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2012 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Mercedes-Benz G-Class was new.


Performance: 7.6

Reviewers say it’s hard to beat the Mercedes-Benz G-Class off the road, but note that when it comes to city driving, few SUVs perform worse than the G-Class. As a result, the G550’s poor handling overshadows its powerful V8 engine, which reviewers say makes the G-Class a ridiculously fast SUV in a straight line. These types of complaints are common when reviewers take truck-based off-road SUVs to the pavement, and the G-Class fares even worse than other off-roaders that have been recently updated.

  • "Overbuilt and luxurious, the G550 is massively heavy, but the 382-hp V-8 engine moves it with authority.” -- Car and Driver
  • "With a body-on-frame chassis, the G-Class has never been the most nimble or agile vehicle on the road. Instead, it's most known for its off-road capabilities and sports heavy duty axles and three locking differentials, one for the front, center, and rear.” -- Motor Trend
  • "All romantic notions of saving Third World countries and/or running with the wildebeests on the Serengeti plains aside, the reality is that the very tall and very heavy G-wagen handles poorly in urban environments.” -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

The 2012 Mercedes G550 comes with a 5.5-liter V8 engine that makes 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. The G-Class puts that power to the ground via a driver-adaptive seven-speed automatic transmission and a full-time four-wheel drive system. Reviewers say that the G550’s engine has plenty of punch for off-road rock climbing and more than enough juice for running errands.

Impressive engine performance usually comes with a price, however, and the G-Class follows this rule. The G550 gets an EPA-rated 12/15 mpg city/highway, which is pretty bad even for a four-wheel drive off-road monster. If you’re looking for a tank with similar levels of luxury but more green cred, take a look at the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. It’s the only hybrid powertrain available in a luxury large SUV on the U.S. market and gets 20/23 mpg city/highway. But even though it offers an all-wheel drive model, its off-road performance pales in comparison with the G-Class.

  • "Acceleration in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz G550 is always a laugh-inducing experience; something this huge simply should not be moving so quickly.” -- Edmunds
  •  +"A strong contender in any field, the 5.5-liter seems to possess unending reserves of low-end torque that makes the G550 move as quickly and responsively as an M-Class." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "The seven-speed auto bangs through some of the shortest gear ratios I've ever encountered, and your passengers don't know whether to laugh, cry, or urinate. They'll probably do all three; I did." -- Automobile Magazine

Handling and Braking

The driving dynamics that make the G-Class such a beast off-road make it fairly terrible on the pavement, according to reviewers. Its steering is slow and heavy, which can be a pain when maneuvering in tight spaces. Its ride is decently smooth, though one reviewer says that it can get choppy over rough pavement.

  • "The G-Class is a 100-percent genuine SUV with a full-time four-wheel-drive system that features locking front, center and rear differentials. This old-school approach means the G-Class can be a chore to drive on the beaten path. The steering is slow, the handling is ponderous, the fuel economy is abysmal and the ride isn't exactly what we'd describe as plush.” -- Edmunds
  • "Wide 275/55-19 tires and an aggressive stability control system do their best to keep things in check, but the world’s least-precise steering, a short 112-inch wheelbase and a very narrow body are enough to overcome nearly everything.” -- Left Lane News
  • "The shallow dash, thin A-pillars, and upright windshield and side windows make for an unobstructed view of the road making it less scary than you'd think to park and maneuver in urban settings, although, the heavy steering can be exhausting in these same situations." -- Automobile Magazine
  • “Sluggish steering makes the G-class feel unresponsive, ride can feel choppy.” -- Car and Driver


Reviewers say that the Mercedes G-Class is possibly the most capable off-road vehicle on the market. Its standard four-wheel drive system offers three different locking differentials, in a class where most vehicles offer only one. Its boxy body and short wheelbase mean that it’s more nimble out on the trail than most other vehicles that have longer overhangs and lower ground clearance. Other off-road vehicles may offer high-tech off-road aids like hill descent control and terrain selectors, but the G-Class relies on its mechanical chops and the driver’s abilities rather than technological marvels. Most test drivers are unsure of how many G-Class owners will take this six-figure vehicle off the beaten track, though.

  • "The slow steering is a benefit in the dirt, though, as the G-Class can be guided through just about anything nature throws at it and the steering wheel rarely registers the impacts. With its full-time 4WD system with front, center and rear locking differentials, the G goes about its trail bashing (if one is so inclined in a $100,000 vehicle) with a more back-to-basics approach than what you'll get from a high-tech Land Rover or Lexus.” -- Edmunds
  • "Mercedes-Benz currently offers a wide range of SUVs and crossovers, but with roots going back to military use and a four-wheel drive system with three locking differentials, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is arguably the most off-road capable of the bunch.” -- Motor Trend
  • "Despite its popularity on Rodeo Drive, Mercedes’ G-Class is arguably the most competent off-road vehicle in the U.S. Its military origins give the G550 the right stuff for a trip up the Rubicon Trail: live front and rear axles with lockable differentials, a lockable 2-speed transfer case, short overhangs, 115-volt receptacle, and ground clearance galore.” -- Road and Track

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