The casting of the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen in 2015’s.Introduced in 1979—and largely unchanged since—the G-wagen is a dinosaur. Fittingly, it appeared in the most fantastic installment yet of the sci-fi series, in which scientists created a new dinosaur. Because for the first time in almost 40 years, Mercedes-Benz has finally messed with the G-class’s DNA.
What’s New Looks Old
Oh, don’t worry too much. Just look at the pictures. While the 2019 model is comprehensively reengineered—only the door handles, the spare-tire cover, and the headlight-washer nozzles are shared with its predecessor—it still looks very much the same. The edges are softer now and the roof pillars are a bit thicker, but all of the important G cues are there: the awkward trim strips encircling the body, a spare tire hanging off a massive side-hinged rear portal, square-cut doors (now with rounded edges) with exposed hinges, a clamshell hood, and marker lights on top of the fenders. Without seeing the old and new side by side, most people will be hard-pressed to identify many differences. Heck, casual observers will go on thinking it’s unchanged. Although it wasn’t installed on any of the Europe-market vehicles we drove for this first exposure, the brush guard will still be standard in the United States. And in addition to the G’s Lego-brick silhouette, the most important mechanical parameters remain: There’s still a ladder frame, and the truck still has three locking differentials.
But the front and rear differentials are a critical 1.6 inches farther apart now, and the front one resides in an independently suspended front axle, which is the primary reason for the G-wagen dramatically improved ride quality. Without a big log axle crashing around up front, Benz’s brick rides far more like a modern vehicle, soaking up bumps without making occupants feel like they’re doing the off-roading they almost certainly will never do. The boost from the electrically assisted power steering varies depending on the selected driving mode, but this model’s rack-and-pinion system is far more precise than the outgoing truck’s recirculating-ball setup.
Overall length is up 2.1 inches, and the new G is a significant 4.8 inches wider. This changes the proportions dramatically. While 2.1 inches represents just a 1 percent increase in length, width balloons 7 percent. From behind, all G-wagons now have the broad-shouldered bulk of the wild, portal-axled G550 4×4 2 —particularly the Mercedes-AMG G63, which gets slightly wider fender flares than the G550.
If AMG’s involvement means that all G-wagons have a little bit of Affalterbach in them, the theme continues in the engine room, where both the G550 and the G63 now pack twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8s backed by a nine-speed automatic. The G550’s engine is unchanged from last year’s, making 416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque. In place of its previous twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8, the G63 now packs a hotter version of the 4.0-liter cranked up to 577 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque, increases of 14 and 66 over the larger engine. (When it debuted in 1979, the original G offered 71 horsepower.)
Both variants still dump their exhaust ahead of the rear wheels, but the G550’s tips are tucked out of sight behind the side steps, whereas the G63’s twin tips poke out proudly. Both setups produce the rollicking V-8 wuffle so central to the modern G’s identity, with a flap in the AMG’s pipes allowing the choice of higher or lower volumes under light loads. After a few hours we might go for the quiet mode, but when you’re approaching a stone wall or a tunnel, you’ll want to be quick with the mode button and the window switches.