Mercedes-Benz’s most capable SUV is set to make its North American debut in 2017 — the G550 4x4² features ground clearance of 437 mm (more than 17 inches), innovative portal axles, three locking differentials and a 416-hp biturbo V-8.
The G550 4x4² is not the most powerful member of the G-Class stable; that honour belongs to the 621-hp 6.0-litre twin-turbo V-12 (which also puts out 738 lb-ft of torque), nor is it arguably the most innovative; that honour belongs to the AMG G63 6x6 with its driven six wheels (though it isn’t available in North America).
Its lineage is undeniable, starting with the patriarch of the line, the Geländewagen (which translates in any which variation of off-road vehicle — 4x4, SUV, all-terrain vehicle, cross-country vehicle — depending on how the word is used) that settled into civilian life in 1979, following six years of basic military training and product development. More than a quarter million have been delivered worldwide since then, all sourced out of Graz, Austria.
It’s built on a steel ladder frame to provide the robust platform needed for extensive off-road use, by providing ideal protection for the drivetrain, fuel tank and exhaust system. On uneven terrain, when suspension articulation is at its extreme, the rigid platform prevents the twisting forces exerted on the vehicle from damaging the body, as it might on today’s unibody construction.
The suspension has also been beefed up, using dual springs and damper struts. Adjustable damping shocks an two stabilizer bars enhance the off-road ride but also provides a sporty dynamic for on-pavement driving (belying the extreme floor height of the vehicle).
The portal axles are what make that high ground-clearance possible, using a gear set similar to those on a transmission to allow the wheel hub and rigid axle to sit at radically different heights (unlike those of traditional vehicles). The axle setup also allows the carryover of suspension, steering and driveshaft components from other G-Class versions. Even speedometer calibration goes unchanged (and even when larger off-road tires are mounted on the vehicle).
The unique chassis also creates a wider track — 230 mm in front and 254 mm in rear — improving stability and lowering the centre of gravity.
And as go anywhere vehicle, it has all the off-road goodies, such as 50:50 torque distribution, a transfer case with locking differentials (three, in this case) and a low range gear. It can also ford water a meter deep (39.4 inches).
To get going and keep going, the G550 4x4² uses a 4.0-liter Biturbo V8 (416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque) controlled by 7G-TRONIC PLUS 7-speed automatic transmission.
Vehicles are expected in showrooms early in 2017, with prices not yet set.