2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG
There are certain sounds in Autodom that stand out – the concussing scream of a V-12-voiced Ferrari; the deep, sonorous gurgle of a Mustang V8. To that group of treasured tones, we'd like to add the clatter of a G63 AMG's door locks at 15 paces. Push the key fob while across the street from this over-engineered beast, and you hear a noise that's a few decibels dialed-up from a mere click; it's a thick mechanical ratchet, swift and satisfying. That bellicose sound is just muscle memory for this brute: After all, the "G Wagon" was developed 33 years ago as a German paramilitary vehicle.
Though Mercedes will tell you otherwise, the G63 AMG's exterior design has evolved little over that span: It has a boxy aesthetic purity that should give it pride of place in MoMA, and still boasts more straight edges than a three-day Christian rock festival. Its powertrain, though, is much less pious. A 5.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 starts with a shudder, boasts 544 horsepower, and hustles to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds – stupid-fast for a 5,700-lb., body-on-frame SUV. (Stupid-fast for anything, for that matter.) We didn't test its off-road cred (and most who drive this vehicle won't), but found that in the city, its 7-speed automatic transmission shifts Jamba Juice-smooth, and provides an enormously entertaining straight-line jolt, vocalized through its side pipes.
There are a few downsides: The car's steering feels numb, there's a lean in corners that can only be conquered by scrubbing off speed, and, of course, it goes through gasoline like Guided By Voices plows through PBRs backstage (12 mpg city; 14 highway.) But this being 2013, the G63 AMG has an "Eco" mode, which is an automated shutoff system that kills the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop. That's actually quite nice. For a few seconds, you are alone, under a glowing red light, inside a tastefully rich, two-toned leather jewel box, waiting in the silence. It's an excellent time to hear the clack of those door locks again. [$134,300; mbusa.com]