More than one automaker would like to believe its sport utility vehicle is the ultimate example. Mercedes-Benz is taking a step in that direction with the new G500 (G-Class), which evolved from the no-compromises Gel�endewagen thats sold in Europe. Only 1,500 units will be available in the United States by fall 2001, with a sticker price of $72,500.
With its M-Class sport utility model on sale in the United States since 1998, Mercedes-Benz focused largely on road-going manners. The Gel�endewagen, in contrast, is a hard-core offroad machine inspired by the demands of military service but transformed into a high-end luxury SUV. Mercedes-Benz claims that it will climb an 80 percent grade and remain stable on a 54 percent lateral slope. Handcrafted in Graz, Austria, the G500 will face such competitors as the BMW X5, Land Rover Range Rover 4.6 HSE, Lexus LX 470 and even the Hummer H1.
A strictly utilitarian appearance is softened somewhat by body-color bumpers, rub strips and rocker panels, as well as alloy wheels and a stainless steel spare-tire cover. As for dimensions, the G-Class is 4 inches longer than M-Class SUVs, which measure 180.6 inches overall.
Because this is a serious offroad vehicle, rigid front and rear axles are installed with longitudinal and transverse links to coil springs. The G500 is the only production vehicle with three locking differentials. In extremely low-traction situations, all you need is a little grip on one front wheel and thats enough to pull you through the trouble spot. The vehicle also is equipped with four-wheel electronic traction control to assist less experienced drivers.
Leather upholstery is complemented by burl walnut interior trim. Standard equipment includes power windows and locks, heated power seats, a GPS navigation system and the Mercedes-Benz Tele Aid telematics system that offers emergency and theft-tracking services. No options will be offered, except for a choice of exterior and interior colors and an integrated hands-free phone with electronic voice recognition.
Under the Hood
Adapted from the engine in the S-Class sedan and SL-Class roadster, the all-aluminum, 5.0-liter V-8 produces 300 horsepower and 330 pounds-feet of torque. Each engine cylinder uses a three-valve, twin-spark setup. An electronically controlled five-speed-automatic transmission sends the power to a full-time four-wheel-drive system with Low range, which is fully synchronized for shift on the fly operation at up to 15 mph. Mercedes-Benzs lateral-skid control system, called Electronic Stability Program (ESP), also is installed.
Antilock brakes have Brake Assist for automatic full-power braking in panic stops. Electronic brake-force distribution enhances stability when braking in curves.