Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches are a dime a dozen in Beverly Hills and Dubai. Pull up to a posh restaurant or nightclub in one of these commonplace so-called exotics and you will barely rate a passing glance from the desensitized masses. However, one vehicle whose cachet and physical presence draw attention like an alien first contact event is the Brabus G63 700 6x6. As we cruised it along the streets of Newport Beach and Highway One, the locals (who are pretty nonchalant about expensive sports cars in their 'hood) visibly took notice.
Kids tugged at their parents' arms, pointing at us excitedly. Teenagers nearly fell off their skateboards. And we could see the odd elderly person mouth the words "What the ..." at the sight of our square-rigged six-wheel monster truck. The Brabus G63 6x6 has that effect on people, which in itself can be an endless source of amusement for its occupants.
The counterpoint is the fact that the "Big G"—as we affectionately nicknamed this Mercedes G-Class on steroids, since it's big enough to make a Hummer H2 seem normal—is actually a useful vehicle. It's great for dune bashing, or even something as mundane as collecting firewood while using its pickup capabilities. If you live in West Hollywood (as the owner of this first Brabus G63 6x6 to be registered in the United States does), neither is going to be a likely activity. Instead, this car is a statement of individuality. And a damn fine one at that.
A stock G63 AMG 6x6 is the largest, most extreme, and most expensive Mercedes SUV ever. Its sheer size, uniqueness, and princely price endow it with a large helping of gravitas from the outset, and a 5.5L biturbo V-8 supports it with a strapping 544 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque.
While this is a potent engine in an E-Class or even an S-Class, the all- important power-to-weight ratio goes rapidly south when considering the humongous 8,325-pound curb weight. So even though the stopwatch says this street-legal monster truck will hit 62 mph in a rapid 6 seconds flat on the way to an electronically limited 100-mph top speed, the owner decided to improve that ratio.
Ratcheting things up to the next level meant discussions with Brabus USA in Irvine, California, where the plan was set to include an haute couture interior makeover along with the extra muscle. As Brabus USA's chief, Peter Moeller, explained: "The owner is an existing VIP client of ours who always aims for the top and likes to put his personal stamp on his cars. The idea of having the first 6x6 G-model in the States and then making it even more powerful and more individual is typical of his approach." As major conversions like this are all done at Brabus headquarters in Germany, it made sense to divert this American-spec car to Bottrop as soon as it was built, perform the upgrades, and then ship it on to its final destination.
Before the M157 biturbo V-8 debuted in AMG vehicles, it was fiendishly difficult for Brabus to get mountain-moving levels of power and torque without resorting to the expensive and complex art of cramming in a modified V-12 biturbo. If this were successful, then a car would be good for 800 hp, with torque electronically limited to 811 lb-ft to prevent the drivetrain being reduced to scrap metal. The older-style gearbox and axles of the venerable G-wagon have a much lower pain threshold than newer models in the Mercedes range, so 700 hp and 663 lb-ft are the practical limits. Now the V-12's days are numbered unless you really must have that dozen-cylinder head count under the hood for reasons of pure, unadulterated hubris.
The new reality is that Brabus, masters of increased displacement, can re-engineer the AMG motor for life as a 6.0L powerhouse. Along with a slew of other modifications, the astonishing outcome is 50 more horses than that mighty blown V-12, with just as much twisting force. This win-win situation results in 850 hp at 5,400 rpm and an astonishing 1,069 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm, that then has to be electronically scaled back to 848 lb-ft for safety. The second plus point of the V-8 is that there is little weight increase to go with this conversion, so handling balance is unaffected, unlike with the V-12 transplant, which makes the vehicle nose-heavy.
The M157 AMG motor displaces 5,461 cc from a bore times stroke of 98 by 90.5 mm. If a car requires the full-fat 850hp B63S 850 conversion, then Brabus goes down the 6.0L route. However, as the G63's drivetrain power and torque limitations are its Achilles' heel, the much more expensive displacement bump is unnecessary. The simpler B63S 700 conversion involves internally machining the housings of the turbocharger units to take larger compressor wheels. Each turbo is then mounted to a bespoke exhaust manifold with larger diameter pipes made as close to equal length as possible within the confined space of the engine bay.
