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First drive: Benz set to double G-Class sales

G force: The Mercedes-AMG G63 is brutally powerful and incredibly capable on and off road.

Sole Mercedes-AMG G63 defies physics with incredible capabilities on and off road


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5 May 2018


MERCEDES-BENZ Australia/Pacific (MBAP) says it has almost sold out of this year’s allocation of the all-new G-Class, which launches Down Under this August in flagship AMG G63 guise from $247,700 plus on-road costs, with one dealer in Sydney said to already hold 30 orders.

Speaking to GoAuto at the international launch of the second-generation G-Class or ‘Geländewagen’ in France late last month, MBAP public relations, product and corporate communications manager David McCarthy said he was confident of doubling the German 4x4’s sales volumes, depending on the production allocation.

“The G-Class certainly offers us useful volume… and I believe we’ll be able to double the 140 sales we achieved last year with the new version,” he said. “But the factory’s biggest problem will be meeting global demand. Mercedes built around 23,000 G-Classes last year.”

Dubbed a “facelift” by Daimler AG and still labelled internally with the same ‘W463’ code as the outgoing model, despite being all-new from the ground-up, the G-Class is unofficially referred to as the ‘W464’ and reflects the largest change that the series has seen in its 39 years in production.

Unveiled at the Detroit motor show in January, the latest G-Class follows its predecessor by prioritising off-road prowess, which is why the design pays faithful homage to the W460 original from 1979. The latter began as a joint venture for a go-anywhere military vehicle between Daimler and Steyr-Daimler-Puch of Austria (as Magna Steyr was known back then).

Familiar design cues include the boxy styling, round headlights, front mudguard indicators, a clamshell bonnet, protector strips, separate flared wheelarches, exposed hinges, full-length B-pillar, tailgate-mounted spare and low-set rectangular tail-lights.

While the only interchangeable items with the W463 released in 1990 are the headlight washers, door handles, sunvisors, spare wheel cover and tow hooks, the return of ladder-frame construction, a trio of fully locking differentials and low-range gear reduction engineering also bind old with new.

Four years in development, the W464 was green lit after it was clear that Mercedes’ flagship 4x4 was going to struggle to viably meet increasingly strict emissions and crash-test legislation without a clean-sheet-of-paper approach.

Key redesign and reengineering goals included improving rigidity, refinement, room and on-road dynamics, while reducing weight.

To that end the newcomer grows 53mm in length, 64mm in width and 15mm in height, while the wheelbase stretches 40mm to 2890mm and the tracks gain a considerable 153mm to 1654mm to accommodate the changes. Boot volume shrinks, however, from 480 litres to 454L.

AMG’s involvement in the W464 commenced during 2015 and centred mainly around the adoption of a double-wishbone front suspension system, doing away with the previous coils and live axles all round, while the old rear end’s leaf springs were ditched for a five-link solid axle and Panhard rod.

Both are mounted directly to the redesigned ladder frame for dramatically increased rigidity off-road. Additionally, an electro-mechanical rack and pinion steering system with variable ratio and parking assistance has ousted the recirculating ball design that was once a Mercedes staple.

Ground clearance up front is rated at 270mm, fording depth rises 100mm to 700mm, departure, ramp breakover and approach angles are up one degree, to 30, 25.7 and 31 degrees respectively, and rear ground clearance lifts 6mm to 241mm.

Slope climbing ability is 45 degrees at 100 per cent while the side incline rating is 35 degrees at 70 per cent.

The new G-Class ushers in five driving modes via the Dynamic Select system – with the AMG 63 adopting Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual, altering engine, transmission, dampers, steering, safety assistance systems including the stability/traction control settings and exhaust flaps for a rowdier sound.

There is also a Sand, Trail and Rock programs, working with the three diff locks and low-range gears for maximum progress off the beaten track. The non-AMG variants score a device called G-Mode for even broader off-road capability, aided by their lack of rear anti-roll bar.

Mercedes boosted the torsional rigidity of the frame, body and mounts to achieve an overall rise of 55 per cent over the old model, while the roof is now laser rather than spot welded for extra strength aiding the latter while contributing to a 170kg weight drop was the adoption of lighter high and ultra-high strength steels for the body shell as well as aluminium for the mudguards, doors and bonnet. Noticeably reduced levels of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) is the upshot.

