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G-PRO PULLED FROM OZ MARKET
Publishing Date: 12 Dec 2019
Story by: TRISTAN TANCREDI
THE Mercedes-Benz G-Professional wagon and cab-chassis range has run its course in Australia, with the brand’s local arm pulling the model from its line-up.
The G-Pro was built on the older, liveaxled W461 platform, but prospective buyers will now have to look at the second-gen G-Class (W463) if they want to own their own Gelandewagen, with M-B Australia currently only offering the V8-powered 430kW/850Nm G63.
Still, there are a few G-Pros residing in dealerships across the country, with Mercedes-Benz Australia’s media relations and production communications manager, Ryan Lewis, telling us that both body styles are still around for the time being, with the majority being in cab-chassis configuration.
When asked of a successor to the G-Pro, Lewis said Mercedes-Benz Australia would be interested.
“There’s nothing to announce regarding a successor on the new platform at this stage,” he said, “but if a new G-Pro is confirmed we would certainly be interested.”
The G-Class is a true off-roader with almost 40 years of military heritage, and the G-Pro came about as a military vehicle for the civilian market, created courtesy of a supply contract between M-B Australia and the Australian Defence Force.
Powered by a 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel the G-Pro can only muscle up 135kW (at 3800rpm) and 400Nm (at 1200-1600rpm), and it sends it through a five-speed automatic transmission.
Despite steep price tags – the G300 cab-chassis is priced at $119,900; the wagon at $109,900 – the utilitarian vehicles are quite basic in their design, lacking the luxury of a car you’d expect with a price tag greater than $100K.
The 16-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in all-terrain rubber; the floors are lined with rubber mats and no carpet; and the dash layout is old-school. Still, they’re a solid, reliable off-roader, with triple diff locks and four-wheel coil suspension … you can thank their military heritage for that.
REFINED ALL-TERRAIN SUPERSTAR
Publishing Date: 15 Jul 2019
Story by: Ed Jones
Photos by: Johnny Beckett (@Paid2Shoot)
BRABUS is not in the business of creating anything slow. Whether it’s a sports car or SUV, everything they put their name on is built around power, speed and class. Even their SUVs are absolute powerhouses, packing power figures that are on par with most supercars. One of the finest examples of BRABUS and their craftsmanship is the 700 Widestar, a super-SUV based on the new Mercedes-AMG G63. On this month’s cover, we're pleased to showcase Alex Soltani’s BRABUS 700 Widestar, which was commissioned by Platinum Motorsport.
Under the hood of the 700 Widestar is the same four-liter V8 BiTurbo engine found in the AMG G63. However, the engine has been handled by BRABUS engineers, and that means more power. More specifically, the 700 Widestar packs the B40-700 performance upgrade, which bumps up the power from 585 hp to 700 hp. Torque is also increased from 627 lb-ft to 701 lb-ft. With that power, the driver of the 700 Widestar can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in just 4.3 seconds. How many SUVs can do that?
Being a BRABUS creation, the 700 Widestar is also visually stunning. As the name suggests, it’s a widebody version of the AMG G63. To create the widebody appearance, custom wheel fenders add 3.9-inches to the vehicle’s width. With bigger wheel fenders comes more space and room for bigger tires to lay down all of the power. BRABUS has a long list of bespoke tire/wheel combinations that range from 20 to 23-inches. This includes the BRABUS Monoblock "Platinum Edition" 23-inch forged wheels, which were included on Mr. Soltani’s 700 Widestar.
The front and rear of the 700 Widestar have also received upgrades. New front and rear bumpers replace the production versions. Blending in with the wheel fenders, these new bumpers create a more distinguished off-road appearance. BRABUS also included an auxiliary light bar on the roof, which consists of two powerful LED units.
Inside, the 700 Widestar can be tailored to the owner’s individual tastes. Their upholstery shop has a multitude of fine leathers to choose from, including Mastik leather and Alcantara. Aside from upholstery, there are also different types of precious-wood and carbon-fiber inlays for the trim.
If you want to stand out from the Mercedes G-Class crowd, there’s no better way than to drive the BRABUS 700 Widestar.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
The featured 700 Widestar was a collaboration of work by BRABUS and Platinum Motorsport specifically for Alex Soltani. Outside of his special ordered car collection, Alex entrusts only Jack Keshishyan, Founder and CEO of the Platinum Group, for all his automotive personalization work.
