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Mercedes-Benz calls it the best offroader in its segment, and with production starting 33 years ago and the boxy shape unchanged in all that time, it’s also one of the world’s most iconic.
At last week’s world launch of the latest-generation G-Class – which is more facelift than all-new – we were told in hushed tones that when Mercedes tried to stop the G-Class a few years ago it was met with enough resistance from owners to not only carry on, but to continue building them by hand. Yup, that’s right, by hand. And I wouldn’t have believed it either unless I saw it with my own eyes on a factory tour.
The facelift itself is minor, but the carmaker has placed a huge emphasis on getting the G up to scratch with its latest technology, and has thrown in some serious brawn for those who like a bit of horsepower when things gets rough. On the outside buyers can expect LED daytime running lights and different side mirrors, while AMG models score a different radiator grille with double louvres, new bumper with larger air intakes, and red brake callipers behind wicked 20” wheels.
Inside is where the renaissance has really happened. The instrument panel and centre console are straight out of Mercs we’ve driven recently – with a colour screen on the centre console, modern switchgear and dials, and a snazzy gearshift lever.
On the tech front expect Merc’s Comand controller which houses things like satnav (with special off-road features), Linguatronic’s voice-operated functionality, and Bluetooth. Options include Distronic Plus, Blind Spot Assist and Parktronic, while on the safety front the ESP system now includes Trailer Stability Assist and Hill Hold.
Under the bonnet the most exciting development also happens to be the only new model we won’t be getting in SA.
It’s called the G65 and Merc bills it as the most powerful production off-road vehicle on the planet – at around R3 million (in Europe) it’s also the most expensive production vehicle the company has ever made. It gets the 6-litre V12 biturbo from the SL65 roadster, pushes 450kW and 1 000Nm, should hit 100km/h from standstill in 5.3 seconds and is governed to 230km/h.
In SA we can expect the G63 AMG, which replaces the G55 and gets a 5.5-litre V8 biturbo. After driving it I can confirm it’s a monster, pushing 400kW and 760Nm, with a claimed 0-100km/h time just one-tenth slower than the G65 and a governed top speed of 210km/h. Mercedes reckons that at 13.8l/100km it’s also 13 percent lighter than its predecessor.
ALL ABOUT ROCKS
The G-Class is all about rocks and ground clearance though, and to prove this the Germans took us up and down quite a harrowing 45-degree steep incline, at times in reverse! More rugged was getting to play on the factory’s official test track, a mountain behind the factory called the Schöckl – where according to Merc 4 000km of testing equates to 300 000km of wear.
Crawling up the mountain is a real test of the front, rear and middle difflocks, with rocks the size of your desk and the vehicle often with traction to just one or two wheels.
More impressive was the high-speed sprint down the side of the mountain, over similar terrain. It was rough, suspension-straining stuff but the G-Class, unlike the passengers, ran it without a rattle.
Other models due here in late November include the G350 BlueTec (3-litre V6 diesel), the V8 5.5-litre G500 (new here) which makes 285kW and 530Nm, and the entry-level G300 CDI Professional (also V6 diesel). -Star Motoring