For now, Australia will miss out on the G500 and its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8.

Driving all four wheels via a 9G-Tronic nine-speed torque-converter automatic, it delivers 310kW of power between 5250rpm and 5500rpm, and 610Nm of torque from 2000rpm to 4750rpm, for a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.9 seconds and a 210km/h top speed.

Fuel consumption is 12.1 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres while it emits 276 grams of carbon dioxide per km.

Replacing the retired 420kW/760Nm 5.5-litre V8 twin-turbo in the previous equivalent, the new AMG G63 builds on that 4.0-litre unit with 430kW at 6000rpm and 850Nm between 2500rpm and 3500rpm, resulting in a 4.5s 0-100km/h dash and a 220km/h (governed) top speed (or 240km/h with an optional ‘Driver’s Package’), 13.1L/100km fuel use and 299g/km of CO2.

Cylinder shut-off is included. It also gains AMG ride control adaptive dampers, AMG-specific transmission tuning and software with Sport and Sport+ modes, and rear-focused all-wheel drive (40:60) with the three differential locks.

A new transfer case with integrated multi-disc clutch and reduction gear is flange-mounted directly to the 9G-Tronic gearbox, distributing 40 per cent of torque to the front axle, for rear-drive biased on-road handling.

Mercedes says it behaves like a diff lock for better off-road manoeuvrability, activating the lock switches the multi-disc clutch to a fixed 100 per cent locking effect. The extra torque to the rear wheels has allowed for the step-down ratio of the transfer case to be dropped from 2.1 to 2.93 for improved starting on acute slopes.

The AMG 63 is readily identifiable via its vertical-barred grille, massive front air intakes incorporated in the redesigned bumper, ‘Dull Iridium Silver’ trim, unique LED lighting, bolstered wheelarches, 22-inch wheels, standard running boards, red brake callipers with perforated discs and side exhaust outlets.

Nothing has been carried over from the old G-Class inside, although the doors clang shut and a large grab handle has been designed into the all-new dash for sentimental reasons.

Leveraging the current E-Class electrical technology, the ‘Widescreen Cockpit’ rectangular instrument fascia with configurable Classic, Sport or Progressive styles is reminiscent of the large sedan series, is completely digital and features much of the same vehicle functionality set-up. The AMG 63 includes dual 12.3-inch displays.

Turbine-like air vents are meant to connect with the headlight motifs the speakers likewise with the front indicators a wide lower centre console houses the familiar Comand multimedia system the seats and materials are of the same standard (or above) as found in the brand’s GLS upper-large SUV and there are a host of options available as per every other Benz. The G-Class offers the full Mercedes personalisation experience.

Finally, buyers will be able to option up to the Edition 1, which for an extra $19,900 adds a host of extra fittings, including quilted massaging and climate-controlled front seats, special paintwork treatments and unique 22-inch alloys.

With such extensive changes inside and underneath making the G-Class a truly all-new vehicle, the expectation leading up to our first drive was of a modernised and more refined retro-looking off-roader offering usefully improved on-road manners, better comfort and the mandatory performance upgrade.

However, and in stark contrast to the bold and bolshie styling of the AMG G63, that is a profound understatement.

What greeted us was a vehicle that, on the one hand, might be one of the most capable high-luxury 4x4s off-road ever on one hand, and, on the other, a 2.5-tonne body-on-frame mud-plugger that evolves the breed with comparatively outstanding acceleration, handling, roadholding, ride comfort and braking characteristics. The AMG G63 explores boundaries on both opposing frontiers.

Visually, only a side-by-side inspection will reveal the complete redesign’s true depth of change, which bows with appropriate reverence to the 1979 original’s timeless design by being simultaneously the same but – with exposure – pleasingly different.

Better proportions are the upshot of the longer wheelbase, broader stance and wider body. Getting up-close and personal exposes the subtly more-rounded corners, gently-curved (instead of dead-flat) windscreen, cleaner surfacing, tighter panel gaps and 21st century detailing such as the LED lighting, huge air intakes, driver-assist tech and aero mirrors.

Like today’s Fiat 500, the second-generation G-Class is an exquisitely nuanced post-modern retro exercise that works.

