Question: What are hard on the outside and soft on the inside?
Remember how the 39-year-old G-Wagen began its life as a rough-and-tumble off-roader for the German military and utility companies before finding an improbably second, really profitable life as a luxury machine? Remember how they stuck V8s and V12s inside it, made it somehow mostly stick to the road in a way Land Rover insisted just wasn't possible with the similarly elderly, boxy Defender?
Well, none of that is happening this time around. Instead, they're just going full luxury from the get-go, because that's how just about every Geländewagen (its German name) ends up being sold, anyway. The interior will have plenty of signature pieces, but it will be more closely aligned with the S-Class limousine than with something geared to be hosed out on Sunday afternoon.
Benz has a twin-pronged attack at the top end of the SUV tree, with the G-Wagen and the monocoque GL approaching a similar price point from very different directions. There's also talk of a long-wheelbase Maybach version of the new G-Class, and both V8 G63 and V12 G65 versions are inevitable from AMG.
It will need every big SUV it can lay its hands on, too. Bentley has dented Benz's door with the Bentayga and has an even larger Falcon on the way, plus Lamborghini's Urus is about to arrive, BMW has privately shown the X7 and has registered the X8, X9, iX7, iX8 and iX9 names. Meanwhile, Range Rover is looking to stretch even further upmarket.
The G-Wagen will retain things such as an enormous amount of headroom (originally there to accommodate helmeted army heads), its dash-mounted grab handle and thin doors and A-pillars. But the technological leap forward has been immense, inside and out.
Benz insists the G-Wagen is still a mountain masher, and it has been testing hard in the Austrian Alps around Magna's Graz factory, where it will be built on the same line as the old vehicle. The automaker even retained the three buttons for the mechanical-locking differentials in the center of the dashboard, then built the rest of the dash around them.
Besides the diffs, the G-Wagen will retain a ladder-frame chassis, though switching to a mostly aluminum material mix to boost torsional rigidity by about 30 percent and remove about 350 pounds from the current G500's 5,724-lb curb weight, putting it at about 5,368 lbs. It will retain its 7,716-lb towing capacity (for Euro-spec models).
Europe's last hardcore off-roader (at least until the Defender replacement arrives) will be 0.8 inches wider, so it will almost certainly retain just about the worst drag coefficient in European production. Fans will probably think that's a small price to pay, because it gives a 3.9-inch improvement in its wading depth, and a 360-degree camera should help out in the tricky stuff.
Spy pictures of the boxy body indicate it will keep its short overhangs at both ends while improving its ramp-over angle, with Mercedes-Benz admitting that the driver's hip point is 0.4 inches higher than on the current G-Class.
The G-Wagen will debut in Detroit next month with, the G500 boasting a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 up front, though a new 2.9-liter straight-six turbodiesel will also be an early starter and a four-cylinder turbodiesel is an inevitability. The new engines will dramatically improve the off-roader's fuel economy, thanks to cylinder deactivation and the adoption of 48-volt mild-hybrid technology in the six-cylinder gas and diesel motors.
There will be no manual gearbox, with the Mercedes-Benz nine-speed automatic transmission dominating every model. It will feed its drive to the wheels through a permanent, mechanical all-wheel-drive system that feeds through three individually lockable differentials.
Mercedes insiders say that the G-Wagen will have even greater ground clearance, especially at the rear, despite a move to a fully independent, four-link front suspension that sees the awful recirculating-ball steering system replaced by an electromechanical system from the GLE.
There will also be a largely aluminum suspension layout at each end, along with adaptive damping, an air aluminum suspension and the S-Class's electronic architecture. The G-Wagen will be able to drive with 330 lbs of gear sitting on its optional roof rails, but can cope with double that as a static load (for camping, for example).
There will be a 5.9-inch stretch in the wheelbase, creating a larger cabin. Benz has used that to give the G-Class some 1.5 inches more front legroom, the same in shoulder room (which grows by 1.1 inches in the rear) and a 2.7-inch boost in elbow room (2.2 inches more in the rear).
Another key point is a 1.6-inch stretch (to 59.1 inches) between the driver's hip point and the front axle, adding both crash safety and visually elongating the previous version's clunkiest dimension. Rear-seat passengers score a massive 5.9-inch increase in legroom, and the split-fold backrest comes with three different rake angles to maximize the cargo space, which is more than 17.7 cubic feet.
Cargo capacity of the glovebox is up to 0.18 cubic feet, you can carry one-liter bottles in each front-door pocket and even the center console bin can hold 0.21 cubic feet.
But it's the arrival of the tech that will shock the faithful, even if the old-school tubular gauges will be retained for the entry-level models. Mercedes will faithfully reproduce the twin 12.3-inch digital screen arrangements from the S- and E-Class cabins, with a seamless, glass-covered integration of the one that works as an instrument cluster and the other that does infotainment duties. It has far fewer buttons than before, but what few it has are all metal, and some of them are unique to the G-Class (such as those for the diff switches).
It has squared-off air vents in a unique, chunkily rectangular vent box, but the key impression is that the interior is much cleaner than before. The steering wheel isn't, though, with Benz moving the active cruise control's switches onto the left-hand steering spoke and also using the E-Class' small BlackBerry-style track pads on both horizontal spokes to navigate around its instrument cluster.
Equipped for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the G-Wagen also has inductive phone charging, two USB plugs in the front and another in the rear, and each front seat will have a clip for rear-seat entertainment tablets. And the G-Wagen will have only one size of glass (not steel) sunroof. This doesn't mean that Mercedes has permanently walked away from the stripped-out interiors beloved of some of its current fans, as Benz insiders admit that a Professional version is on the table.
"It's not like the Professional car today. There are thoughts to do so, to go more basic. It's there in terms of the architecture," a Mercedes-Benz insider said. "There is also the possibility to do a pickup version. Not for the first generation, though."