Alex Soltani is the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Skyview Capital, a global private investment firm headquartered in Century City, California, with operations and 18,000 employees spread across multiple countries. When he is not working or spending time with his children & family, he is actively enjoying his growing collection of cars which also includes the Bugatti Chiron, Limited-Edition Road-Legal McLaren P1 GTR, Ferrari FXX-K EVO, Pagani Huayra and many others.
Platinum Motorsport was founded by brothers, George & Jack Keshishyan in 1998. What started off as a dream with a vision of designing & personalizing high-end automobiles for the world’s most elite clientele in a rented 800 sq. foot mechanic garage, has today become reality. They are very well known & respected both in the United States and internationally as one of the leading designers and creators of high-end automotive car culture.
ENGINE: 4.0-LITER TWIN TURBO V8
HORSEPOWER: 700 HP
TORQUE: 701 LB-FT
0 TO 62 MPH: 4.3 SECONDS
TOP SPEED: 149 MPH (LIMITED) ■
Publishing Date: 28 Dec 2018
Story by: CHRISTIAN SEABAUGH
Photos by: WILLIAM WALKER
COMPARISON | Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon vs. Land Rover Discovery vs. Lexus LX 570 vs. Mercedes-Benz G 550
Born and raised among the skyscrapers of New York City and now living in sprawling Los Angeles, I’m used to city life. I’m inured to creeping rush-hour traffic, to stepping over sidewalk trash, to the ever-present light pollution; they’re sacrifices we make to live in the places we love. But city life wears on you, a realization that can hit in an instant. A knowing glance or diverted gaze during a chance encounter with one of the millions of others beaten down by the daily grind could be all it takes to make you want to get away.
But I—perhaps like you—have life to deal with. I work during the week and spend my weekends playing catch-up. Memories of my first sleepaway camp and seeing the Milky Way pop from the inky, unadulterated night sky, remains an escapist dream.
Breaking free ain’t easy.
For those who must reconnect with nature, these four SUVs make it easier to stay alive during the week and live on the weekends.
For our comparison test, we wanted SUVs that were comfortable on a daily commute or road trip but also able to venture well off the beaten path for a night of primitive camping to escape our fellow man. That meant we needed the everyday comfort of a crossover, the features and technology of a modern sedan, and the off-road capability of a ZVM-2901. (YouTube it. You’re welcome.)
Because American roads aren’t quite ready for screw-driven off-roaders, we assembled four legendary and street-legal nameplates: Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Discovery, Lexus LX, and Mercedes-Benz G-Class. This group will get you out of town—and then some.
Our test would have us driving north from Los Angeles along the eastern portion of the Sierra Nevada to Bishop, California, where the following day we’d tackle the trail to Coyote Flat, about 10,000 feet above sea level. Then we’d camp. It’s not Moab, but this 20-odd-mile trail includes deep sand, rocks, cliff faces, and multiple water crossings.
We wanted something that the average Joe or Jane could take off-road with confidence after a tough week crushing soybean futures. To cast as wide a net as possible, price is ignored. The winner would be the vehicle that best balances off-road performance with on-pavement drivability.
The 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is the latest evolution of the vehicle that launched this segment. The new Wrangler Rubicon wears 33-inch BFGoodrich Baja Champion All-Terrain KO2 tires at either end of front and rear live axles, each of which boasts a locking differential and an electronic anti-roll bar disconnect. Under the hood, our tester packs an electrified 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 making 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic and Jeep’s beefiest part-time four-wheel-drive system.
Land Rover, meanwhile, has come a long way from building British Jeep knockoffs. The 2018 Land Rover Discovery HSE Luxury Si6 looks the part of a suburban mall crawler, with soft lines and a beautiful tech-forward leather-upholstered cab with room for seven. But it still hasn’t lost its ruggedness. Under the hood, a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 turns out 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, backed by an eight-speed automatic and a full-time four-wheel-drive system. This Disco also gets an available air suspension, plus an automatically locking rear differential and Land Rover’s All Terrain Progress control system—both part of the $1,275 Capability Plus package.
One constant about off-roading: No one can agree on what “real” off-roading is. We had hours to argue until we reached the trailhead.
