The Mercedes-Benz G Class is a very odd success story in the modern age. Built for off-road indestructibility in the late 1970s, it has been picked up as a fashion accessory by the Biebers and Kardashians of the world and is now viewed as some kind of celebrity luxury item.
Its key draw in this market seems to be its gigantic, boxy, brash shape. That, and the stuck-on technical looking bits and exposed hinges and rain gutters all over it, evoke some of its early utility as a military vehicle. It's well known for its excellent off-road capabilities, although the luxury set rarely use it as such, and for having the highway aerodynamics of a small apartment block in a hurricane.
And yet, whether because of its brutish 4WD ability or its desert Gucci image, sales have increased year upon year to the point where Mercedes has finally decided to give the platform a proper overhaul of its longest-standing model.
Not that you'd immediately notice to look at it. The team has been very careful not to kill the golden goose by altering the G Wagen's unique looks. The new model is a touch bigger – 53 mm (2.1 in) longer and 121 mm (4.8 in) wider, which adds leg, shoulder and elbow room in both front and back seats – but on the outside it looks much the same as it used to, bar the new LED headlights.
The engine, for launch in the G500 at least, is a 4-liter biturbo V8 making 422 horses (315 kW) and 450 lb-ft (610 Nm), mated to a new 9-speed 9G-Tronic auto gearbox. The chassis is still a ladder-frame job, and it still runs three 100 percent diff locks and low range off-road gear reduction.
The G Class's off-road ability is enhanced by new long travel suspension, improved ground clearance, extra tilt stability in all directions and a 100 mm greater river fording depth of 700 mm (27.5 in).
On the road, the focus has been on increasing agility and comfort. Agility is enhanced by a weight reduction of 170 kg (375 lb) and a new front axle design. Meanwhile, comfort has been addressed by cleaning up a few of the old G Class's glaring issues – a reduction in noise and vibrations, the addition of an electromechanical steering system, a much more nicely integrated dash with twin 12.3-inch displays, and Dynamic Select driving modes (Comfort, Sport, Eco and a customizable Individual mode) that change the throttle response, shift points and steering to suit what you're doing.
There's also an optional Adaptive Damping system that reads the road or the terrain you're driving and configures itself to suit. A further "G-Mode" activates if you engage any of the diff locks or low range gearing, which optimizes steering, transmission, throttle and suspension to handle the most demanding off-road driving.
Otherwise, it's a G Wagen through and through, built to outlast a tardigrade, with that signature giant spare tire hanging off the back and spunky exposed hinges on the doors and hood if you're into that sort of thing. And don't worry, the doors still sound all clicky like the old ones, it's just now there's smaller gaps in the panels and a touch more refinement in your luxury military jeep.
The update doesn't appear to have made a huge difference to the retail price, which will start at a touch over €107,000 in Germany. That converts to around US$130,000, although US pricing has yet to be released. There's also no word on the potential of an Arnie-style electric version, although the Governator did get the gig introducing the new G-Class at NAIAS in Detroit.
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