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2019 New and Future Cars: Mercedes-Benz

New G-Class retains capability, gains more civility

While competitors have constantly worked to make their towering SUVs feel like sedans, the G-Class has remained suitably truckish. The team behind the all-new 2019 G-Class had the unenviable job of improving the vehicle without spoiling the elements that have made it one of the marque's signature models. The result is a larger SUV with a touch more civility that hasn't sacrificed any of its capability.

That began with a new frame, body mounts, and body, which pulled around 374 pounds from the structure thanks in part to an aluminum hood, fenders, and doors. Even so, Mercedes says the design is 55 percent stiffer than the previous version. It's also 2.5 inches wider and 2.0 inches longer, delivering more interior room than before.

The G's cabin now looks like it belongs in the upper echelon of the Mercedes-Benz lineup, with a completely revised dash. The optional high-resolution instrument cluster is gorgeous, as is the massive 12.3-inch central display. More important, the G-Class is quieter than before. An acoustic windshield and side glass, extensive sound deadening, and double door seals do a better job of keeping noise at bay.

That's not to say the new G is silent. It still retains many of the harsh characteristics of its predecessors, including those protruding fender-mounted turn signals and the vehicle-length body protector strip. Combine all that with a steeply raked windscreen, and there's more racket than you'd expect from a freshly designed vehicle. Still, we don't care. It's a good reminder that this is still a G.

The biggest change is a new independent front suspension. Abandoning the old stick axle was the key to modernizing the G-Class, allowing engineers to use an electro-mechanical rack-and-pinion steering system. It also opened the door to the complete suite of Mercedes-Benz driving aids and lets the engine sit lower in the chassis. The change also civilized the G's driving dynamics.

When the road turns to something other than a straight line, the G 550 behaves itself. The previous generation's catastrophic understeer and body roll hasn't vanished, but it takes considerably more speed to find it. For most buyers, it will feel like sliding behind the wheel of a Tahoe; the previous G was more akin to coaxing a wheelbarrow full of top-heavy crates down a hallway. Power for the G 550, which will start at around $128,000, comes from the same 416-hp, 450-lb-ft 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 as last year.

Although the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 under the hood of the 2019 Mercedes-AMG G 63  is also a carryover, the engine is mated to a new nine-speed automatic transmission. The wide-ratio box helps give the G 63 its breadth of capability, from a super-low crawl ratio in low-range first gear to blasting down the highway to an electronically limited top speed of 149 mph in ninth. Sport and Sport+ modes open up a multiple downshift function that puts the engine at the proper rpm for turning your eyeballs to goo. Helpful.

We spent hours scrambling over ridges, crawling up near-vertical, loose-footed ledges, and wading through headlight-deep water. At no point did the new G 550 or G 63 ever feel out of sorts over the collection of unforgiving, nerve-piquing scrambles. Whether lifting a wheel or two or lunging up difficult grades, the truck just kept going in spite of everything around it, the same as it always has. The same as it will for years to come.

Speaking of high-riding vehicles with stratospheric prices, it's a good bet that the Vision Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury concept, which bowed earlier this year, will see production. It's a vehicle that Daimler's head of design, Gorden Wagener, says "combines the DNA of an SUV with that of a sedan to produce an ultra-modern SUV of three-box design." Because you know Mercedes-Maybach can't let Rolls-Royce and Bentley vacuum up all of those potential big-bucks customers who simply have to have an "ultra-modern" (read: ultra-expensive) SUV.

On the low-riding vehicle front, Mercedes-Benz and AMG updated the C-Class lineup, and Mercedes-AMG just introduced the AMG GT 4-Door coupe. A car that we previewed for you in our June issue, the GT 4-Door will hunt Panameras when it hits the streets early next year in several engine configurations, with the top-spec 63 S model's 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with a massive 630 horsepower and 627 lb-ft.

That power is not nearly as massive as the Project One, AMG's super-ridiculous hypercar pushing more than 1,000 hp. We can't wait to get race ace Andy Pilgrim behind the wheel of one so we can tell you about the $2.5 million Formula 1-inspired menace that you'll never drive and probably never see. But you're going to want to hear about it.