Where most Mercedes-Benz vehicles are sleek and sophisticated, there’s nothing else in its lineup quite like the boxy G-Class SUV. Optimized for off-roading, it’s full of right angles and squares and is downright cramped in the cabin.
The German automaker introduced a completely redesigned G-Class at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Sunday. The angular design carries over, but the 2018 G-Class features a huge upgrade in interior space and other changes that look to make it the top dog in luxury off-roading.
In a world where even pickup trucks are now on a five-year product cycle the external appearance of the G-Class has not changed significantly since 1979.
“It is an amazing overlanding vehicle. But it has a big price tag, and it is both coveted and resented at the same time,” said Nena Barlow, who heads Barlow Adventures, which leads off-road expeditions in Utah and Arizona.
The G-Class, also known as the G-Wagen, has long had a reputation for being well built, tough and durable, Barlow said.
“It is a little tank with a leather interior,” she said.
“It appeals to people who want the best of everything. The only thing that is more out of the box is a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, but it won’t have the refinements a Mercedes customer is looking for.”
It’s not a big seller, but the G-Class is growing in popularity in the U.S. Mercedes sold almost 4,200 last year, accounting for just a small slice of its 375,311 vehicle sales. But G-Class sales grew 6 percent compared with the prior year. And it gained while overall U.S. auto sales and Mercedes sales dipped slightly. The U.S. accounts for about 35 percent of G-Class sales and is the top market for the rugged SUV. It sells best in Southern California, the Dallas metropolitan area and then South Florida.
The new G-Class gets a range of modern amenities that one would have thought had been available years ago in a vehicle that starts at $123,600. Pricing for the new version will be released closer to launch.
There’s new standard LED headlamps, advanced driver-assistance systems, a high-quality interior with leather seats and a new suspension. The G-Class gets a new 9-speed automatic transmission.
The new G-Class is 2.1 inches longer and 4.8 inches wider, giving the vehicle an even bulkier and more aggressive presence. There’s a huge payoff inside.
There’s also a needed element of pragmatic practicality for those who plan to use the 2018 Mercedes G-Class as an adventure vehicle rather than a look-at-me drop-off-the-kids-at-school daily driver. The rear seats can be folded down to 40, 60 or 100 percent to haul skis, bikes, dogs or whatever is needed for the excursion.
People familiar with the old G-Class would never mistake the new vehicle for something else. But with the exterior, Mercedes said it wanted the SUV to look strong like an anvil. The automaker also focused on precision construction. The gaps between the body panels are narrower, helping to remove a knocked-together mechanical image. The wheel arches and bumpers now form a more integral part of the body.
Technology is now an essential part of the G-Class. The new instrument panel still features the throwback look of round analog dials. But there’s also an optional widescreen digital cockpit cluster. It can be modified between three different styles for the displays —”Classic,” “Sport” and “Progressive” — depending on driver preference.
Mercedes also worked to improve an already solid off-road performance. The G-Class gets a new suspension developed in collaboration between Mercedes’ AMG performance division. It is an independent suspension with a double-wishbone front axle and a rigid rear axle. The SUV still has a
Thanks to its standard ladder-type frame and three differential locks to give it the stiffness and controls for trekking through rough terrain.
It raises ground clearance a touch to 9.5 inches. But the new stance works better for rock crawling and creek crossing. The new maximum fording depth when driving through water and muck grew by almost 4 inches to just under 30 inches. The new vehicle can handle steeper approaches and climbs. There are all sorts of other bells and whistles required for serious off-roading, including three locking differentials and a variety of gear settings.
This is all powered by a new high-performance 4-liter V8 gasoline engine that produces 416 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. There’s likely to be a performance oriented AMG version available later this year.
But for those who still want to take the kids to school, the new G-Class offers five different driving modes, including a sober “eco” setting optimized to save a few pennies on gas.