The redesigned 2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 is another off-road legend in our midst. Our metallic olive green G-Wagen is bigger and far more luxurious than its previous iteration while keeping the sparkle that made the original so beloved. Its old-school ladder frame, live rear axle, and three independently locking differentials team with an independent front axle, an electronically dampened suspension system, and a modern 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 producing 416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. The V-8 runs through a nine-speed automatic and Mercedes’ full-time four-wheel-drive system, which operates with a permanent 40/60 front/rear torque split that switches to a 50/50 split once low range is selected and the center differential is locked.
In 2016 we compared the Toyota Land Cruiser to the previous generations of the Wrangler and G-Class as part of our “Apocalypse Soon” comparison test (June 2016). The Toyota won that comparison, and we extended an invite to defend its crown. No Land Cruisers were available, so we got the next best thing: the (almost) mechanically identical 2018 Lexus LX 570. The Lexus takes all we loved about the Toyota, including its crawl-control and turn-assist features, and adds a fancy height-adjustable hydraulic suspension system to ensure a smooth ride both on- and off-road. Our LX 570 also deletes the rather useless third row as a new-for-2018 option, boosting usable cargo space. Power comes courtesy of a 5.7-liter V-8 with 383 hp and 403 lb-ft of torque, paired with an eight-speed automatic and full-time four-wheel-drive system.
With our quartet of off-roaders picked, I assembled a team of three other like-minded editors whose off-road experience ranged from “literally tackled the Rubicon Trail last weekend,” to “drove on a dirt road that one time.” In other words, a perfect representation of the audience that buys these super SUVs. Yet all were seeking respite from city living: MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina and associate online editors Collin Woodard and Stefan Ogbac. We loaded up with our camping and off-road kits and met up with our photo team in their 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro (“Aging Lion”) on the outskirts of Los Angles to make our escape.
If there’s one constant about off-roading, it’s that no one can agree on what “real” off-roading is. For some it’s rock-crawling or dune-bashing. For others, it’s thick woods and deep mud. Fortunately, we had six hours to argue over walkie-talkies as we cruised our way up Route 395 toward the trailhead.
Despite our differing opinions, we do all agree that on-road performance is an important part of the off-road formula because to get off-road, you gotta drive on-road first.
It’s fair to say that previous versions of both the Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes-Benz G-Class have been livable (at best) on pavement. The old Wrangler was loud and unrefined, while the previous G-Wagen, as rapper Quavo so eloquently put it in a Rolling Stone interview, was “wobbly as f---.” Thankfully, both have been dragged into the 21st century.
“On the road, the G-Wagen does a solid impression of a car-based crossover,” Woodard said. With its trucklike live front axle tossed in the scrap heap, and with fancy computer-controlled dampers, the G 550 experience mimics that of Mercedes’ other flagship, the S-Class. It’s quiet and hushed as it goes down the highway, its cabin featuring comfortable seats and nice-looking—if cumbersome—twin infotainment displays on the dash.
That serenity disappears once you open the taps on the G 550’s twin-turbo V-8. Few things are as satisfying as watching the scenery change from the street to sky as the Benz’s nine-speed fires off rapid downshifts and the V-8 lets out a guttural roar. Once cooking at speed, the G 550 handles a corner well, considering its size and weight, but it definitely prefers long sweepers to tight switchbacks—and it lets you know it.
The Wrangler Rubicon is impressive in its own way. Just opening the door sets the expectation that the new Wrangler is a league above the old. Gone are the shiny, rock-hard plastics, replaced with high-quality materials and a cabin that no longer needs excuses. No excuses are necessary for the way it drives, either. Its eTorque 2.0-liter turbo I-4 is down 14 hp from the standard V-6, but its extra 35 lb-ft of torque make the Wrangler feel spritely. Even better, its small electric motor helps provide light power assist when cruising, smooths power delivery, and improves fuel economy. “The eTorque mild-hybrid is worth the $1,000 extra,” Ogbac said. “It has lots of power and torque on tap, passing on the highway is easy, and the eight-speed automatic pairs well with quick, smooth shifts.”
Both the Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes G-Class have been dragged into the 21st century.
Although the Mercedes-Benz and Jeep have matured greatly, the Lexus LX 570 has aged a bit. Updated with a new nose and an eight-speed automatic in 2015, the LX still rides on essentially the same platform with basically the same engine from its 2007 debut. It feels it. Despite making a healthy amount of horsepower, the LX’s big V-8 feels neutered by its transmission; it’s geared tall and also programmed to get to eighth gear and stay there. The ride is hit or miss, too. While cruising down the highway, the LX rides phenomenally; however, there’s a huge amount of body roll when cornering and a preposterous amount of brake dive on every stop.
