DETROIT – Mercedes-Benz executives say the automaker made sure to tread lightly when it came to its top-to-bottom redesign of the go-anywhere G-Class SUV, unveiled to media here outside the North American International Auto Show.
Although the vehicle’s iconic shape, extreme off-road capability and the solid sound the doors make when closing all remain, “preserving heritage means constantly improving it,” says Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche at the unveiling here, noting only three parts, including the G-Class’s iconic door handles, have been carried over unchanged.
“In short, the new G is still a G, only better,” says Ola Kallenius, head of research for Mercedes-Benz Cars.
Helping to unveil the new model here is actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a long-time G-wagon enthusiast and, like the modern G-Class – a collaboration of Mercedes and Magna Steyr, born in Austria and known for his rough-and-rugged roles.
Carried over on the new G 550 unveiled here is a twin-turbo 4.0L gasoline V-8 generating 416 hp and peak torque of 450 lb.-ft. (610 Nm) at 4,750. It is mated to a new automatic transmission, however, the 9-speed 9G-Tronic Mercedes says gets unique software controls for the application that will make the G-Class quieter and smoother driving, especially at low engine speeds.
Exterior-design cues include the distinctive retro door handles, exposed door and hood hinges and exposed spare wheel on the rear door. Mercedes says designers also created a tighter outer surface with more tension for a body that “appears to be cast from a single piece.” Wheel arches and bumpers are better integrated with the rest of the exterior.
Aluminum is used for the doors and hood, with high-strength steel employed for the A- and B-pillars, the automaker says.
Standard features of the full-time all-wheel-drive SUV include center, rear and front differential locks, active lane-keeping, active braking assist, traffic-sign assist, attention assist and 19-in. wheels. Among amenities are 64-color ambient lighting, heated leather seats, Burmester sound system and a 12.3-in. (31-cm) center display screen.
The interior combines muscle and luxury, making sure not to stray too far from the G-Class’s design heritage. The new model features round air vents, mimicking the vehicles headlamps. And the SUV retains its grab handle positioned on the dash ahead of the front passenger seat. Round analog gauges are standard, but G-Class buyers will be able to opt for the same expansive digital display as in the E- and S-Class that places a second 12.3-in. screen behind the steering wheel.
Interior volume has been increased, with legroom up 1.5 ins. (38 mm) in the front and 5.9 ins. (150 mm) in the rear. Shoulder room is increased 1.5 ins. and 1.1 ins. (27 mm) front and rear, respectively. Rear seats can fold down completely or in a 60/40 split.
Mercedes says the G-Class suspension (wishbone at the front, solid axle at the rear) is all new and results from collaboration with Mercedes-AMG. Axles are mounted slightly higher, as the automaker says it tasked its engineers with “fighting for every inch and millimeter” of ground clearance. The result: 10.6 ins. (269 mm) at the front axle and 9.5 ins. (241 mm) between the axles. Maximum fording depth is now 27.6 ins. (701 mm) a gain of 3.9 ins. (99 mm) and the approach angle is increased 1 degree to 31.
Dynamic Select offers four basic driving modes: Comfort, Sport, Eco and Individual, controlling the characteristics of the engine, transmission, suspension, steering and assistance systems. If the optional Adaptive Damping System is included, drivers also can modify damping characteristics in the Sport and Comfort modes using the Dynamic Select switch.
G-Mode is activated independently of the selected driving mode when any one of the three differential locks is activated or the Low Range off-road reduction gear is engaged. A small icon lights up on the instrument cluster to indicate the vehicle as entered G-Mode.
Mercedes says the new G 550 will be at U.S. dealers in late-2018, with pricing still to be determined.
Mercedes built its 300,000th G-Class at assembler Magna Steyr’s Graz, Austria, factory in 2017, since the first G-Class model was launched in 1979, more than 250,000 have been sold and 80% remain on the road, the automaker says.
In the U.S., the biggest market for the G-Class, sales rose 6.0% last year to 4,188 units. Top markets for the model are California, Texas, Florida and the New York region.
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