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No smoke and mirrors: Daimler AG boss Dieter Zetsche introduces the 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV in Detroit on the eve of the 2018 North American International Auto Show. (Kami Buchholz)

2018 NAIAS: Mercedes boosts off-road prowess of 2019 G-wagen

Enthusiasts still call it the "G-wagen" and its boxy exterior form remains faithful to the 1979 original. There's still a ladder-type frame, three fully-locking differentials and low-range gear reduction. But the 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class boasts new technology to further improve its off-road prowess.

“The G-Class from the start was built to be the most capable off-road car that we have in our portfolio. And the new ‘G-Mode’ improves the vehicle’s off-road capability even further,” said Ola Kallenius, Member of the Board of Daimler AG responsible for R&D and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development.

Kallenius spoke with Automotive Engineering following the 2019 G-Class world debut at the 2018 North American International Auto Show.

The driveline switches to G-Mode--independent of the selected driving mode--as soon as one of the three differential locks has been activated or the Low Range off-road reduction gear has been engaged. G-Mode adapts the adjustable damping of the chassis and the steering as well as the accelerator characteristic while preventing unnecessary gear shifts.

Extensive testing of the new G-Wagen and its G-mode unfolded on the 1445-m-(4740 ft-) high Schockl mountain, near Magna Steyr's Graz, Austria, plant where the G-Class is produced. The grueling 5.6 km (3.47 mi) test route is flush with steep, daunting terrain. “If you’re off-road in extreme situations, you want to be able to control the vehicle at very low speed,” Kallenius said, noting the current G-Class can handle approach/departure angles of up to 45°. With the new G-Mode, even more challenging angles and speeds are possible for the G-Class, Kallenius promised.

The 2019 truck also features a new independent suspension, developed in a collaboration between Mercedes-Benz GmbH and Mercedes-AMG GmbH. Front wheel travel is controlled by a double-wishbone setup, rigidly mounted to the frame, while the "live" rigid rear axle uses four longitudinal trailing arms on each side and a Panhard rod. The lower control arms' attachment points in Z-axis are positioned as high up on the frame as possible for improved ground clearance and off-road drivability.

Even though the 2019 G-Class is longer and wider than its predecessor, the SUV is approximately 375-lb (170-kg) lighter, Mercedes engineers claim. The body shell is now made of a variety of steel grades while the hood, doors, fenders, door hinges and handles are in aluminum. The A- and B-pillars are stamped in high strength steel.

The G550 retains its 4.0-L bi-turbo gasoline V8 that delivers 416 hp (310 kW) and 450 lb·ft (610 N·m) between 2000-4750 rpm. The transmission is a 9-speed automatic with dedicated control software to reduce the shift-response times associated with off-road driving. A new transfer case is flange-mounted directly onto the transmission to provide 40% of the drive torque to the front axle and 60% to the rear.

“It’s the master of all things off-road,” Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management at Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, said of the new G-Class.

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