FRANSCHHOEK, Cape Town – Following the script of an edge-of-the-seat thriller, I’m the first to arrive at the desolate gravel parking area on the unpopulated side of the Western Cape’s Franschhoek Pass. The peaks of the surrounding mountains are indiscernible against the pitch-black pre-dawn sky; the hem of the thick blanket of fog covering the valley ahead clutches at my ankles as I exit my vehicle to survey the land.
The hunt for a rare, mystical beast has brought me to this location and I’m determined this is the morning I will capture it. A chorus of guttural barks erupt from the gorge behind me and I spin on my heels and squint into the darkness in anticipation of this long-awaited encounter. I stand my ground.
Slowing to acknowledge my presence, the creature’s massive footprint crunches the gravel. Its main beam pierces the fog. It is supplemented by two secondary lights mounted ridiculously high. The beast comes to a halt and I anticipate an exasperated puff of steam from unseen nostrils. Instead, I’m greeted by the familiar mechanical click of the release latch on a Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen’s door, followed by a warm smile from the owner of this special creation. “Nice morning for it,” he calls.
The idea was conceived from experience gained while supplying the Australian army with six-wheel-drive versions of its G320 CDI G-wagon. In 2013, Mercedes-Benz offered a select few of its most affluent owners the opportunity to order what would be the ultimate go-anywhere G-Class. Interest far exceeded expectation and just more than 100 left-hand-drive examples of the mighty AMG-tuned Geländewagen 6x6 departed from Magna Steyr’s Graz manufacturing facility in Austria. Simultaneously, a run of 15 Brabus-tuned right-hand-drive units were destined exclusively for Malaysia.
A South African enthusiast made enquiries about importing one of these originals and Mercedes-Benz informed him a larger order would need to be placed to make this viable. Networks were networked, WhatsApp groups pinged and eventually 10 G63 6x6 double-cabs were shipped to our shores after being converted to RHD by Brabus.
As a coincidental point of comparison, the Mercedes-Benz X350d in which I arrived looked a tad meek alongside its very distant relation. Measuring 2 110 mm wide and 2 210 mm tall, the G63 6x6 is 1 106 mm longer than a standard top-spec Geländewagen (now stretched to 5 875 mm in length). Carbon-fibre wheelarch extensions accommodate the increased track width front and rear, and house 37-inch rubber. All six tyres can be adjusted between 0,5 and 1,8 bar via a control panel in the vehicle’s cabin. A massive 460 mm of ground clearance is achieved via a Unimog-derived portal axle system. It has a set of gears at each wheel and positions the side shaft above a conventional central hub mounting.
Not content with the 400 kW/760 N.m outputs delivered via the standard model’s twin-turbo 5,5-litre V8 engine, this owner sought the assistance of Cape Town-based tuners Wulfchiptegnik for a stage-two software upgrade and fitment of a customised Akropovic exhaust system (a world-first for this application). Mated with a 7G-tronic transmission, this means “more than” 1 100 N.m of torque is dispatched to all three axles in a 30:40:30-split under normal driving conditions. A series of five electronic differential locks offer 100% lock-up of all six wheels.
Further presence and practicality have been added to this 500 kW Uber G-wagon via a bespoke roof-rail system and neatly integrated canopy arrangement that relocates the spare wheel to the tailgate.
While it’s no easy task to clamber into the 6x6’s raised cabin, the reward is a level of plushness carried over from the standard (previous-generation) G63 AMG. This includes supremely comfortable leather upholstery and matching door linings, as well as a considered spattering of chrome and carbon trim. It serves as a reminder that this remains a proud member of the Affalterbach family, despite its four-tonne mass.
With its 300 mm extended wheelbase (to the middle axle) compared with the standard model, it gains additional legroom and an electrically operated recline function on two individual rear seats, whereas the donor car offered a bench.
A hallmark of even the latest-generation Geländewagen is its towering driving position complemented by an upright windscreen and slab-like dashboard. Even with its broad stance on the road, my instinct is to roll down the driver’s window and rest my arm on the sill, such is the sense of old-school familiarity of this behemoth.
I imagine the majority of the units sold enjoy more natural habitats and make light work of the vast network of sand dunes in the Middle East where large turning circles aren’t a consideration. Closer to home, it’s impossible not to relish the sheer sense of presence and purpose of the G63 6x6. Concentrating on remaining in my lane and keeping a safer-than-usual following distance to the wide eyes of the Honda HR-V driver ahead of me, I was relieved to find both the steering and switchgear of the 6x6 just as easy to modulate as on the smaller members of the previous-generation G-wagon family.
I can’t confidently tell you I felt 1 000 N.m worth of torque, but I can say every time I flexed my right foot, the corresponding bark from the side tailpipes made my chest puff and face pull into an involuntary grimace. I haven’t quite decided whether I’d assume the role of hero or villain in my impending screen role but, either way, this would be my chariot of choice.
Shoot complete and with the 6x6 blocking the morning sun from fellow patrons at a quaint coffee shop on Franschhoek’s main road, my conversation with this vehicle’s proud owner is filled with enthusiasm and awe rather than handling, straight-line performance or how often those dual (totalling 157 litres) fuel tanks need to be topped up. Much like Italian sportscars of old, no one ever mentions how potentially atrocious they were to pilot but everyone remembers the day they first saw one. Aside from the obvious drawbacks associated with tight urban roads, the largest-ever Geländewagen remains remarkably comfortable, generously appointed and hugely capable. Rather, owners can focus purely on what adventure lies ahead.
I love that vehicles like this exist and that they will likely remain elusive, camera-shy creatures despite their king-of-the-hill stance and bite-your-hand-off snarl.
FAST FACTSModel: Mercedes-AMG G63 6x6 7G-tronic
Price: R10 000 000+
Engine: 5,5-litre, V8, twinturbo-petrol
Power: 500 kW
Torque: 1 100 N.m
0-100 km/h: 8,0 seconds
Top Speed: 160 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 19,0 L/100 km
Transmission: 7-speed automatic