Carmakers launch cars in a variety of ways, from parking them in exotic locations and pulling back the covers on a shiny new model, to letting the motoring press get behind the wheel, be it off-road or on track.
For the 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class first impressions are of the interior only. The whole car is yet to be seen, but the interior was open to poking and prodding and TMR joined the grubby-fingered masses for a first look.
Because the current G-Class has made it through almost 40 years without a significant major exterior change the new model will be carefully cultivated to keep the spirit of the original alive, but the same can’t be said for the interior, which has already had multiple overhauls over its life.
An almost 40-year old concept isn’t going to please customers who want to buy the look but ride in comfort – an expectation given the six-figure price position of the G-Class.
Behind guarded doors the latest camo-clad G-Class sat disguised by a lack of light and matte black tape, though it felt and (vaguely) appeared much the same. However, inside is a different story, and it’s clear Mercedes plans on selling the big SUV at a higher rate than the 300,000 units it has shifted in the last 38 years.
It is significantly different looking inside and larger in all dimensions except height, and the latest technology from the marque's most innovative models feature in this major step forward.
Even in base specification, the new G-Class has a premium feel. Both front and rear seats are heated and finished in a choice of black, brown or beige leather trim with driver’s side memory function.
Dash and door panels feature open-pore wood, metal or carbon fibre trims and a new 12.3-inch centrally-mounted infotainment system with the latest Comand 5.5 software that is hooked up to a seven-speaker sound system with DAB+, satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay.
An analogue instrument panel remains in the base model with ‘tube look’ dials but tech-hungry buyers can upgrade to the same dual 12.3-inch screen system as seen in the latest E- and S-Class. The system is controlled either by the console-mounted Comand controller or touch-sensitive controls on the new steering wheel that provide haptic and auditory feedback.
Other new to G-Class features borrowed from elsewhere in the Benz range include a column mounted ‘Direct Select’ gear selector stalk and electronic park brake.
The standard seats can be made more comfortable with an Active Multicontour Seat option which adds massage function, climatised and faster heating seats, lumbar support and continuous pneumatic bolstering that adjusts support to driving conditions.
The Exclusive Interior pack adds seven different colour combinations, including Nappa black, white, blue or red leather for the seats, dash and doors, in combination with silver air vents and black microfibre roof lining.
More exciting is the AMG Line option that combines red stitching to black leather seats, instrument panel, doors, centre console and a flat bottom sports steering wheel.
Rounding out the list of announced extras is an optional 590 watt Burmester 16-speaker surround sound system that replaces the stock seven-speaker system.
Physical changes to the new G-Class see it ride on a new extended wheelbase that sees legroom grow in the front by 38mm and in the rear by 150mm. The extra room is most obvious in the rear that also grows 27mm in shoulder width and offers 56mm more elbow space.
The rear has also picked up reclining seats with available heating, plus added storage though door pockets that can hold up to 1-litre bottles, and a centre armrest and that houses cup holders.
Even further back the boot’s previous 480 litre capacity has grown, though Mercedes wouldn’t reveal by just how much.
The front seats are also roomier, gaining 38mm of legroom and shoulder width together, and elbow space has grown 68mm and the driving position remains high with the similarly big glasshouse and vertical windscreen offering a good amount of vision, albeit hard to depict in the dark room.
The new interior design aligns the G-Class closer to the German brand’s passenger vehicles than its truck-like heritage and, compared to the current G-Class, the next-generation is far more premium, including the addition of safety assistants such as attention assist, active lane keeping assist and the latest generation of the German carmaker’s pre-safe system as standard equipment.
The dash design is far more contemporary but Mercedes says some of the G’s most iconic elements have been used inside such as the air vents, which take inspiration from the car’s round headlights, and the two outboard dash speakers that mimic the bonnet-mounted indicators.
While nearly every aspect of the previous G-Class interior has been changed, important items remain such as the three differential lock buttons and passenger grab handle for rough terrain.
Moving the gearshift lever to the steering wheel column has added two large cup holders and a storage tray in the centre console while the centre armrest has an illuminated compartment underneath with an option to add a wireless charging pad for mobile devices.
Outside, the G-Class remains a mystery, but Mercedes has said some of the most recognisable parts will be kept there too, such as the tailgate-mounted spare wheel, protruding door handles, even the distinct door latch clunk when the door is slammed shut, all to maintain a feeling of ruggedness and capability.
When it arrives, the new G-Class will be offered with an AMG-developed 4.0-litre twin-turbo engine in two states of tune.
Mercedes-Benz Australia has previously confirmed the local arm will initially focus on only the more powerful G63 AMG variant which will produce around 450kW of power and 850Nm of torque coupled the brand’s nine-speed automatic transmission.
The new model will be underpinned by an aluminum chassis that will drop up to 160kg of weight and improve torsional rigidity by 30 per cent.
The chassis design has allowed for increased interior dimensions as well as new independent front suspension, adaptive damping control and an electro-mechanical rack and pinion steering setup for a tighter turning circle compared to the previous recirculating ball system.
Revised rear-end geometry also sees an increase in articulation and wheel travel for improved off-road performance.
The new G-Class will debut at the 2018 Detroit motor show next month and the Mercedes-AMG G 63 is slated to arrive in Australia around mid-2018, where it will sit alongside the exclusive Australian market-only G-Class Professional work truck.