“If it’s not the ultimate off-road vehicle, it’s not the Gelandewagen.”
That was from Ian James, head of marketing for the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. And while the big story for the new 2019 model — still affectionately known as the G-Wagen — at the Detroit auto show surrounds its interior upgrades, Mercedes didn’t skimp on the off-road goodies either.
For one, there’s more space inside. Now that may sound like an on-road benefit, but Mercedes wants you to know the improvement in legroom, shoulder room and elbow room is equally good for bouncing around off-road. The company was also keen to keep the giant grab handle in front of the front passenger for when things get really tipsy.
The new G was tested, like the G-Class has been for 39 years, at Mount Schockl near Graz in Austria where the vehicle is produced — it’s like a Nurburgring for SUVs. Same line, same people, new tooling, by the way. It only shares three parts overall with the outgoing model. The new G made the run down the hill in 7 minutes, 51 seconds — 25 seconds faster than the outgoing model.
The interior features 6 more inches of legroom for rear passengers than in the current model and a welcome increase in shoulder space all around, without giving up the massive box that is the cargo compartment.
Then there’s that new suspension. Even though a solid front axle can be more durable in certain environments, on or off-road, independent front suspension is the way Mercedes chose to go. It’s better at speed off road, says James, and it’s better in slow situations because it keeps more tire on whatever surface you happen to be crawling over. It’s also miles better on-road, which is a big consideration for the new G-Class, most of which will never see dirt.
The new G-Wagen has a standard, old-school ladder-type frame, three differentials and a “low” range for serious off-roading. Ground clearance between the axles is now at 9.5 inches, water fording depth is up 3.9 inches to 27.6, while breakover, approach and departure angles are all increased. Breakover angle is the maximum possible supplementary angle that a vehicle, with at least one forward wheel and one rear wheel on the ground, can drive over without touching the frame. The G-Wagen’s is an impressive 26 degrees — compare that with the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, which has a 27.8 degree breakover angle.
The main point Mercedes is trying to make is that the DNA of the Gelandewagen is still intact — hence the amber/resin time capsule G-Class in front of Cobo Center.
Placing the G-Wagen in amber is a concept born from one of Mercedes’ creative partners “as a way of preserving the DNA of the Gelandewagen.” The company first spoke with the German federation of material research, who said, “You’re crazy.” Mercedes disagreed and put 44.4 tons of resin in a box — a little bit at a time — with the SUV. Including that and the transporting gear, it came in at about 52 tons. It had to be transported over on a large ship, which ran aground in its port, shortening its baked-in lead time from five days to zero.
The United States is the largest market for the G-Class, followed by Germany, Japan, the Middle East, Russia and China.
Speaking of sales, Mercedes says there are three categories of buyers: the true off-roaders, boxy design lovers and the AMG style/speed/power lovers. James added a fourth important category he called mainstream, which are the folks and groups and sites that keep the legend going online. Mercedes sees them as future G-Class owners and pays attention to what they’re saying too.
“We were already the benchmark off-road; the fact that we’ve gotten better leaves us very little competition on that side,” says James, “The on-road was something we needed to step up to modern standards.”
Looking at the fact and figures, it appears Mercedes succeeded on both accounts. We expect to drive the new G-Class later this year and will let you know more then.