According to the rules of this year's Los Angeles Auto Show Design Challenge, automotive design teams are required to dream up the ideal police vehicle for the year 2025. Mercedes-Benz's California design studio did just that, but ended up reinventing an off-road icon -- the G-Class -- in the process.
The new concept -- named Ener-G-Force -- was first created as an eco-friendly, go-anywhere vehicle for California's Highway Patrol. That latter characteristic led them to consider crafting an evolution of the fabled G-Class, a vehicle that conquered plenty of trails in its thirty-three-year lifespan, but bucked major revision and restyling efforts along the way. It didn't take long for designers, giddy with their work, to begin envisioning their futuristic police G could be transformed into a consumer-friendly model, and created the full-scale concept shown here.
Have We Met Before?
At first glance, the Ener-G-Force feels simultaneously foreign yet familiar. The vehicle is far less rectangular than any of its predecessors, but still looks and feels like a G. "Of course, we wanted to take a clear step forward," notes designer Hubert Lee, "but we also wanted [to retain] the G's characteristic features." Mercedes' press release suggests the smoothed, muscular shape is a "radical reinterpretation" of the G, resulting in a "clean concept for beyond tomorrow."
Much like the Toyota FJ Cruiser, the Ener-G-Force appears a little more squab and rounded than its inspiration, but the lineage is clear. The vehicle's profile is all too familiar, although its beltline is higher than before. The front fascia is dominated by a bold, upright grille, which is flanked by headlamp surrounds that taper back towards the center of the car. The hood rises above the front fenders, allowing turn signals to remain perched atop the fenders themselves. The dark grille surround and fender flares -- which neatly wrap and tuck into the front fascia -- harken back to the original W460-series Gelandewagen, which first debuted in 1978.
The Ener-G's tail is its biggest break from tradition. Rounded rear fenders stick out a ways from the body itself, and give the Ener-G haunches the original G never had. Slender tail lamps are still set low in the body, but now wrap around the corner of the car, much like those on the exotic SLS AMG sports car. Despite all this, there's still an abundance of old-school G cues. A duckbill-like kink at the roof's peak echoes the G-Class' drip rail. The tailgate's chamfer recalls a similar recess on the G-Class. A raised, rectangular portion of the tailgate is offset much like the G-Class's spare tire cover, but holds tools and gear -- not an extra wheel and tire.
The Ener-G-Force's exterior is riddled with clever -- if not quirky -- detail. LED headlamps are cleverly arranged to resemble the letter 'G.' A faux air extractor on each side of the hood echoes those on today's G550 and G63 AMG models. A winch is attractively nestled into the center of the front bumper. Large, 20-inch wheels use a five-split-spoke pattern, much like today's G. The civilian-grade concept model boasts a four-lamp off-road light pod, while the roof rack boasts integrated accent lighting. Benz suggests a police-spec model would use these spots to install the typical red-and-blue strobe lighting.
Is The Future Now?
A quick look at the proposed driveline clearly shows the Ener-G-Force is a flight of fancy. Designers suggest power would primarily come from a hydrogen fuel cell stack, but could be supplanted by hot-swappable battery packs hid within the rocker rails. Four electric motors -- one mounted in each wheel hub -- transform electricity produced by the fuel cell stack into motive force, and can be individually be braked or overdriven in order to suit the terrain encountered.
Mercedes-Benz suggests the vehicle could have a total range of 500 miles, and also describes how the roof rack packs water that can be used with an on-board hydrogen generator, potentially extending the Ener-G-Force's range. If those ideas aren't already weird enough, Benz also says a roof-mounted, 360-degree camera measures surrounding topography and adjusts the active suspension dampers to suit.
Those features, seemingly ripped from a sci-fi novella, don't render the Ener-G-Force a pointless, pie-in-the-sky exercise. There's something to be said about exploring how an off-road icon like the G-Class can be evolved going forward. The G-Class has weathered three decades with little change, but as emissions, crashworthiness, and fuel economy standards evolve around the world, it's unlikely the longstanding design can clear those hurdles without a major re-work. Even Gorden Wagener, Mercedes-Benz's director of design, suggests the concept could very well "be a clue about a new beginning for the off-road design idiom of Mercedes-Benz."
Would such an evolution irk the hardcore G-Wagen faithful? That remains to be seen. Toeing the line between the past and progress, particularly with long-beloved vehicles like the G, is never easy. Mercedes-Benz certainly has an uphill journey on its hands, but perhaps we shouldn't fret.
After all, we haven't yet met a hill a G-Class couldn't scale.