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There’s a common misconception in the car market that you need to buy the range-topping model or trim package to have any hope of a great ownership experience. While it is true that upgrading in some circumstances makes sense, there are times when the base model choice is a fantastic car in its own right. Cars like the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Subaru WRX STI,  or even the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro are all categorically great vehicles but they’re built on fundamentally capable base models. You can also add the Mercedes-AMG G63 to that list, because the G550 is a remarkable experience, even if it is just the “base model.” 

The G550 starts at a very lofty $132,000, but for that, you get a strong twin-turbo V8 good for  416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque and a genuinely competent off-roader housing it. And, despite tipping the scales at 5,660 lbs, the G550 can dust off the sprint from 0-60 mph in 5.1-seconds, meaning it has no problem getting up to speed on the highway. It also sounds damn good doing it too. 

Take the G550 off-road and the plethora of electronic controls, drive modes and three locking differentials mean you can get fairly ambitious with the terrain you want to tackle. Granted, the G-Wagen has adopted a more urban-dwelling reputation in recent years, and highway driving isn’t the boxy behemoth’s strong suit, Mercedes can still claim to have a very serious off-roader in its fleet with the G-Wagen.

The “lesser” of the G-Wagens has always made a case for itself in that it maintained off-road chops where the AMG surplus of power isn’t always needed. However, going into 2021, Mercedes is opening up the G Manufaktur program to the G550, affording customers an elevated, custom experience. Though the particular example I had for a week was Deep Green over saddle tan leather, there are 34 different exterior colors and 54 interior upholsteries to choose from. 

Let’s face it, most 2021 G-Wagens will never leave paved surfaces and most of the G63’s 577 horses and 627 lb-ft of torque will sadly go unused. So what then are you really spending an extra $25,000 on for the AMG model? The G550 is now more customizable than ever through the G Manufaktur program. It comes with guaranteed performance on rougher roads and basically identical handling to the G63 around town. There’s no getting around it, that $25,000 goes towards the badge and bragging rights.

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