Detroit motor show 2018: all the star cars at the first major show of the year
This year it launched the much-anticipated revamp of the G-wagen or Geländewagen which, thanks to the company’s new naming convention, is now called the G-class.
It set the new 4×4 in the almost derelict 4,038-seat Michigan Theatre, opened in 1926 and designed by Rapp and Rapp for the Balaban and Katz Theatre company. This extraordinary temple to silent movies and live bands was built on the site of Henry Ford’s first garage and hosted live performances from everyone from Bob Hope, the Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Harry James and Duke Ellington. It closed in 1976 and it’s now an extraordinarily evocative car park, so plenty of ironies there.
Anyway Mercedes-Benz’s pièce de théâtre was the transformed version of a rough and tough 4×4 conceived by the Shah of Iran in 1972 and built for the last 39 years on the original press tools by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria. What they don’t tell you in that by the time they’d made a civilian version in 1979, the Shah has been deposed by Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution.
This new version is 53mm longer and 121mm wider, but 170kg lighter thanks to the new body being built of different grades of steel, with aluminium used for the wings, bonnet and doors. The cabin has been reworked to take advantage of these new dimensions, with more passenger shoulder room and a lot more leg room.
Underneath there’s a new independent wishbone front suspension connected directly to the ladder-frame chassis and, at the rear, the rigid axle is newly located with four radius arms and a Panhard rod to control lateral movement.
While the engines and the nine-speed automatic gearbox are new to the G-Wagen, the vehicle retains its old-style locking differentials in the front, rear and centre units, along with a transfer box giving a complete set of crawler gears. Control of all this has been partly assumed by a new Dynamic Select electronic brain which has five driving modes, including a new off-road G-mode. The dashboard looks to be taken straight out of the current E-class, with double screens across the facia.
To look at the G is pretty much still the tough, go-anywhere vehicle of old. Mercedes even boasts about retaining the charm and fixtures of the old model, including external door hinges, a rear-mounted spare wheel and the hippopotamus-nostril front indicators, which sink into the bodywork in the event of an imminent crash.
Inside they’ve kept the distinctive grab handle, which threatens the teeth of an unbelted passenger, and the old chromium diff-locking controls. It also claims to have maintained the "characteristic closing sound of the doors" – read a mechanical cacophony, then.
It was a bit of a rambling launch, with Dieter Zetsche, Mercedes Benz CEO, giving a long speech and citing Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi – of all the songs to reference about a huge 4×4 which uses a lot of fuel.
Then Arnold Schwarzenegger turned up and said he’d been born in Graz, like the G-wagen, had gotten all strong and muscly, like the G-wagen, and that he felt they were "true twins", which was faintly embarrassing and everyone clapped nervously and hoped he’d go away.
Instead he hung around and gave Zetsche a cowboy hat, which wasn’t at all embarrassing…
The new G will be launched as a G500 416bhp, 4.0-litre biturbo V8 petrol model (as shown at Detroit). The UK will get a barnstorming Mercedes-AMG G63 this summer, with a somewhat more practical G350 diesel arriving early in 2019.