The legendary Gelandewagen started life as a rough, tough military machine before Mercedes-Benz and AMG evolved it into an incredibly profitable premium off-roader.
The first all-new one in 39 years is due in 2018, but it won’t follow anything like its ancestor’s path, leaping straight past the workman phase directly into the luxury field. It is likely to remain a hardcore mountain masher, with Benz insisting it will retain its three mechanical diff locks and its hardcore ladder-frame chassis (though it moves from heavy steel to a lighter aluminium construction).
Just five parts (including the windscreen washer nozzle and door handle shape) carry over from the original, even though the outgoing car first appeared in 1979.
It will see the faithful adoption of much of the S and E-Class interior electronics, including the 12.3-inch flatscreen infotainment systems, and, as an option, even the fully digital instrument cluster. There will be traditional tubular gauges for the diehards, though, in a cheaper interior package.
Due to appear at the Detroit Motor Show next month, the G-Class’s interior will deliver a far cleaner, softer, more luxurious experience than its predecessor, but retains overtones of strength in spite of that.
Benz has two giant SUVs, including the GLS (a new version of which is also on its way), and they’re both under threat from two Bentleys (the Bentayga and the even larger upcoming Falcon), the Lamborghini Urus and BMW’s X7 and rumoured X8, along with a long-wheelbase version at the top end of the Range Rover family.
Almost all of the G-Class’s visible buttons are metallic, though there are far fewer of them than in its predecessor to deliver a cleaner interior, and it will retain its signature short dash, barely intruding into the cabin. Its metal vents are squared off in a way unseen in any other production Mercedes-Benz, but otherwise the link to the top end of the family limousine business is unmistakable.
While rumours abounded that Benz would shift its toughest passenger machine onto an SUV-style monocoque chassis, the G-Class will retain a ladder frame to keep its class-leading off-road ability. It will have its weight slashed by more than 160kg to keep it socially acceptable, though a 20mm stretch in width means it won’t see much of an improvement on the current car’s brick-like 0.54 coefficient of drag.
That aero shortfall is largely because it retains serious off-road ability, including a 100mm boost in its already-impressive wading depth, plus it will get a 360° off-road camera to help its drivers when things get serious.
Its exterior will keep its squared-off appearance, short overhangs and big ramp-over angle, with Mercedes determined to mix cabin luxury with staunch ability and durability, and insiders insist it will see a 30% rise in torsional rigidity.
Beneath the folded box styling there will be a fleet of Benz’s new engines ranging from a 4.0l turbocharged V8 to its 2.9l in-line, six-cylinder engine. The new engines are said to improve on and off-road performance and lower the sometimes shocking fuel consumption of the current car. There are no admitted plans for a four-cylinder turbodiesel, though given the G-Class’s timeline it seems inevitable.
All versions will run full-time mechanical all-wheel drive systems, driven through nine-speed automatic transmissions. It will be all new underneath, with an independent front suspension supplanting the current system, while Mercedes insiders insist it will have even greater wheel travel than the current car. It will also ditch the old car’s biggest throwback — the recirculating ball steering system — for an electrical power steering system.
It will make its debut in Detroit as a V8-powered, G500 five-door wagon with cylinder deactivation, and insiders say its weight will be cut down to 2,435kg. The same G500 badge on the current model is worth a water bottle under 2,600kg, though the new model will keep the outgoing G-Wagen’s 3,500kg towing capacity.
It’s still strong up top as well, with a 150kg dynamic roof load (for driving) and a 300kg static roof load (for camping), and it does it by thickening up the B-pillar (which was needed for pole-intrusion laws) and retaining relatively slim A-pillars.
The glovebox grows to 5.2l and there is space for 1l bottles in the front door pockets and 6.2l capacity in the centre console.
Even without the electronics, a 150mm boost in the wheelbase helps it to a 38mm improvement in front legroom, a 38mm lift in shoulder room (up 27mm in the rear) and a 68mm boost in elbow room (and 56mm in the rear). The hip point for the driver rises 10mm, benefiting from a stretch to 1,500mm between the hip point to the front axle.
Things have gotten bigger in the rear, too, with a 150mm rise in the rear legroom, while the backrest has three rake angles to maximise its cargo space.
It will have three trim levels, from SR1 and SR2 up to the AMG line, with hand-stitched seats and steering wheel. There will be clips on the back of the front seats for entertainment tablets, along with a large glass sunroof.
There will be USB connections in the front and the back and the steering wheel will adopt both the controls for the cruise control and the track pads for the instrument cluster.
Despite the luxury tilt, with a wider, largely aluminium architecture, adaptive damping, air suspension and the S-Class’s electronic architecture, Benz insists it’s still a military-grade off-roader.
Even with that, there are no initial plans for the stripped out Professional version, though there are hints of an entry-level version in the medium term.
"It’s not the military version anymore," a Mercedes-Benz insider admits. "It’s not like the professional car today. There are thoughts to do so, to go more basic. It’s there in terms of the architecture. There is the possibility to do a pickup version. Not for the first generation, though."