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Mercedes G-Class blends the old and new

Design of the times: The design of the G-Class is familiar and that is exactly what buyers wanted, according to Benz.

Maintaining iconic G-Class design while updating tech proved challenging for Benz

Mercedes-Benz logo7 May 2018

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in FRANCE

MERCEDES-BENZ has revealed that retaining the distinct look of the outgoing G-Class was the top priority when designing the all-new version, even to the detriment of functionality and efficiency.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the W464-series model in France late last month, Daimler AG head of development for G-Class, Oliver Metzger, said that anything other than a post-modern retro design would jeopardise the Geländewagen (G-Class) appeal with consumers, in the same way that Porsche’s 911 has remained essentially unchanged after more than 50 years.

“We see the G-Wagen (G-Class) as the Porsche 911 of Mercedes-Benz,” he said.

“So there was no way we could change our design icon… buyers would not want that at all.”

As a result, a series of visual must-haves from the 1979 W460 Geländewagen original were identified as non-negotiable when work commenced on the W464 in early 2014 in Germany.

These included the instantly recognisable boxy styling, circular headlights, low-set rectangular tail-lights, indicators on the front mudguards, clamshell bonnet, side protector strips, wheelarch extensions, exposed hinges on all doors, full-length B-pillar and tailgate-mounted spare wheel.

Although all appear carryover items, all except the spare cover have been completely redesigned. The wheel cover, the headlight washers and outside door handles, are the only exterior items interchangeable with the outgoing model.

The newcomer’s body is less geometrically boxy than before, especially at the rear where the leading edges’ are subtly rounded, thus improving airflow as well as structural integrity. New rain gutters have also taken the sharpness away and there are aero lips around the front wheelarches to direct airflow more efficiently.

Better integration of the plastic wheelarch extensions and bumpers are “a more integral part of the body and thus look less like add-on features”, according to Mr Metzger, while the clamshell bonnet now features a step to hide the fastening screws that were previously visible from outside the vehicle.

However, despite sharing its relatively streamlined exterior mirrors with the upcoming, fourth-generation GLE, the new G-Class’ drag co-efficiency figure of 0.532Cd means its aerodynamics are barely any better than before.

Mr Metzger admitted that this was the best his team could achieve, and “some” wind noise from the pillars and mirrors was the price paid for the larger frontal area and wider body in order to package better pedestrian-impact properties as well as maintaining what is a blunt, barn-door silhouette.

“I said it before… it was not easy to keep that shape,” he said. “And we had to keep telling ourselves that it was all for the good of the design.”

The veteran engineers’ team even experimented with active grille shutters, but found during testing that when they were closed off, the actual amount of total drag actually increased markedly because the air had nowhere to go once opened again the flow would pass directly through the engine bay and then underneath the vehicle, so this avenue for improving aerodynamics was abandoned.

One area where Mr Metzger did manage to maintain the styling but improve functionality was entry and egress, since the larger, wider body and longer wheelbase allowed the G-Class designers to create bigger and squarer apertures this is especially apparent when using the rear seat.

Additionally, there is now considerably more shoulder and elbow space inside, as well as greater legroom front and rear, with outboard occupants enjoying a larger buffer between themselves and the door/glass. This, plus the deep side windows, higher upright seating and steering wheel which is no longer offset (it was so by 20 degrees), increase comfort and offer more natural and ergonomic placement positions relative to all the controls and switchgear, reducing fatigue dramatically.

The mudguard indicators were also facing the chop as their protrusion could pose injury risks to pedestrians on impact, until Mercedes’ boffins devised a way of making them break off harmlessly if struck a certain way.

Finally, while he declined to talk about future developments, Mr Metzger revealed that the W464’s architectural modularity means that any size of body and wheelbase can be created, presenting the possibilities of a seven-seater or short-body offshoots in the future.

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