THE Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is gearing up for its biggest update since the boxy original appeared in 1979. Breaking away from almost four decades of traditional live-axles front and rear, these photos appear to show the new model will use independent front suspension for the first time.
Key to the changes include a new skin, underbody aerodynamic tweaks, new suspension system and a revised interior designed to right some of the ergonomic wrongs of the current car, which thrives on its authenticity and superb off-road talents.
However, the chunky proportions and circular headlights are likely to remain a feature of the imminent G-Class styling update, which will focus on improving aerodynamics to improve refinement and reduce fuel use.
Engineering prototypes with flared wheel arches photographed testing overseas suggest the 2018 G-Class will get a slightly wider track for improved stability, as well as a new suspension system including IFS to benefit ride quality.
Look closely at the lower angles in these photographs and you notice the omission of the live-axle’s diff pumpkin in between the front wheels, something that was always noticeable on the current and past models. The side-on photos also show a different front suspension to what is currently available, while the rear shots reveal the coil-sprung live rear axle is still in place.
Speaking to 4X4 Australia ahead of the recent Geneva Motor Show, Dr Gunnar Güthenke, head of the off-road product group at Mercedes-Benz, hinted there were changes afoot for the legendary off-roader. As always, he said global regulatory changes would shape the future of the G.
“We are taking each upcoming change of legislation as a challenge, and our intention is clear – we want to bring the G-Class further into the future,” he said.
“The G-Class is an icon so we like to keep it as an icon,” said Dr Güthenke, cautious of giving away too much information. “There are a lot of rumours in the market, some are true, some are wrong. I cannot go into detail… there are certain icons in the automotive industry and I think we are well advised to take care [with any updates].”
He said there were certain “core elements” that have not – and would not – change. They include the ladder chassis, dual-range transfer case and trio of differential locks for maximum traction.
He also hinted that off-road ability was key to any changes to the G.
“One of the advances, not too long ago… was the portal axle, that came first with the [six-wheeled G-Class] 6x6,” said Dr Güthenke.
He was coy when asked about the prospect of Mercedes-Benz’s new inline six-cylinder making it into the future G-Class.
“Whenever we see it’s the right point in time – we obviously are very conscious of fuel consumption – so when the company is offering better engines, we will definitely look into it,” he said.
4X4 Australia understands a version of the yet-to-be-revealed inline six-cylinder diesel is unlikely before 2020.
Dr Güthenke also said the G-Class would be ready to react if demand or regulations stipulated the use of a hybrid drivetrain.
“The [hybrid] technology is available within our company… as the G-Class team has shown when the customer request is there we can integrate what is available in this company into our car.”
As for tweaks such as a larger fuel tank, Dr Güthenke ruled them out, suggesting aftermarket suppliers had it covered.
“Today there are certain ones available in the aftermarket, which work pretty well.”
Despite the G-Wagen changing little in looks since the original in 1979, there has been a big change in its appeal thanks to the fitment of more luxury equipment and bigger, more powerful engines.
Such changes and updates mean Mercedes-Benz plans extensive testing and development every year at its challenging Mount Schoeckl proving ground, not far from the G-Wagen’s production line in Graz, Austria.
“We do a durability test each year, just to ensure that our vehicle is 100 per cent up to all expectations,” said Dr Güthenke. “There are always little changes that are necessary each year, so each year we take a production vehicle and make this durability test. There’s always testing going on.”
Despite its age the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is more popular than ever. In 2016 more than 20,000 G-Classes were produced for the first time in a year. More than half of them are V8 or V12 AMG models. In Australia the AMG mix is closer to 80 per cent of G-Class sales (they are all V8s because the V12 is not sold here).
Without going into detail, Dr Güthenke confirmed there would be more low volume special editions based on the G-Class. Mercedes has already produced three special edition Gs: the 6x6 six-wheeler, the high-riding 4×4², and the recently unveiled G650 Landaulet.
“I would say yes,” was his quick response when asked about new specials. “The whole team loves to come up with ideas like this and is really very grateful for the positive response, and it’s something many car enthusiasts just love and there are a lot of car enthusiasts with our G … so let’s see what comes next.”