ROAD TEST: Mercedes-Benz's G-Class Butch basher looks ahead
LET'S call what Mercedes-Benz has done to the G-Class a reverse facelift. Everything has changed except the exterior design.
It may look as if it drove straight from some place almost 40 years in the past, stopping only to pick up some big wheels and fresh paint on the way, but the G-Class now drives like a modern 4WD.
All that's left from the old model, according to G-Class development chief Oliver Metzger, are the doorhandles, sun visors, headlight washer nozzles, spare-wheel cover and tow-hook. Absolutely everything else is new.
The new G-Class foundation is a longer, wider, lighter and stiffer ladder chassis. Bolted to this is a lot of up-to-date hardware and a completely new body. The main aim, says Metzger, was to make it better to drive on the road without losing the tough, military look.
Gone are the rigid front axle and recirculating-ball steering, features of the German 4WD since its 1979 introduction. They're replaced by a tough independent front suspension, and rack and pinion steering.
The coil-sprung rear axle is rigid, as before, it's now connected to the ladder chassis by five links instead of three.
These are important changes. The new electric-assist steering enables fitment of a bunch of modern driver-aid features found in current Mercedes-Benz cars, for example lane-keeping assist and active parking tech.
Independent front suspension allows the G-Class's engine and transmission to be installed lower down, creating a larger gap between bonnet and engine that improves the survival chances of a pedestrian struck by the vehicle.
The G-Class for now is built with two different twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8s. Only the more powerful G63 AMG version, with side exhaust pipes and massive outputs of 430kW/ 850Nm, will head to Australia. It has a nine-speed automatic and full-time 4WD.
Every part of the body is totally redesigned, even down to the exposed door and tailgate hinges, bringing big improvements. The doors, bonnet and front wings are made from aluminium instead of steel, saving 170kg compared to the old model, though the Mercedes remains a real heavyweight.
Larger dimensions endow a much more liveable interior. There's ample rear-seat legroom and more shoulder room front and rear.
The G63 will cost about $250,000 when it arrives in August and the interior fit-out matches the price tag. The design is butch and blocky but there's a lot of leather and lustre.
Using the same wide hi-res display found in Mercedes-Benz cars, the instrument panel delivers a similarly spectacular suite of infotainment options, plus access to an array of driver-aid tech that includes some G-Class specific functions.
Inside, the G-Class is a pleasant place to be. Even if the exterior shape means lots of wind noise at motorway speeds, its new suspension brings vastly better ride comfort.
Even greater is the improvement in handling. The combination of potent twin-turbo V8 and sloppy steering made the old G63 downright scary to drive.
With even more power, the new G63 is enjoyable to drive, mainly thanks to its more precise steering. It can be hustled gracefully along a winding road at a surprisingly quick pace, especially when fitted with the largest and grippiest 22-inch wheels and tyres on the options list, though the driver is always conscious of its weight and height.
The smile it puts on your face will turn to a giggle when the accelerator is floored. The AMG V8 under the bonnet bellows, the nose rises like an accelerating powerboat and the G63 surges forward with the fury of an old-school muscle car.
It's awe-inspiring ... and wallet draining. The square shape and massive weight ensure the G63 will be a thirsty beast. Its official European fuel consumption figure, which few owners will ever achieve in real-world driving, is a high 13.1L/100km.
On-road performance and greater comfort were top of the priority list yet Mercedes-Benz didn't want to sacrifice any of the G-Class's legendary off-road prowess. It still has triple diff-locks for superb traction and every measure of off-road ability has been increased.
With the help of the centre screen display, which uses forward, rear and side cameras to show surrounding terrain that's not visible from the driver's seat, the G-Class makes tough off-roading easy.
The reverse facelift has created a G-Class that's no longer backward.
The new G-Class is made in the same place that produced Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who is Austrian, remember, not German.
And the factory in Graz where the off-roader has been made throughout its long history isn't owned by Mercedes but by a company these days called Magna Steyr.
PRICE $250,000 (est)
SAFETY Not rated
ENGINE 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo, 430kW/850Nm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed auto; 4WD
THIRST 13.1L/100km (est)
0-100KM/H 4.5 secs