We were a bit surprised by the LX’s road manners, but not by the Land Rover Discovery’s. The Discovery is a smooth sailor. Thanks to its four-corner air suspension, its ride is composed through corners yet cushy on rough patches of pavement. The Disco’s V-6 is punchy and quite fun, Cortina said, driving more like a sporty, luxurious crossover than any other in our pack.
After a long day eating pavement, we pulled into Bishop. We were itching to hit the trail in the morning.
The Coyote Flat trail starts on the outskirts of that small town in the shadows of the Sierras, whereupon the scenery quickly transitions from trees to desert sagebrush. The trail then snakes steeply up Round Mountain—starting as loose sand that hardens and eventually transforms into big, slippery shale so pockmarked by erosion that it felt like driving through an artillery range.
It’s the kind of trail that lulls you into complacency before snapping you out of it by tossing your rear end sideways. I (over)confidently started in the Jeep in two-wheel drive—until I hit a patch of deep, loose rock on a hairpin that sent me sliding toward a 100-foot vertical drop. With Jeep halted and heart restarted, I used four-wheel drive from then on.
As we neared the flat, winding our way up through the timber, we had to deal with water crossings, muddy passes, and more steep rock climbs as we approached our campsite. It’s the best of the Golden State’s wilderness in a tidy 20-mile climb into the Sierra Nevada.
From the start, our four off-roaders displayed their disparate feats and foibles.
For a just-redesigned vehicle, the Wrangler feels pure old school. Cliff slide aside, it had a pretty easy time dealing with the first half of the trail. Its tires gave it a huge grip advantage. Once the rear axle started hopping around searching for traction, four high engaged quickly with a pull of a lever. The Jeep’s body control was especially impressive considering it’s the only vehicle of our four to forgo adaptive shock absorbers.
The G 550 was having a pretty easy time, too. It offered a commanding view over the hood and fenders and a full-time four-wheel-drive system that was initially unchallenged. It was also smart enough to quickly figure out it was off-road, helpfully displaying off-road info on the center display and priming its suspension for more challenging conditions.
In contrast to its ungainly manners on the freeway, the LX 570 was pleasant crawling in the dirt. The brake dive, body roll, and ever-hunting transmission all seem cured of their ills at low off-road speeds. The suspension’s ability to soak up impacts rather than transferring them to the driver’s seat was particularly impressive. There’s still room for improvement; like off-roaders of yesteryear, the Lexus’ steering wheel violently seesaws from left to right as it deals with obstacles. (Be sure to keep your thumbs on the rim of the steering wheel and not inside its arc.)
The Discovery was impressive in how straightforward it was. Rather than fiddling with its terrain selection features, we left it in auto and let the Disco’s computers sort things out for us. Pulling up the off-road displays in the Land Rover’s fussy infotainment system gave us two mirror-mounted cameras allowing us to properly place the front wheels; another screen allowed us to watch the Discovery lock its center and rear differentials and adjust its suspension in real time. “I really like the way the Land Rover’s four-wheel-drive system works,” Cortina said. “It seemed like the system was reading the terrain ahead and never experienced any loss of traction despite its street tires.”
That was, until we punctured one such street tire.
Flat tires never happen at a convenient time. This couldn’t be more the case in our situation. Eleven miles into our expedition, Cortina and the Discovery were straddling a stream in the middle of a steep grade.
With some help, he babied the stricken Land Rover down to a relatively level clearing so we could survey the damage.
The tire wasn’t just flat—it was straight-up destroyed. A sharp rock went directly through the sidewall of the right-rear mud/snow-rated all-season tire.
I’d like to tell you that this was a quick tire change, but it took an embarrassingly long time. Whether it was altitude, stress, or impatience, I couldn’t tell you—but I’ve never seen my co-workers as dejected as they were when we finally lowered the Discovery’s spare tire from its perch only to discover it was a space-saving donut. The Discovery’s day was done. We swapped on the “tire,” transferred our gear, and abandoned ship.
We’d burned an hour and a half changing the Discovery’s tire—and worse still, we were behind schedule and racing daylight. Tough times give people a chance to shine. In our case, it gave the three SUVs we had left a chance to really prove their worth as we scrambled up the trail.
