Mercedes-Benz has redesigned its classic off-roader for the modern age.
The automaker revealed its next-generation G-Class SUV ahead of the Detroit Auto Show on Sunday night at a presentation attended by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a native of the same Austrian region that birthed the classic all-wheel-drive powerhouse known as the G-wagen. Mercedes-Benz Chairman Dieter Zetsche outlined the company’s plan to update its longest-running passenger car model with more power and the contemporary comforts found in its newer luxury sedans.
The fundamentals of the boxy, iconic G-Class remained relatively unchanged since its debut in 1979, but the remodel will include significant upgrades to its interior and drivetrain, Zetsche said. On sale later this year, the six-figure G-Class must stay relevant among a crop of high-end newcomers that includes ultra-luxury SUVs from Lamborghini, Maserati, and Bentley.
Across town, Mercedes displayed an original model from the SUV’s first production year, encased in 44.4 tons of synthetic resin, possibly the world’s largest installation of its kind. Even though the SUV is not a volume seller for Mercedes, the nameplate is central to the brand’s identity as a maker of capable luxury vehicles and serves as the inspiration for its strong portfolio of SUVs and crossovers.
Retaining the same distinctive angular frame of the previous generation, the new Mercedes-Benz G550 dropped 375 pounds while adding more modern amenities such as three-zone climate control and 64 shades of ambient lighting, an improbable juxtaposition for its freewheeling heritage.
“Each part and every bolt came under close scrutiny," Dr. Gunnar Güthenke, head of the off-road product group at Mercedes-Benz, said in a statement. "With the body, our main focus was on increasing the vehicle rigidity and the connections between the suspension and drivetrain with the ladder-type frame."
Underpinned by a new, 416-horsepower biturbo 4.0-liter V8 gas engine, the remodeled SUV gets a new suspension and four drive modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual. A setting called “G-Mode” increases off-road capability when the SUV detects tougher terrain. Its longer, wider body is comprised of a variety of steel grades; the hood and doors are made of aluminum. The new model retains some features like door hinges positioned on the outside.
Inside, there’s more room for legs, shoulders, and elbows, as well as a 60-40 split-folding rear seat for storing unwieldy cargo. All models will be equipped with Mercedes’ advanced driver assistance systems. The widescreen cockpit – formed by a pair of 12.3-inch display screens joined under a single glass panel – found in Mercedes’ flagship S-Class sedan is optional.
Appearing on stage with Zetsche in matching cowboy hats, Schwarzenegger made a coy reference to the new model’s transformation. “You never say to anyone in Hollywood what did you do for your facelift,” he said.