G-Wagen gets modern with a luxe make-over

G-Wagen gets modern with a luxe make-over

CURIOSITY drew an interstate-heavy crowd to Melbourne’s CBD on Friday night where the new-generation Mercedes-Benz G-Class was on display in a Collins St bar. It was only the second Australian showing of the upgraded G-Wagen off-roader after it was mobbed while on display during last month’s Formula 1 Grand Prix season opener at Albert Park. On this night, the AMG G63 performance variant was again the main draw for a rather young and groovy crowd gathered at the first of what will be regular Friday night drinks-and-canapé sessions designed to get the fun started for the weekend ahead at the Mercedes Me concept store.

'All the old problems - the rough ride, heavy steering, the way it handled generally - have gone away.'

Quite a bit of fun can now be had in the 2018 G-Wagen given the new levels of luxury, safety and performance that have been built in. Originally created more than 40 years ago for military use, nothing about the car’s iconic look has been compromised. Popular features right down to the unique door-handles and the rifle-bolt sound they made when you lock them are still on board, as is the trademark dashboard grab handle. But the car’s been given a complete overhaul to bring it into the 21st Century.

“It’s like a crocheted quilt that's so worn out you can only replace some of the panels - eventually you have to start from scratch. That’s what we did [with the G-Wagen],” says Mercedes-Benz Australia’s communications boss, David McCarthy. “We’ve remade it for the next 40 years.”

All the old problems - the rough ride, heavy steering, the way it handled generally - have gone away. Now it’s wider, longer and finally has some serious leg and shoulder room for rear passengers. It might be hand-built, but its serious off-road capabilities mean it can tackle gradients otherwise too steep to manage on foot. The new “G-Mode” driving mode will help with that, one of five modes available in the new G-Class. Being lighter and less stiff in body is claimed to have improved the on-road dynamics and performance of the car as well as lowered the noise in the new-age cabin.

Inside, things are dressed up with luxury and technology features brought in from the E-Class and S-Class models. The most immediate and obvious change is the expansive twin-screened integrated dash and instrument configuration which incorporate the company’s latest infotainment and driver assistance systems. These are controlled by the centrally positioned haptic touchpad control. The air vents look rather neat, fashioned as they are around the G-Wagen’s headlights.

'The G-Wagen used to be a car you wanted to be seen in. Now it’s one you’ll want to drive as well.'

There are some frivolous touches, too, like the availability of 84 different colour ways for the ambient internal lighting around door trims and electric seat controls. The result is pretty beautiful, though, and it’s certainly a nice place to sit compared to the last iteration. The deep, plush seats come with lumbar support, and heating, cooling and massage features can be optioned in, as well. 

At the Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix space, half-a-million-dollar S-Classes and other AMG models on display were effectively ignored when the G-Wagen was around. This early interest in the car has Mecedes-Benz confident it will double annual sales which have previously sat around 100, McCarthy says.

“The G-Wagen used to be a car you wanted to be seen in,” he says. “Now it’s one you’ll want to drive as well.”

The early-run limited edition AMG G63 seen here would retail for $276,000, whereas the entry level is $250,000 - up about $20,000 on the outgoing model. Deliveries in Australia are expected to start in October.

In the meantime, you have about a week to see it at the Mercedes Me store, which is designed to give people an experience around the brand rather than selling cars, says Mercedes-Benz brand specialist Matt Bruce. It’s about familiarising people with the look and feel of the brand in a place they might otherwise not be exposed to the cars.

Designed like all global Mercedes Me stores around the city in which they sit, this one reflects  Melbourne’s famed cafe culture. Its black steel mezzanine harks back to 1950s car factories, blending well with natural woods, sweeping drapes and leather furniture throughout. The wifi-friendly space is perfect for working breakfasts, lunches or dinners in cleverly divided private booths, a laid-back library, high-seating bar and cafe area. There’s even a board room available for hire. Functions and guest speakers are often part of the mix, as is entertainment which, on our night, was provided by sparkling Melbourne DJ Chloe Wilson (pictured above).

But there will always be a car on the floor, Bruce says, cycling at least weekly between something high-performance to a more mainstream motor to vintage classics. The G-Wagen is certainly high performing but looks destined to become a classic. No wonder so many people want to be along for the ride.