From the abandoned Land Rover to our eventual campsite, the trail got exceedingly more challenging. Here, finally, were multiple water crossings, muddy ascents, and off-camber climbs so narrow that the LX would ultimately return with pinstripes down its flanks.
It was the Lexus that felt most out of its element up here. As we climbed in altitude and the trail deteriorated underneath us, the LX started to struggle. Its naturally aspirated V-8 began to gasp in the thinner air, and its tall transmission tuning was doing it no favors. It became an unspoken group challenge to resist the mechanical advantages of using low range, but I was first to succumb while behind the wheel of the LX.
Low range woke up the Lexus somewhat and had the added bonus of activating both its Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control systems. The latter was especially helpful while climbing narrow, steep, loose grades. “The best part of the Lexus’ Crawl Control system is the Turn Assist feature,” Ogbac said, speaking of the system that drags the inside rear tire when turning, effectively letting the Lexus pivot on its axis. “It makes this behemoth more maneuverable.”
Although Lexus uses electronics to make the LX feel more like horse than hippo, Mercedes uses them to make its brick fly. On the rare wide-open sections of the trail, the G 550 drove like a miniaturized Ford Raptor—floating over all but the toughest obstacles at high speeds, with the braking power to slow down in a hurry for technical stretches. Racing on the open stretches became a game of sorts—mostly because the Benz could be a bit frustrating in technical parts. Its fixed 40/60 power split became a liability here—separated from the group exploring a (not so) shortcut, I suddenly found myself staring at the sky, with a 6-foot rock wall looming on both sides of me—the G-Wagen straining for traction against the slick rock.
Every dip into the throttle brought the passenger side (and $6,500 paint job) ever closer to the wall. I needed grip. Badly. I shifted into neutral, stabbed the 4-Low switch, and … nothing. I slowly rolled the Benz back with gravity as I held my breath. Four low engaged. I locked the center differential and tried again. The G leapt about a foot to the right. Now I had literal inches before I’d have to make an apologetic call to Mercedes. I engaged the rear diff, stomped on the brake and gas, and slowly lifted off the brake. Finally, I cleared the gauntlet. Some shortcut that turned out to be.
Why does Mercedes hate America? In Europe, simply hitting the G-Wagen’s center-differential switch gets you equal power going to the front and rear wheels without skipping a beat. For reasons that are beyond us, U.S.-market G-Wagens must be in low range to engage any of the G-Wagen’s mechanical differentials. Shifting into four low takes longer than in the Lexus or Jeep; the neutral detent in its shifter is easy to miss, and the electronic shift mechanism is just plain slow. By the time you’re in four low, any forward momentum you had is likely gone. If you didn’t need to lock the differentials before, you do now.
The Jeep is the Apple to the Benz’s Microsoft; it couldn’t be easier to operate. For those with zero off-road experience, the Rubicon is capable enough to just set and forget in four high. But even those with little mechanical understanding will quickly be able to figure out how to lock the Jeep’s differentials (frustratingly, also only in low range) if necessary or toggle the Sway Bar Disconnect button. The latter feature is one we made good use of on the trail. Disconnecting the anti-roll bar does two things: It significantly increases front-axle articulation, helping your tires maintain contact with the ground, and as a bonus, it significantly improves low-speed ride quality. Even cooler is that after you press the disconnect button, the mechanism will automatically reconnect the bar once you exceed 20 mph then disconnect it again when you drop below 15 mph, meaning the driver can focus on the road (or lack thereof) rather than pondering, “What systems do I have activated?” in the cabin.
The Jeep is Apple to the Benz’s Microsoft; it couldn’t be easier to operate. For those with zero off-road experience, it’s capable enough to just set and forget.
The sun was beginning to dip below the horizon as we crested 10,000 feet and found a level clearing to set up camp. We tucked the Jeep, Mercedes, and Lexus in among the trees and began to unpack. Each off-roader was packed to the gills with gear, tents, and food, but some used their space more efficiently than others.
The Lexus’ surprisingly plasticky cabin was comfortable but not user-friendly; buttons littered the front half of the cabin, and even with the third-row seats deleted, the smaller-than-expected cargo area was hard to access due to its tailgate.
