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Friday, June 9, 2023

2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

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Why do we love the Gelandewagen? On paper, it’s a mystery. The rig starts at more than $120,000, with some models commanding five times that. For all that money, you get a narrow, tippy-feeling 4×4 that’s ill at ease on any paved surface and pointedly unfriendly to drive. The chassis hasn’t been updated since 1990, and the bodywork has hardly budged in nearly four decades.

2019 Mercedes-Benz G

But people can’t stop buying them. Mercedes built more G-Class trucks in 2017 than any year since civilian sales began in 1979. In those 39 years, the rig has been remodeled like a house, new facades and interiors—and a freak parade of nuclear AMG engine options—hung from the original studs. Designed as a troop transporter and first sold as a pragmatic utility vehicle, the G has slowly morphed into an ultra-luxury fashion item, all without a major redesign. Mercedes began officially importing G-Wagens to the US in 2002; most of them seem to have ended up in the ritzy parts of New York and LA.

As SUVs begat CUVs and “sports activity vehicles,” the G-Class’s charm grew with age. The paramilitary looks and mud-buggy driving dynamics made the rest of the industry’s luxe-utes seem about as compelling as unbuttered toast. A German man took a 1980s G-Wagen on a 26-year tour of the globe, racking up more than a half million miles. Your Escalade is weak.

Mercedes didn’t necessarily want to do this. “Our idea was not to have a completely new vehicle, only a facelift,” Kurt Tomberger, Strategic Project Manager for the G-Class, told me at the automaker’s launch event in France.

But, well, have you ever tried to steer a Geländewagen? The old truck’s recirculating-ball setup was cribbed from a commercial truck, decades ago. It shows: You need both arms to wrench the thing into a curve and wrestle it straight again. Lane changes are a crapshoot. There’s no feel and hardly any assist. It’s a wonder G owners can keep it between the curbs.

So Mercedes set out to improve the rig’s on-road manners for 2019. A simple swap to rack-and-pinion steering was all it would take. Another benefit: The updated steering system would finally bring modern features like Park Assist to the G lineup.

One small problem: Rack-and-pinion doesn’t work on a solid front axle, the old-school suspension design that gave the G-Class its legendary off-road prowess. Designing an independent front suspension that wouldn’t impinge on that all-terrain ability required a new, stiffer frame. And what about all those crash tests that have come along in the 39 years since the G-Wagen was first introduced?

It’s a wonder Mercedes pulled it off. The new G-Class is an amazing machine, accomplishing every task in a way the old G never could. Finally, the Gelandewagen is a thoroughly modern vehicle.

But you can tell folks at Mercedes still harbor some nostalgia for the old rig. They may have leveled the house, but they kept the address: The internal chassis code for the new G-Class is 463, the same as it was for the last one.

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