body, and seemingly not much of a rear window. Here's the sketch released in September to give you a vague idea of what to expect from the rest of the car, appearance-wise.

The 003, whatever it ultimately ends up being called, will be built on a super lightweight structure and use a turbocharged gasoline-powered engine coupled to electric motors. Active aerodynamics and active suspension contribute to what Aston claims will be "class-leading dynamics on both road and track."

Unlike its Valkyrie predecessors, the 003 will apparently be quite practical—as practical as a hypercar can be, anyway. Aston says it's designing the car to accommodate "practical concessions to road use, including space for luggage." One suitcase-sized compartment between the seats it is, then. The 003 will also be available in both left and right-hand drive. Whether or not its well-traveled buyers can reserve one in each configuration though is unclear.

Aston Martin boss Andy Palmer said back in September, "It was always the intention for the Aston Martin Valkyrie to be a once-in-a-lifetime project, however, it was also vital to us that Valkyrie would create a legacy: a direct descendant that would also set new standards within its own area of the hypercar market, creating a bloodline of highly specialized, limited production machines that can exist in parallel with Aston Martin’s series production models."

Until the next tease, folks.