The Benz had some similar issues. Although its cabin was more efficiently laid out, we were disappointed that its rear seats didn’t fold flat, making unloading around the bulky folded seats difficult.
On paper, the Wrangler’s cargo capacity comes up short. But we found it used its space more efficiently thanks to fold-flat rear seats and its modular seat-back and swing-gate storage systems.
As for the Discovery—well, it wasn’t there.
Even in late August, the Sierras at altitude get damn chilly after dark. With a roaring fire defying the encroaching night and our luxurious spread of hotdogs and boil-in-bag meals at hand, we grabbed a drink and sat down. Our talk inevitably turned to the cars. To say we were bummed the Land Rover didn’t make it is an understatement.
“Up until the tire went flat, the Discovery was unexpectedly impressive,” Woodard said. “It looks like a regular crossover, but raise the suspension, and it’s ready to play. You don’t even have to select an off-road mode. Auto handled everything. It was like off-roading for dummies.”
Yet there’s no getting around the fact that the G 550, LX 570, and Wrangler were sitting in the shadows next to us while the Land Rover was abandoned a dozen miles down the trail.
“It’s a shame that Land Rover doesn’t offer off-road tires; this experience proves how vital tires are,” Cortina said. Although a customer could buy off-road tires from a third party, it doesn’t change the fact that this Discovery fresh from the showroom floor couldn’t complete our test, and we agreed it earned a DNF. A Discovery equipped with standard 19- or even optional 20-inch tires might have fared better, but off-road, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.
As disappointed as we were by the Discovery, we were pleased with the Lexus after its performance that day. The old dog may have been just that on the road, but it proved a dogged climber on Coyote Flat Trail. “As challenging as that trail was, the Lexus deserves credit for never letting us down. It was too big for the surroundings, but even on the mildest of truck tires, it never struggled,” Woodard said. The LX made it up the trail, but it left us wanting for more refinement.
The G-Class and Wrangler were both quite good on the road and even better off it. Woodard made an argument for the G. “Despite having the aerodynamic properties of a cement block, it drove like a crossover on the highway,” he said. “The fact that it did everything the Wrangler did off-road, on tires with street-oriented tread, is impressive.”
Impressive, yes, but so is the Jeep, Ogbac pointed out. “This thing will make you feel like a hero off the beaten path,” he said before praising its punchy little four-pot. G-Wagen defender Woodard also had to give the Jeep praise. “It is hard to overstate how easily the Wrangler handled the trail,” he admitted. Surprise, surprise, a Jeep is good off-road—but it’s civilized and refined on pavement, too.
When it’s this close, it ultimately comes down to whose flaws you could forgive. On a day-to-day basis we’d grow tired of the G-Wagen’s function-follows-form cabin and its inefficient cargo area. On the trail, we were frustrated by the boneheaded decision to make the differentials, in particular the center, lock only in four low—and they’re finicky to boot.
As for the Wrangler, it’s quite simple—it’s finally as good to drive on the road as it is off it. And not only is it the most capable off-roader we have parked up at camp with us, but it’s arguably also the most capable and approachable off-roader ever offered from an automaker to civilians.
It was a restless night. Some say it was the cold. Others say it was Ogbac honking the LX’s horn at some ungodly hour when he crawled into the Lexus for warmth.
It didn’t matter. We were happy to have hot coffee, pleased with our rankings, and looking forward to rescuing the stranded Land Rover.
Mountaineers say the hardest part of summiting is getting back down. And we were thankful for the capability of the Jeep, Mercedes, and Lexus on the steep descent.
A few hours later—dealing with frequent opposite-way traffic on the narrow trail—we rendezvoused with our disabled Discovery. I volunteered to drive it off the mountain. We aired down its tires in hopes that we wouldn’t lose another one and put it between the Jeep and Mercedes in our convoy. If worst came to worst, they would drag me down the mountain.
Getting down a trail on a donut is something I never want to do again. Every obstacle, every river crossing, every rock—torture. Keenly aware of my situation, I drove in four low, doing my best to arrest my speed and fight gravity as we navigated downhill. It wasn’t ideal—there were a few close calls as the Rover slid sideways—but the Discovery eventually limped across the finish line.
As we broke out our air compressor to air the Land Rover’s tires back to proper pressure, we discovered that my efforts had failed—there was a deep gash in another one of the Discovery’s street tires. If we hadn’t aired down, I have no doubt we would have had to break out the tow ropes.
