2020 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

The G-Class will go, stop, and turn all with a surprising amount of dexterity—not to mention its sure-footedness off road. For its breadth of capability we award it a 7 out of 10.

The base G is the G550, which sports a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 churning out 416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. A 9-speed automatic mates up this engine and routes power to all four wheels; paddle shifters offer precise control for those who want to take matters into their own hands. This whole combo is good for a 130 mph top speed and a 0-60 mph time of 5.8 seconds.

AMG wasn’t satisfied with those numbers, however, so they turned up the wick on that V-8. With a wave of their magic wand—and a good bit of tuning—the G63 manages to wring out 577 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque from that same motor. In this tune, the V-8 will launch the G63 to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds and let it defy aerodynamics until 164 mph. Not bad numbers for a 5,700-pound truck with all the air-cheating qualities of a refrigerator.

Multiple drive modes are available for both models, with the G550 getting four modes to pick from and the G63, five. We were most enamored with the Sport mode, which seemed to breathe a little more life into the big SUV compared to the default Comfort. In the G63, the most aggressive Sport+ mode snaps off shifts like a hurricane snaps trees—quick, angry, merciless.

Underneath there’s a coil rather than an air suspension. It might seem surprising, as most Range Rover models come with air ride, as do plenty of other top-tier luxury SUVs. But the steel springs do better for off-road shenanigans. Dampers are of the typical, old-fashioned passive style, but adaptive units are available on the G550 and standard on the G63.

Those adaptive dampers, along with the new-for-last-year independent front suspension, do wonders for bringing ride quality up to modern standards. Our drive, on the smooth roads of France, told us that the new Gs are far and away the best riding ones to date, even when tottering on the available 22-inch wheels. We nonetheless remain suspect about ride quality on pockmarked and broken-up pavement, however. One of these days we’ll wheel a G-Class around Detroit and see if our backs need a chiropractor at the end of our drive.

Off Road Performance

Rest assured the 2020 G-Class upholds the well-deserved reputation for off-road grit.

It starts with ground clearance, 9.5 inches of it. Then there’s the three locking differentials and full-time four-wheel drive. A two-speed transfer case, stout frame, and massive tower brace all play their part in keeping the G cool and composed out in the wild.

All this hardware helps achieve some serious off-road specs. Per Mercedes, it will ford nearly 28 inches of water and clamber up inclines of up to 35 degrees. It has a 26-degree breakover angle and 30- and 31- front and rear departure angles.

If you’re going to take advantage of that capability, you’ll be happy for the G-Mode off-pavement system. It automatically engages when the low range is selected or one of the differentials is locked. When activated, it adjusts the sensitivity of throttle, steering, and damping forces to allow for more precise inputs. It’s standard on both the G550 and G63.

The G63 also gets with an exclusive G-Mode sub-menu that lets you choose from Sand, Trail, and Rock modes. Each mode has its own unique adjustments for the throttle, steering, and damping, the idea being to best modulate the copious power the G63 makes. But the G63 is also the road-going warrior of the two models, with a lot of its off-roadability engineered out to make it such a performer on asphalt. It’s why we find it surprising that the new-for-2020 Trail Package is only available on the G63 and not the G550. The package includes knobby all-terrain tires that look like they belong on some lifted pickup.

Review continues below

SUBARU’S TOM DOLL: Pandemic presents different kind of challenge

Subaru of America began 2020 with a U.S. sales goal of 725,000 vehicles and a fresh lineup led by the redesigned 2020 Outback.

After posting volume increases in January and February, Subaru was on track for its 12th consecutive year of record sales.

But in March, the impact of states’ shelter-in-place orders stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic was quickly felt by Subaru’s retailers across the U.S.

Sales dropped 47 percent in both March and April. May showed improvement as sales were down just 19 percent to 51,988 vehicles.

CEO Tom Doll, one of the architects behind Subaru’s success and rapid growth in the U.S. market, acknowledges that the streak of yearly sales records will end in 2020, but he remains optimistic.

“We’ll start a new streak next year,” Doll said.

For Doll, navigating Subaru through the pandemic is just the latest challenge he’s faced during his tenure with the automaker, which dates back to 1982.

Doll, 65, spoke with Staff Reporter Jack Walsworth this month. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: You’ve seen a lot in your career at Subaru, and you’ve gone through crises before. How has your experience helped during this pandemic?

