Detroit - A slow drip feed of information over the past few months has left little of the new Mercedes G-Class under wraps, but with its official reveal at this week’s Detroit Motor Show we now know what it looks like underneath its previously camouflaged skin, and we have the full story on its improved offroad credentials.

As expected the new G retains its signature boxy shape, while externally mounted door hinges, a tailgate-mounted spare wheel and a pair of circular headlights do well to keep the iconic SUV looking, well… iconic. The package has been slightly rounded though, as if stylists have been busy sanding down its sharp 90 degree edges. The front end has also been modernised with a more 21st century look, and fender flares and bumpers are now smoothly incorporated into the body rather than bolted on after the fact.

But it’s underneath where the most significant updates have happened, and to the delight of the hardest core bushwackers almost every offroading criteria has been improved. Gone is the old G’s live front axle and in its place is an independent, double wishbone suspension setup. Designed in collaboration with AMG, this new arrangement is said to make on road handling more agile and comfortable, while at the same time increasing ground clearance at the front axle.

The G-Class keeps its three locking differentials and its solid back axle, but it’s now mounted by four trailing arms on each side (instead of one), again to improve ride quality and increase ground clearance. Between the axles is the same ladder-frame chassis, though lengthened by 53mm and widened by 121 to allow for more cabin space.

Despite the longer wheelbase the new G-Wagen gains 6mm of ground clearance between axles (up by 6mm to 241), while side tilt, approach, breakover and departure angles are all improved with 35, 31, 26 and 30 degree measurements respectively. Max water fording depth is also up from 600mm to 700.

For now there’s only one engine engine available with the new G500 sporting a 310kW/610Nm 4-litre biturbo V8. Gearbox duty is performed by a nine-speed 9G-Tronic as used in other Mercedes products, but here with low range gear reduction effectively making 18 total forward ratios. No mention is made of performance claims, nor is there word on any future engine options but we’d say it’s safe to expect a diesel choice in the near future. More powerful AMG-engined G-Classes are also inevitable.

We’ve spoken in depth about the new G’s interior, but to recap it borrows plenty of hi-tech from its E and S sedan siblings - such as its wide screen digital instrument cluster comprising two 31.2cm colour displays. This setup is reserved for higher trim levels though, as base spec derivatives will come with more conventional analogue gauges and a smaller LCD trip computer positioned between them.

Also stolen from the E/S-Class repertoire is a steering wheel with Blackberry-style haptic thumb pads for controlling content within the two dashboard screens, and a curved touchpad for infotainment control now makes its way into the G-Class for the first time.

The latest G’s shallow dashboard design, with a driving position relatively close to the windscreen, is very much like the outgoing model’s but it has been extensively modernised with much curvier styling and classier materials such as suede, nappa leather, carbonfibre and open pore wood depending on trim package. Circular air vents are designed to resemble the SUV’s historically round headlights, while square speaker grills (as part of an optional 16-speaker Burmester system) protrude at either end to mimic the historically accurate turn signal lenses mounted on the front fender tops.

As mentioned, the upsized chassis has afforded some more space inside, where 60/40-splitting back seats have been moved rearward into the cargo hold for an extra 15cm of legroom. This has in turn allowed the front seats to gain 4cm in legroom, while shoulder and elbow room has increased significantly for all passengers.

Mercedes-Benz South Africa can’t yet confirm local launch dates, but it will go on sale in Europe and the USA later this year.

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