When traveling to remote areas, it’s important to be prepared. Thankfully, our winner gave us all the tools we needed from the get-go. The Wrangler is the one we all wanted to drive to escape civilization, but it’s also the one we wanted when it came time to rejoin it.
2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
The ultimate no-compromises off-roader, and worthy on-pavement, as well.
2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550
Faithfully lives up to its G-Wagen badge, but just a bit too complex for its own good.
2018 Lexus LX 570
Its old Land Cruiser roots shine through off-road. Unfortunately, they show on-road, too.
2018 Land Rover Discovery
A tech tour de force brought down by the factory’s choice of tires.
AIN’T NOTHING BUT A G-WAGEN
Publishing Date: 29 Jun 2018
Story by: Christian Seabaugh
It might be hard to imagine, but during the past 40 years, there have been four generational changes to the Mustang (not all of them good), five Jeep Wranglers (if we count the CJ), and five Chevrolet Corvettes. But there’s only been one Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen.
Known colloquially as the G-Wagen and officially as the G-Class, the Bundeswehr-ready SUV was originally released in 1979 for military and civilian buyers alike. The legendary G-Class has seen plenty of minor tweaks over the years, but the 2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 and Mercedes-AMG G 63 represent Benz’s first attempt at a new G-Wagen.
What’s changed? It’s probably easier to tell you what’s unchanged. The 2019 edition keeps the old model’s iconic squared-off design, its body-on-frame construction, and its live rear axle. The only parts that carry over are the rear-mounted spare tire cover, headlight washer nozzles, sunvisors, and an unseen interior mounting bracket. The exterior door handles, hinges, and lock mechanisms likewise remain, ensuring the G-Wagen keeps the first-gen’s bolt-action shunk of its door locks sliding shut.
But Mercedes made serious improvements everywhere else. The new body-on-frame platform is longer than before, giving passengers increased legroom—especially in back, where it increased 5.9 inches. Engineers ditched the live axle and old-school hydraulic steering in favor of an independent front control-arm suspension setup and an electric power steering system. The changes promise to significantly improve both ride and handling. Inside, Mercedes brought the G-Class’ interior up to S-Class levels of luxury and comfort.
Some of the more noteworthy goodies are under the hood. Both the G 550 and the G 63 get a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 paired with a nine-speed automatic and full-time four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case and locking center, rear, and front differentials. The G 550’s carryover V-8 makes 416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. The G 63, however, ditches its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 for a hand-built version of the 4.0-liter that produces a whopping 577 hp and 627 lb-ft.
An electronic adaptive suspension system designed to improve the G-Class’ performance both on- and off-road is optional on the G 550 and standard on the G 63. It pairs with a more user-friendly differential system and new off-road drive modes, dubbed “G-Mode.” G-Mode activates whenever low range is selected or the center differential is locked, and it adjusts the suspension damping (if so equipped) and the throttle and steering mapping to improve the G 550’s off-road abilities. The G 63’s version adds dedicated Trail, Sand, and Rock settings to compensate for a slightly shallower approach angle and larger wheels (20 inches standard, 22 inches optional). The G 550 gets 18-inch standard and 20-inch optional wheels. All-terrain tires can be optioned on either model.
From behind the wheel, the two 2019 G-Wagens feel like the old model went to finishing school. You still have the same commanding, upright view out of the cabin, yet the new G-Class feels remarkably modern.
Of the two, the G 550 is the better balanced. Hardly a slouch off the line in its previous form, the new G 550’s brisk acceleration belies its cinder block aerodynamics. The nine-speed shifts quickly and transparently, always choosing the right gear, and in Sport mode it improves performance by holding gears longer, delivering rev-matched downshifts backed up by a lovely V-8 soundtrack.
Handling behavior is dramatically improved, too. The steering rack is still on the slower side and feels a bit trucklike—a compromise made in the interest of off-road precision—but the steering feels much more accurate and delivers considerably more road feel than before. The ride quality with the electronic adaptive suspension (no steel-sprung G 550s were available to drive) is softer and more forgiving, isolating occupants from bumps and bruises on the road while mitigating body roll and improving the way the G 550 goes around a corner.
