REDESIGNED FROM NOSE TO TAIL FOR THE FIRST TIME IN NEARLY 40 YEARS, THE MERCEDES BENZ G CLASS WILL STILL DRAW ADMIRING STARES FROM THOSE WHO NEVER LOST THEIR LOVE FOR THE ORIGINAL, AND MAKE NEW BUYERS SO GLAD THEY WAITED
BY MATT SCANLON
Even for we lucky few who get to spend much of our days digesting auto design literature, comparing drag coefficients, and debating the relative virtues of turbochargers versus superchargers, it’s still remarkably easy to fall victim to the notion that there’s a persistent…sameness to design among auto brands. And that makes sense in a way; cars need to take people from here to there ideally with style and swiftness and as often as not that means adhering to a relatively agreed upon set of body contour parameters and feature sets. Cars tend to look alike because our requirements for them are alike.
Then there’s the Mercedes Benz G Class a midsize four wheel drive luxury SUV for which there has been no parallel, no imitator, for just shy of 40 years now. In need of a new type of light utility armed forces support vehicle, the Shah of Iran, no less, was an early booster of the design in the mid 1970s, so the first examples rolled off the Mercedes assembly line in 1979 in two guises: civilian and military.
The latter was quickly snatched up by the thousands by the German Armed Forces, Australian Defence Force, Canadian Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, and dozens of other armed forces worldwide.
Sometimes referred to as the G Wagen, short for geländewagen (“cross country vehicle” in German), the street version sold consistently in Europe since first launch, but was only available in the United States starting in 2002 (though there was a substantial “gray market:” models shipped here by wealthy aficionados). The classic off road boxy looks, bulletproof dependability, and for the time novel combination of comfy amenities and Safari readiness made it a singular draw for those who could afford its significant sticker price.
As it watched G Class sales in the U.S. spike three, then four fold from the aughts to 2016, Mercedes recognized that a refresh was warranted. This would be expected of any automobile, but for true G fans, the prospect had the capacity to produce palpitations. For those who love them, affection is vocal, and mercurial and modifications were an existential threat. So, for the 2019 model, just made available for U.S. sale in June, it was important that alterations be advantageous to the overall mission, but visually subtle.
Offcially launched at January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the new G Class, which starts at $123,600, looks smaller thanks to gentle curves (applied to still largely hard corners), but is actually 4.7 inches wider and two inches longer, though lighter by 375 pounds. Even purists might not recognize differences at a glance, but technical changes are widespread, and numerous. The front axle now features independent suspension instead of a rigid structure (10.6 inch ground clearance to the axle), gear ratio has been shortened from 2.1: 1 to 2.9: 1, and the gorgeous digital cockpit from the S Class is now on board its haptic impulses and audible feedback from speakers allowing the driver to use the touchpad in the center console without taking eyes off the road. A steering wheel with touch sensitive controls and a Burmester surround sound system are more lovely touches.
The new suspension is augmented by DYNAMIC SELECT driving modes. Combined with three 100% differential locks, ride comfort and agility are simultaneously improved on any surface. For both interior and exterior body/ dash/console panels, more precise gaps and more harmonious transitions make for a gentle South Beach over South Africa emphasis, but, rest assured, no one is going to mistake this for an Expedition or Infinti QX80.
Motivation is courtesy of a 4 liter biturbo V8 that produces 416 horsepower, hitched to a nine speed automatic transmission that utilizes dedicated software to reduce shift times. Its 5.7 second 0 to 60 time is more than respectable for a 5,400 pound SUV, with a gratifying dose of passing lane torque distinguishing the new model.