A week behind the wheel of the incredible Mercedes-Benz G 500 4x4² has verified that its huge 17.7 inches of ground clearance, gear-reduction portal axles, 22-inch bead locking wheels and other off-road accoutrements are 100 percent successful in achieving this mean machine's primary goals.
That means it torques necks, holds gazes and induces double-takes everywhere it goes, dominating valet lines and commandeering after-school pickups. For anyone with a class reunion in the foreseeable future, the G-Wagen's $231,000 price tag is a cheap victory over old antagonists.
Its gleaming chrome dual side exhaust tips glint out from beneath the rear doors like the revealing bulk of a Glock tucked under a suit jacket, tipping the 422 horsepower that reside beneath the hood.
Surveying the world from the 4x4²'s aerie provides an extreme version of the "command driving position" that attracts many drivers to SUVs, as the driver peers easily over all but the largest obstacles ahead.
There's no elevator to lift passengers into G-Wagen's cabin, however, and despite its array of exotic gear, there's no Star Trek transporter to magically move people from the sidewalk to the Mercedes' leather-wrapped seats.
And the objective of maximum ground clearance means there are no running boards to serve as steps for climbing in and out. That makes it a long stretch to get in or out, one that passengers wearing dresses will find problematic for preserving modesty. Prospective 4x4² buyers seem likely to regard this as a feature, not a bug, considering the vehicle's ability to attract such passengers.
There is an unexpected vision challenge relating to the lofty driver's perch: the angle of the left-side mirror aims it so steeply at the ground that it provides a view of just a small area beside the G-Wagen, without extending further behind the vehicle, as when the driver, mirror and cars hiding in the blind spot are all on the same plane. The 4x4² could almost use a passenger side-style convex mirror to provide adequate coverage.
Steering is heavy and slow, with that distinct solid-front-axle need to be directed back straight because it doesn't self-center very well. The turning circle is tight enough that parking this beast isn't the calculus problem its size would suggest.
The monster truck's V8 exhaust blats out the side pipes in a coarse staccato that ensures notice, attention it holds with its visual presence. Its presence would have been welcome during recent floods, because the 4x4² is rated to wade through more than three feet of water, even without an external snorkel.
It can also climb over absurd obstacles, but we were puzzled by the very low rear bumper, which defeats the truck's ground clearance. We suspect the work of government crash safety regulations here, to prevent trailing cars from going beneath the Mercedes in a rear-end collision.
Like lesser G-Wagen's the 4x4² has a row of three switches in the center of the dashboard. They control the truck's differentials, and they are numbered 1, 2 and 3 to illustrate the order of their use.
The first step, when driving off-road, is to lock the G-Wagen's center differential, so it sends equal power to the front and rear wheels. If the going starts getting tough, then it is the #2 button to lock the rear differential. Now both rear wheels turn at the same speed.
Finally, when the driver has imprudently gotten the Mercedes into a spot it can't get out of, then press the #3 button to lock the front differential. Now all four wheels turn the same speed and the 4x4² is virtually certain to power its way out of the mess.
However, this mode renders it very difficult to steer, so it is used only briefly, as needed.
You won't need any of this when pulling up to the valet at the Four Seasons, but all of it makes for great theater for the passengers who've been attracted inside by the 4x4²'s macho appearance. The Mercedes is a great wingman, but you'll have to close the deal yourself.