The G 63 feels just as maniacal as the old model when you bury your foot in the throttle, and it has a soundtrack to match. Even when you’re not on the gas, this hand-built V-8 feels fast; with its torque available low in the rev band, the AMG gets moving at a good clip without really having to try. The G 63’s steering is low on effort like the G 550’s but high on feel. The major drawback to the G 63 is its ride quality, which is far flintier and less forgiving than its little brother. The payoff is cornering speeds than are higher than the G 550 can manage, not that the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills will appreciate this difference.
Although many buyers of the last-generation G-Class rarely took their Geländewagens off-road, the 2019 edition is just as capable as the old one. Many automakers design and engineer their own off-road courses for press launches, but Mercedes took us to a French countryside château with a rally training course far too lengthy and extensive to have been engineered for success.
Equipped with factory-optional Falken Wildpeak tires on 18-inch wheels, the G 550 scrambled up rocky embankments, churned through thick mud, and crawled down plunges with ease. When things got tougher, low range worked with the pre-locked diffs to keep things moving. Off-road ride quality is improved, too; the G isolates you from impacts at low speed, and at high speed it floats over all but the sharpest impacts.
The G doesn’t mind getting wet, either; despite its radiator and air intake being mounted lower than before, fording depth has increased to 27.6 inches, thanks to sensors that automatically slam the air intake shut and start taking in air from the top of the hood upon sensing water.
No matter the model, the interior of the new G-Class is worlds richer than before. Slightly quieter inside than its predecessor, the cabin features traditional luxury touches such as thick leather with attractive stitching and modern driver-assist and safety technology. The cabin is comfortable, open, and airy front and rear. The optional Active Multicontour Seat package rivals Volvo’s seats for comfort and support. The cargo area grows some for the new generation, and although the rear seats fold in a 60/40 split, they don’t fold flat, as the rear axle impedes a bit into the cargo area.
Mercedes says pricing for the new 2019 G 550 and G 63 will be announced closer to its late 2018 U.S. debut, though if Europe is any indication, prices should rise only slightly. Expect to pay about $125,000 for a G 550 and $140,000 for a G 63. Fuel economy figures will also be released closer to launch; a small improvement over the outgoing G550’s 13/14/13 mpg and G63’s 12/15/13 mpg city/highway/combined EPA ratings is expected, and an anticipated hybrid model will boost things considerably in the coming years.
The original 1979–2018 G-Class is a tough act to follow. But Mercedes has reinvented its icon for modern regulations and sensibilities while still following the formula that made the first edition such a success. It was time well spent. The 2019 G-Class drives the fine line between evolution and revolution, capturing the spirit and personality of the original while improving in just about every way. It may be more modern and refined than the original, but it’s still unmistakably a G-Wagen—which is unquestionably the biggest compliment it can get.
MT CLASSIC Sampling three vintage Mercedes-Benz G-Wagens and testing the timeless German jeep
Publishing Date: 29 Jun 2018
As I’m a child at heart, I naturally gravitated to the 1982 230G fire truck. Powered by a 102-hp 2.3-liter I-4 backed by a four-speed manual, this G-Wagen convertible spent most of its working life with an Italian fire department before being rescued by the Classic Center. For a truck fast approaching 40, the 230G was pretty peppy and happy to rev, though the gearbox had long, vague throws. All driving impressions are irrelevant because the gumball lights work—I was endlessly entertained by responding to imaginary emergency calls.
I also took an off-white 1985 230GE four-door down a light off-road course. Powered by a “high-output” 125-hp version of that same I-4 mated to a four-speed auto, the 230GE was hideously slow in the most charming way possible. I had to keep the gas pedal pinned to the floor to get anywhere, but it handled off-roading just fine. Even when bombing down dirt roads, the link between the old G-Wagen and new G-Class is apparent—both ride exceptionally well off-road and are happy to eat any punishment you dish out.
My favorite was a gorgeous roofless blue 1989 300GD cabriolet complete with plaid(!) seats, a 3.0-liter diesel I-5, and a four-speed manual. Despite producing just 88 horsepower on a good day, the 300GD was a blast. The clattery turboless diesel didn’t have a tach, so it needed to be driven by ear. But it was so slow to rev that it wasn’t a problem. The gearbox was surprisingly direct with long, tractorlike throws. Steering was slow and vague but really not much worse than the final 2018 first-gen G-Wagen.
Ultimately the G’s inexplicable appeal comes down to the special experience the Mercedes provides. Time to hit Craigslist.
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