By and large, the interior overhaul is also a success, once you remember to push the carryover door buttons and not yank the handle futilely. Apparently, Mercedes actually engineered the flimsy-sounding clang from the closing aluminium doors because that’s what research dictated existing owners liked, but it jars with its shrill cheapness and almost never shuts properly first go.

Silly. Still, with a bigger body boasting larger apertures, clambering in and out is easier than before, though larger and longer-legged folk might still baulk.

Perhaps the G’s best revelation is how solidly old-school Benz-like much of the controls, switchgear, fit and finish seems, bringing to mind the brand’s glorious over-engineered days.

Yet this AMG is no slave to yesteryear, with plush, enveloping seats that perch their occupants high and mightily in a broad, spacious and airy interior. The driving position is excellent, the ventilation effective, storage ample, vision out panoramic, and there is more than enough space now to fit five adults – or four in lounging salubriousness – as well as a fair amount of their designer luggage. Airy and inviting, the G is the anti-BMW X6 inside.

Additionally, the E-Class sedan-inspired dual digital displays, turbine-look air vents, metallic toggle switchgear, multimedia controller and lashings of leather and suede-like microfibre trim actually gel convincingly, to create an appropriately over-the-top gangster-grade luxury boardroom SUV that’s like a bunker from the outside world.

Let’s not get too carried away though. The multimedia and vehicle settings operations – especially as accessed by the driver via the too-small and overly sensitive steering-wheel buttons – can be distractingly fiddly to the uninitiated the GPS tech glitched not for the first time in a Mercedes and the block-of-flats 0.53 Cd promotes heaps of (albeit distant sounding) wind noise from the pillars and mirrors. That’s a fact of physics relating to that alluringly boxy body design which even Mercedes’ overworked boffins cannot beat.

But, boy, they’ve tried in the way that the AMG G63 behaves.

On road first, as experienced on the dry and sunny rural roads of southern France. Push the starter and the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 roars into life select Comfort, and if you gingerly accelerate away, the Benz will saunter off with newfound civility (save for the startling rifle-bolt auto door locking – another old-school must-have carryover).

Muscular smoothness is the game here, but you just know that explosive thrust is a push of your right foot away. And so it is, yet the planted ease in which the G bowls along building boundless momentum is what elicits gasps.

Selecting Sport or Sport+ is like prodding a hungry bear with a Taser, so hungrily snappy are the engine’s resulting reflexes. And pressing the exhaust enhancer button trumpets the Benz’s anti-social ways with a middle-finger salute to keeping under the radar.

Any AMG aficionado might expect such walloping theatrics, but this elephant-on-ecstasy can also dance, thanks to beautifully smooth and reactive, if unexpectedly low-geared steering that takes some getting used-to, but does feel tuned just right when threading this 2.5-tonne SUV through fast turns.

Corner placement is accurate, body movement is extraordinarily contained for a ladder-frame building-on-wheels, and there’s a huge amount of tyre grip. Aided by the great vision that the deep windows and vertical-esque sides afford, the dynamics are actually confidence-inspiring.

And that’s in Comfort. Choose Sport or Sport+ and the adaptive dampers and anti-roll bars deliver even more incongruous agility at speed, and incredibly it doesn’t come at the expense of the completely unanticipated cushy ride, unless the roads turn particularly nasty.

The AMG 63 is astoundingly broad in its ability to cosset and thrill simultaneously whilst remaining cool and collected, especially when factoring in how goat-like the trio of differential-lock 4x4 system is as demonstrated at the launch on a punishing off-road track.

Climbing mountains is what the G-Class literally is designed to do first and foremost the flagship’s extra roll bar and on-road athleticism makes it less cross-country than the G500 also sampled, but the bush-bashing fundamentals are built-in.

As triple threats go, the ballistic, balletic and yet bush-bashing Benz super-lush SUV is impressively multi-faceted. If you hate showy, detest chintz and long to keep under the radar (detectors) then look elsewhere.

But if you want to look like the boss without forgoing life’s big luxuries and need something that can make a quick getaway, then the cool quarter-million that the G63 commands almost seems like incredible value.

This year, rapper and songwriter Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize and now Mercedes-AMG have pulled this out of the ether so the previous boundaries no longer feel unbreakable.

This is what the flagship G-Class feels like it can achieve. There is nothing quite like this adorable retro rogue that is anything but stuck in the past.

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