It’s fair to say way back in the 1970s, when Mercedes engineers were developing a vehicle to be used by the German military and agricultural workers, next to no consideration was given for how such a vehicle might drive on-road in fairly easy, potentially fast, conditions. Of course everyone is well aware of the recent success of the G-Class concerning its popularity among society’s elite, especially the extremely potent AMG models, but it simply doesn’t drive as well as it should. Capable off-road it may be, and still clearly is, the G-Class needed some proper attention on key areas like ride and handling.
Welcome, then, the new Mercedes W464 Geländewagen. At first glance it may look like a small evolution of the 39-year-old original, but dig deeper and you’ll find no end of changes and enhancements to finally give the G-Class a chance to behave better on the tarmac, while still keeping that famed ability off it. It sounds impossible to make a car already great off-road even better if it’s meant to have a focus on-road, but Mercedes’ engineers have managed it and more. A body almost 50% more rigid than the outgoing model, on a frame that is some 34% stiffer, goes a long way to making any car better. Wider tracks afford better stability and independent front suspension replaces the old model’s live axle setup, with no detriment to its off-road prowess but offering such a vast improvement in its on-road manners you’ll scarcely believe it is still a G-Wagen.
Despite a somewhat greater focus on tarmac talent, every measurable off-road parameter has been improved on; approach, departure and breakover angles see increases of 1 degree, suspension travel is greater, and the tilt angle is up at 35 degrees. This isn’t some tryhard Cayenne or X5 competitor, but a machine that still carries the coveted Schöckl badge; a nod to the mountain near the Graz, Austria manufacturing plant where every G-Class model is tested prior to production. The new model handles it with ease.
What else under the skin has been developed? The steering is probably what most drivers will notice, especially if they go back-to-back with the 463 G-Wagen. Gone is the old-hat, wandering-about recirculating ball, replaced by a rack-and-pinion setup with electro-mechanical assistance. It should mean driving on the highway, or suburban streets, will be as easy as driving one of Mercedes’ luxury sedans. No manual gearbox will be offered, instead the company’s latest 9G-Tronic nine-speed auto will do the shifting. Three locking diffs, low range and a selection of both diesel and gasoline engines will ensure progress is made as easily as only the big G can make it, be it through the serenity of nature or the chaos of downtown, where it will most likely be, if we’re being honest. AMG models like the G500 and G63 will almost certainly get the 4.0L, twin-turbo V8 seen in various flavors from the C63 to the GT sports coupe. With circa-500HP and a slight weight reduction of around 350lb from the previous model, performance should be reasonably sprightly then.
So, with something like 300,000 G-Wagens already having been produced, and lauded for close to 40 years, expectations are very high for the W464. With a debut slated for the Detroit Motor Show this month, we’ll find out soon how it stacks up, on paper at least, with the much-loved original.
Written by Alex Burchell