Earlier this spring, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington was driving in a local parade — an annual tradition celebrating the start of his son’s Little League season in Rancho Palos Verdes, the upscale Southern California beach town where he lives with his family. His ride? A jacked-up Dodge monster truck. “I had to jump up into it,” says the 41-year-old, bemoaning his advancing age, “and hope I didn’t hurt my back when I jumped out.” Promenading that high up off the ground, he recalls, “I felt like I could drive right over things.”
On the same streets a few weeks later, where he’s test-driving the new, hyper-elegant, quietly powerful $160,000 Mercedes-Benz AMG G63 SUV, the sensation is pleasantly different — more reserved, but potent. “I kind of feel like, ‘I don’t need to go over you,’ ” he says with a chuckle. “I’ll just go right through you.”
Also less raucous and hardcore these days? Linkin Park’s music. The band’s new One More Light album is a departure, and a maturation, from previous release The Hunting Party in 2014. “That one was like walking into the middle of a bar fight between intellectual college kids and bikers,” he says. “On One More Light, we ended up writing about really intense things that were going on in our personal lives, so it became very emotionally charged, but not charged with big, loud sounds and drums.” It’s a genre shift for sure, and top 40 has embraced it: “Heavy,” the pop-leaning lead single featuring Kiiara, is rising on the Billboard Hot 100 with a No. 52 peak thus far.
Today, Bennington drives to a few favorite spots high above the coast to show off the prime local views of the ocean and distant city. The souped-up German sport-ute handles the steep climbs with aplomb. It makes Bennington smile, especially every time he hits the gas and clears a peak — “I like things that are loud and beautiful and feel like there’s a sense of accomplishment.”
This is certainly true of the G63, a status ride that features the same hand-built, twin-turbocharged V8 engine as the dream car Bennington has just ordered: a $131,000 Mercedes-AMG GT-S sports coupe. In fact, Bennington is such a fan of Benz’s in-house tuner marque, AMG, that he and his bandmates have signed on as brand ambassadors and will be appearing in a commercial and collaborating on other sponsorship opportunities, including their upcoming world tour, which begins this summer.
Bennington did not grow up in a Mercedes household, or in an environment anything like the one in which he’s raising his six kids. “I was a little mongrel,” he says of his childhood growing up near Tucson, Ariz. Bennington says, incredulously, that while his 11-year-old son recently told him he wants “something not too fancy, like a BMW” as his first car, the vehicle Bennington first drove was a battered Isuzu truck.
When it came time to make his first big automotive splurge, he customized a Chrysler PT Cruiser, a compact hatchback styled to resemble the gangster vehicles of the 1930s. The G63 has a certain retro appeal as well, in no small part because it is, in actuality, a 40-year-old design. Yet it has somehow managed to remain relevant through consistent updating, and is one of Mercedes’ most sought-after and profitable vehicles.
Now that the bandmembers are all around 40 and have been best-sellers for over 15 years (moving 27.6 million albums, according to Nielsen Music), there’s a clear parallel with the group’s longevity, particularly in an industry with a proclivity for youth. “There’s always going to be a divide between people with experience and people without. And I think that one of the interesting things about being in Linkin Park — it’s like being a new band each time that we make a record,” says Bennington. “If I was making a record that sounded like what I was making 20 years ago, it would be kind of forced and funky right now.” He pauses before adding, “It would kind of suck.”
This article originally appeared in the May 27 issue of Billboard.