"I'm not dead yet!"
It's the favored sound bite of legions of Monty Python fans, and it also could be the battle cry for the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, now returning to the U.S. lineup again for the 2013 model year after a second close call with death.
The G-Class is "the founding father of the Mercedes-Benz SUV family," says model line director Axel Harries, explaining that the passenger version of the military Gelaendewagen gives the Mercedes SUV lineup a halo vehicle like Land Rover has with its Defender, or Toyota has with the Land Cruiser.
Updated with new drivetrains and safety features for the 2013 model year, the G-Class now will be in production through at least 2015, Mercedes-Benz confirms--and Harries told TheCarConnection that it's possible the utility vehicle will be around even longer than that, since it now meets all coming requirements for its most important global sales markets.
The G-Class is Mercedes' most rugged SUV. Engineered in the 1970s--by some reports, at the suggestion of the Shah of Iran--the brutish ute has been through relatively few major changes in its almost 35-year life span.
A low-volume niche vehicle, it's also been on the chopping block at least twice. The first close call came in 2005, when Mercedes had decided to replace it with a more passenger-friendly vehicle based on a new architecture, built at a new plant in the U.S. That vehicle would become the Tuscaloosa, Alabama-built GL-Class--but even while that vehicle was being engineered, Mercedes decided to update the G-Class to remain in its lineup as long as it could, upgrading its powertrains to meet stricter emissions requirements in Europe and the United States.
A few years later, the company was faced with the same decision as the G-Class' V-8 powertrains and interior again needed a major refresh. Harries--who had worked at the Tuscaloosa plant during its construction and the M-Class launch, before returning to Germany to work on the Mercedes car portfolio--inherited the G-Class project, with the job to determine whether to refurbish it, or to let it go.
Ultimately the decision was in favor of keeping the slab-sided vehicle that's become an icon. It's plugged away at its extreme duties around the world, serving as a military vehicle around the globe, while it's also become a celebrity favorite in the States, and has even been modified to serve as the "Popemobile," ferrying the Holy Father beneath a specially made bulletproof bubble.
For the 2013 model year, the G-Class earns a round of improvements that should stoke interest anew in some mature markets racked by recession, in Europe and America. Sales haven't waned at all in markets like China or the Middle East, Harries says, with record sales in the final model year of the current generation.
In the U.S. market, the 2013 G-Class goes on sale in August as the G550 with its carryover V-8 powertrain, and as the newly dubbed G63 AMG--which gets a 544-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 and a seven-speed automatic found in other AMG vehicles. Both versions of the 2013 G-Class get new gauges, a new infotainment LCD screen and connectivity apps, as well as new safety features.
For markets outside the U.S., there's even a G65 AMG edition with the first V-12 engine ever implanted in the Gelaendewagen--an effort that beats long-rumored, long-mothballed BMW and Land Rover V-12s to the showroom.
In this form, the G-Class will be built at a Magna Steyr plant in Graz, Austria, where it's been assembled for more than 30 years in military and civilian spec. The current deal with Magna Steyr runs through 2015, but now that it's been updated, Harries says it's possible the G-Class could live on beyond 2015--and that if it's up to him, it will.
After all, it's already survived two brushes with death, he points out.
"This car is simply indestructible."