First Look – 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class: All-New, Still Old School
After four decades, Mercedes-Benz has decided the G-Class was due for a complete redesign, but don't worry, the 2019 G550 retains all the cool of the original.
Mercedes-Benz introduced one of its most iconic vehicles for 1979, the G-Class (although we had to wait till 2002 to get it in the U.S.). In the ensuing 40 years, the military-spec G-Class underwent a few changes—suspension updates, new interiors, more powerful engines, etc.—but it retained the same basic structure it’s had since its introduction.
And for some reason, buyers couldn’t get enough of the ancient machine. We can’t think of any other nameplate that has as much stamina as the outdated G-Class. For context, if Toyota sold a version of the 1979 Tercel in today’s showrooms, would anyone buy it except the hopelessly over-ironic? And yet, the Carter-era Geländewagen endures, trading on merit of its bank-vault construction, totally unique styling, and world-beating off-road capability.
Well, after four decades and more than 300,000 sold, Mercedes-Benz has finally decided the G-Class was due for a complete and total redesign. We first heard rumblings the G-Class would be replaced a few years ago, and worry set in. The G-Wagen was about to become a retro-styled slushmobile, something in which the Kardashians could preen but that wouldn’t be able to handle much more than a pothole on Sepulveda Boulevard. At least that was our concern.
Now that we’ve seen the 2019 G-Class, we’ve learned those worries are unfounded.
StylingThe most obvious link the all-new G-Class shares with its forebear is styling. Although the new SUV is 2.1 inches longer and 4.8 inches wider, it retains its brawny Arnold Schwarzenegger look, complete with G-Class signatures like fender top–mounted turn signals, a rear spare tire carrier, and perfectly flat panes of glass. Exterior door hinges and a standalone hood further link the new ‘wagen to the old one. Mercedes also touts the G-Class’ distinctive door handles and closing sound. That heavy click is what caused this author to fall in love with the original G-Class, so we’re glad it’s made a return.
Changes are limited, with a larger windshield, a smoother front fascia incorporating LED headlamps, and a nip-tuck to accommodate the additional length and width. Mercedes says the G-Class was designed with tighter tolerances, yielding narrower panel gaps and better-integrated bumpers and fender flares. The overall look is much smoother, lending credence to the company’s hyperbolic prose that says the G-Class looks like it’s cast from a single piece of metal. And in spite of the footprint increase, that single piece of metal is about 375 pounds lighter than before.
Inner BeautyBut while the exterior was mostly left alone, Mercedes-Benz gave the interior a total makeover, with a bold infotainment display, modern trim materials, and a few touches that link to the exterior. For example, Benz says the circular air vents take their inspiration from the G-Class’ headlights, while the dash-mounted speaker grilles mimic the front turn signals. Carrying over from the previous-generation G-Class are a passenger-side dashboard grab handle and metallic-trimmed, centrally located lock switches for the front, center, and rear differentials.
Interior space is up, thanks to those new exterior dimensions. Legroom up front grows by 1.5 inches, while backseat passengers get an additional 5.9 inches of stretch-out room. Shoulder room front and rear are up by about an inch each, while elbow room grows by 2.7 inches in front and 2.2 inches in back. The added space should alleviate some of the claustrophobia felt in the old G-Class, particularly when riding 5-up. Rear seat space with three passengers was less than ideal, but now it should be more than spacious.
Gears and CogsOnly one G-Class variant has been confirmed for the U.S.: the G550. Powered by a carryover 4.0L twin-turbocharged V-8, the G550 puts out 416 hp and 450 lb-ft. However, the new G will use that power more efficiently, thanks to a new nine-speed automatic transmission (up two gears from 2018).
New electromechanical rack-and-pinion steering should be a significant upgrade from the outgoing G-Class’ seemingly wooden recirculating ball setup. With three different drive modes, the steering effort can be varied for particular terrain and traffic situations.
The aforementioned weight loss regime consisted of a new diet of high strength steel for the body shell, with aluminum trimming the doors, hood, and fenders. Digital prototyping allowed engineers to trim weight where possible, and Mercedes improved weight loss and tightened tolerances by refining the hand-built production process at the G-Wagen’s Magna Steyr plant in Graz, Austria. The body shell is also stiffer than before, yielding improvements in all driving situations since the suspension can more effectively do its job.
GeländewageningWhen the pavement turns to dirt, the dirt turns to rocks, and the whole thing turns to snow-melted mud, Mercedes-Benz says the 2019 G-Class has what it takes to keep moving. The new G-Class retains a ladder-type frame and two-speed fulltime four-wheel-drive transfer case, guaranteeing ruggedness in poor conditions. However, the front suspension is now an independent double-wishbone design, while the rear soldiers on with a solid axle.
Fret not, however, as the G-Class boasts 10.6 inches of ground clearance under that front axle, with a rated clearance of 9.5 inches, up slightly over 2018. Approach and breakover angles improve by one degree, to 31 and 26 respectively, while departure angle holds constant at an impressive 30 degrees. And Benz improved the big G’s fording depth to 27.6 inches, up nearly 4 from the 2018 truck.
The 2019 SUV gets a new driving setting called “G Mode,” which adapts the adjustable suspension and optimizes throttle response for good off-road performance. G Mode, which automatically engages when in low range or one of the three diff locks is active, also alters steering effort for maximum feel and control and changes shift points to minimize unnecessary gear changes.
Crystal BallThere’s a lot to like about the 2019 G-Class, especially if you already liked the old one. While we’re a bit saddened to see the departure of the solid front axle, and the front styling does take a bit of getting used to, we’re glad Mercedes-Benz modernized the truck while keeping it rugged and capable.
While nothing has been confirmed, we expect Mercedes-Benz to offer a variety of models beyond the G550 we know about. We predict a Mercedes-AMG G63 to make its return, as well as a wild, impractical, we-must-have-it AMG G65. Mercedes says the current G-Class retains the highest AMG retail mix of any of the company’s product lines, so it’d be foolhardy not to offer a high-performance variant of the new one.
Unfortunately, we’ll still have to wait for pricing and fuel economy data till the new SUV hits the market in late 2018, but we expect those numbers to stay close to their current counterparts. Plan on spending at least $125,000 for the privilege of hooning a G550, and expect combined fuel efficiency to go up a couple ticks to 17 mpg (in spite of the weight loss and gear-happy transmission, this is still a heavy, blocky SUV).
Nevertheless, we’re just impressed the company remains committed to building such a cool, capable machine, and we can’t wait to put the 2019 Mercedes-Benz G550 through its paces as soon as we’re able.