To help absorb and dissipate the inevitable extra heat, an additional water-cooled intercooler matrix is installed, and gold heat-reflective material shrouds the air intake pipes and turbocharger boost tubing. At 3 inches (75 mm) in diameter, the downpipes are larger than stock and each cylinder bank sends its gases to the rear through a 3-inch pipe, via middle silencers, eventually ejecting the spent gases from big, highly polished side pipes.
In the old days, Brabus would also have fitted camshafts with higher lift and longer duration to optimize output. Such trickery is now all done with the ECU's variable valve timing map. So what used to require new hardware has now become an exercise in software tweaking.
The fueling, ignition, and boost pressure maps are also recalibrated to make full use of the larger turbochargers and the lower backpressure of the bespoke exhaust system. This recalibration also allows the motor to run closer to detonation for more power. This is quite safe, as the factory knock sensors are finely tuned to retard the ignition well before the danger point, protecting the motor in case of poor fuel quality, especially in high ambient temperatures.
The Brabus 700 engine is homologated to the current EU6 and U.S. 50-state emissions regulations, requiring the latest sport catalytic converter technology. Here, Brabus worked with an OE supplier to obtain a 400-cell metal unit with double the reactive surface area, yet with no more backpressure than the 200-cell units used before. The new headline numbers are 700 hp, with 708 lb-ft of torque between 2,000 and 4,500 rpm. The revised 0-to-62-mph sprint of a spectacular 4.4 seconds makes this huge 6x6 fast enough to crush most high-performance machinery from the stoplights and severely dents the egos of their drivers in the process.
This does not mean an increase in top speed. That remains pegged at 100 mph, a limitation imposed by the optional Hutchinson 18-inch two-piece wheels with beadlocks and specialist all-terrain tires that can be deflated and inflated by the onboard air pumps. But that's just fine. The thought of hurriedly decelerating a large, heavy vehicle with a high center of gravity from really big speeds is definitely frightening.
So it is best to enjoy the view from Big G's commanding driving position at more modest speeds, while luxuriating in a cabin treated to lashings of that other Brabus specialty: soft leather trim. Here, the background color is black, with the seat center panels, door inserts, and central armrest trimmed in white with a pentagonal stitching pattern. The quilted pentagonal leather mats are the opposite color combo, fashioned from black leather with white piping.
Unusual, but not unexpected in this white car is the white "carbon-fiber" trim for the center console, passenger grab handle insert, and seat adjuster surrounds in the door panels. Finishing touches are the aluminum pedal set, door lock pins, and stainless steel kickplates with blue LED backlit Brabus logos.
Embellishing the exterior white and black color scheme are the Brabus matte-finished visible carbon parts, which include the hood bulge with airscoop, front wing top mock vents, wing mirror covers, and roof extension parts with additional LED running lights. Additional Brabus body parts are the front bumper elements with LED running lights, upper front bumper section, double-B insert that replaces the Mercedes three-pointed star in the grille, and a polished version of the factory front under-ride guard. The Brabus running boards can retract and extend electronically.
The extra engine power is only felt when applying full throttle and using the revs, but the tidal wave of enhanced torque is there all the time. As we observed before, the stock 6x6 is not exactly slow, despite its gargantuan weight. But with around 25 percent more torque on tap for any given engine speed, the Big G has a much more effortless feel.
What's experienced here is not waft-ability in the way the super-smooth and refined S-Class delivers it. Rather, there's a sense of sitting on a huge ocean liner leaving port under full steam, a slight shuddering from the G-wagon's pseudo-military drivetrain acting as a counterpoint to the cultured decorum of the plush interior.
All this is part of the G-wagon's unashamedly mechanical character that hails from a previous era. Call it an analogue machine in a digital age, but it seems to be something to which longtime owners of these vehicles are undoubtedly attracted. And after spending the day with this incredible Brabus G63 6x6, I get it, too.