I know what you’re thinking: “Oh great, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Another SUV for the Carmela Sopranos of this world.” And nine out of ten times you’d be right to think that, given most SUVs are as likely to see a logging road as a rabbi will a Bacon-Egg-Croissanwich.
In this case, however, you would be wrong. The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, which is a civilian version of a literal troop carrier, is built from the get-go to travel off-road and soak up the abuse like a sponge.
I Am Legend
Mercedes-Benz has their own off-road test track with the delightfully Teutonic name of the Schöckl, inspired by the actual mountain. As a matter of fact, their latest press release is even titled: “The legend on the Schöckl” and it starts out very ominously: “Every G-Class has to conquer the Schöckl.”
The only thing that could make this more Wagnerian is if there were Nordic women in brass breast plates screeching about the imminent Götterdämmerung while handing you a beer in a mug the size of a Crock-Pot.
Oh, and while I’m at it, now’s as good a time as any to announce that Schöckl is the name of Automoblog’s in-house heavy metal band. At the moment we’re just a power trio, but we’re looking for more members. So if you’ve got a cool name, like Udo or Baldur or Hasso, we’d love to talk with you. Musical ability is nice but not required.
Back to the G-Class and what happens to it on the Schöckl . . .
The test track is located near the Austrian city of Graz and uses a 1,445 meter (4,740 feet) high mountain as its playground. The test route runs for 5.6 kilometers, or around three-and-a-half miles and includes gradients of up to 60 percent(!) and lateral inclinations of up to 40 percent(!!).
Your run of the mill Merc G-Class has to endure over 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) on the Schöckl and, unsurprisingly, the latest iteration handles it with noticeably more control and comfort.
Mercedes-Benz says the number one goal was to make the G-Class even more effective off-road. Not add cup holders, not a better stereo, but to literally make it “more effective off-road.” Sorry Carmella.
More pointers the G is built to really do this stuff can be seen in the standard ladder-type frame, the three differential locks that can full-on 100 percent lock to put the power down, and a low range off-road ratio to kick the whole gearbox down a notch for serious torque, traction, grip, and forward momentum no matter what.
The suspension is also off-road focused with an independent double-wishbone front axle in combo with a rigid rear axle. Ground clearance has been maximized with the raised axle and independent suspension contributing to the off-road prowess.
Mercedes-Benz even threw in a new control program to handle those more unpredictable off-road circumstances. “G-Mode” works independently of the chosen drive program as soon as one of the three diff locks has been activated or low range has been engaged.
G-Mode tweaks the adjustable damping of the chassis, along with the steering and accelerator characteristics while avoiding unnecessary gearshifts for maximum off-road capability.
Facts & Figures
The off-roading figures are impressive. The ground clearance between the axles: 241 millimeters, a gain of six. Max fording depth is 70 centimeters (more than two feet) an increase of 10 centimeters from the previous G-Class. Driving stability is listed as 35° (a 7° gain) which, if I’m understanding this right, means you can traverse a section of the planet with the G-Class tipped over at 35° and it will still keep on truckin’.
Departure angle is 30° and the approach angle is 31°. Suspension travel is listed as 85/100 millimeters for the front axle spring/rebound and 82/142 millimeters for the rear spring/rebound.
Transmission & Perception Tech
The 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission/torque converter combo was specifically adapted to meet off-road demands. The shift and response times of the 9-speed are quicker, and the wide ratios make driving quieter and more comfortable while reducing fuel consumption.
The new transfer case is flange-mounted directly to the 9G-TRONIC; 40 percent of the drive torque reaches the front axle and 60 percent reaches the rear. The new G-Class utilizes a permanent all-wheel drive system.
In addition to monkeying around with the normal off-road stuff for better performance, the latest G-Class features other modern niceties like a bird’s-eye view camera, a reverse camera, plus three additional ones.
This means obstacles located below your line of sight or in front of the vehicle, like a hill’s crest or your kid’s tricycle, can now be easily seen before disaster strikes. All these camera views show up on a full HD multimedia system display.
So yes, the G-Class is pretty close to being the ne plus ultra of SUVs. It’s expensive and loaded with tech this and comfort that, but unlike seemingly 99 percent of SUVs out there, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class can really be used off-road. In a very serious manner.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format.