With apologies to David Byrne, the new 2013 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is largely the same as it ever was. Even so, Mercedes-Benz has given its veteran off-roader a few new engines and a couple of cosmetic tweaks for its 33rd year on the market.
As a rash of spy photos previously indicated, the new G doesn't look all that different from the old G - or, to be precise, the consumer-grade G that first appeared in 1990. Benz's press release bills the exterior makeover as "discrete," but that may be an understatement. Apart from the headlamp bezels incorporating LED driving lights in their lower edges, the new G's exterior appearance is unchanged. AMG-tuned models allegedly boast a new grille insert and front bumpers with large air intakes, but to date, no press photos of such a vehicle have been released.
Inside, the G is still forced to use a short, stubby instrument panel, but designers did a commendable job of dressing up the antiquated cabin and bringing it in-line with current Mercedes-Benz design standards. The entire dash is leather-wrapped and boasts contrasting stitching. A new gauge cluster places four instruments into two large housings, while a new multifunction steering wheel is shared with the M- and GL-Class ranges. The biggest change is the center stack: the navigation screen is now placed at the top of the dashboard in a iPad-inspired binnacle, while the remainder of the G's climate and audio controls are installed in a rounded center stack that's trimmed with your choice of wood veneer or carbon fiber trim. These photos show an optional Designo interior package, which adds perforated leather seating with contrasting piping, along with fanciful quilted door panel inserts.
Mercedes-Benz also manages to pack some sophisticated technology within the cabin - most of which does nothing to aid the G's tremendous off-road prowess, but will appease the majority of customers in their suburban pursuits. Mercedes' latest Comand infotainment and navigation system is standard, and the ubiquitous rotary controller is placed on the center console. While European-spec models receive in-car Internet access, G models destined for the US don't receive that feature -- but they do receive Benz's mBrace2 telematics service, along with parking sensors, a rear-view camera, blind spot detection, and adaptive cruise control.
While the Euro-spec G-Class is available in two different body styles and with four different engine choices, U.S.-spec models -- available only as a four-door wagon - offer a little less diversity. The base G550 continues to use a 5.5-liter V-8, although its output is increased from 382 to 388 hp. A seven-speed automatic transmission remains standard, as is a full-time four-wheel-drive system with three locking differentials.
If that's not quite enough power to whet your appetite, there's always the new G63 AMG, which replaces the previous AMG-tuned G55 model. The G63 replaces the G55's supercharged 5.5-liter V-8 with a new, direct-injection twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8, and subsequently sees its power rise. While the G55 offered up 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, the G63 serves up 544 hp and a solid 560 lb-ft of torque. A stop/start function is fitted as standard equipment.
As we predicted, the new G65 AMG - the second factory-built Gelandewagen to boast twelve-cylinder power - will not be offered in North America. Pity, since it packs insane power: the 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-12 cranks out 612 hp at 4300 rpm, and an earth-shearing 737 lb-ft of torque from 2300 rpm. A Mercedes-Benz spokesman tells us this model is targeted mostly at the Chinese and Middle Eastern markets.
As has been the case for decades, the 2013 G-Class will continue to be assembled at Magna-Steyr's production line in Graz, Austria. Mercedes-Benz says the latest G-Class should arrive at U.S. dealers come August, but hasn't released price figures for either model. Don't expect them to come cheap: 2012 G550 models start at $107,100, while the 2012 G55 AMG starts at $124,450.