A: This has been quite an interesting challenge. I’ve gone through many recessions, starting with the 1987 recession that led to our tough situation in the 1989 through 1993 period of time. I’ve been through the dot-com boom and the recession that happened right after that. Then 9/11 and the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. And the 2011 earthquake and tsunami which affected the Japanese production of cars.

This situation is really the most challenging of all of them. Because at least in the previous downturns or recessions, you had a functioning economy that was going on. And here, the economy was purposely shut down and it was purposely shut down very quickly. There really wasn’t a whole lot of time to adjust to what was happening.

If you’re going into a recession and you see one coming, you can begin to prepare for it by conserving cash resources, figuring out what you’re going to do with your employment levels and things like that. But in this particular one, it just came upon us so quickly that there really wasn’t much time to adjust.

It’s something that I’ve never been through before, and I hope I never go through it again, but it’s been a very interesting time. The past has helped us a little bit because in some of the past recessions, we weren’t quite as strong from a business perspective or from a franchise perspective. But now we’re a lot stronger. During these very good years we’ve had, particularly in the last five or six years, we were able to fortify our balance sheet in such a way that we can withstand this type of a situation.

If this happened 10 or 15 years ago, I’m not sure it would be the same. We would have survived it. But we wouldn’t have survived it with the fundamentals coming out of it that we will this time.

In 2017, you said 40 percent of employees at Subaru of America weren’t there five years before and hadn’t seen a cycle, just upward movement. As the pandemic unfolded, how did those employees adjust? Have Subaru veterans been offering perspectives?

Even though we have a lot of people that have been here for five years or eight years or less and haven’t experienced a downturn, we also have a lot of very tenured people here. That creates a balance that can help those folks that are going through this the first time to have a better understanding of how to react to it, not to panic or not do things that could potentially jeopardize the longer-term future of our company.

We’ve got good, young, talented and energetic people. We’ve got a very seasoned staff that have been through many situations, maybe not as many as I’ve been through, but they’ve been through a lot and certainly know how to conduct themselves when this type of a situation occurs. We’ve gone through it very well.

As we get into the summer months, what will recovery look like at Subaru in terms of sales?

I don’t want to give it the Tom Doll kiss of death, but so far June is starting out fairly strong. It’s actually going better than we thought. We were thinking that the inventory levels that we had, beginning in mid-March, would be OK as we got through the summer months. But as it turned out, March was better than we thought. April was better than what we had initially thought. We sold about 8,000 more vehicles in April than we thought we were going to do. We sold a bunch more cars than we thought we were going to sell in May.

Our inventories are coming down pretty significantly at the retail level. Our factories are back up and running, but it’s going to take a little bit of time to resupply the retailers.

What are Subaru’s inventory levels at now?

Our inventories are under 60 days in total. We have some car lines that are lower than that. Outback is probably the lowest.

Around mid-August, you’ll begin to see our inventory levels start to get refilled. But we don’t want to have them refilled too much. We like the idea of keeping our days’ supply fairly tight.

Supplies are going to be tight. It’s always been that way, and it seems like in the summer we always hit the tight spot in the inventory. Then it recovers a little bit as we get into the fall and winter months. We’ve always been in a very good inventory position which allows us to stay away from incentives that other manufacturers may have to use to stimulate demand on their side.

Subaru had a lot of momentum going into 2020, and the first two months were strong. How do you recapture that momentum?

There’s been a pretty big shock to the system here and the demand curve is shifted down. Everybody thought this year was going to be 16.8 million, 17 million vehicle sales again. And its shifted down to anywhere from 13 to 14 million vehicles for the entire market. That’s a pretty significant drop.

In terms of recovering the momentum, we’re not going to recover back to the 725,000 sales target. It’s just not possible in this existing market that we’re going to get to that level of sales. We’re going to try to get as many sales as we possibly can. Our current target is somewhere [around] 575,000 vehicles. That’s where we’re thinking we’re going to be this year.

Our goal is to maintain our share of the market, whatever the market is. We think that would be a successful year for us coming out of the pandemic. If the economy improves at a greater extent and then business improves, we want to capture that amount of share and potentially gain some additional share, if that’s possible.

What kind of government stimulus would Subaru like to see? Something like a Cash for Clunkers-type program?

I would say whatever’s best for the overall economy. Help the car industry, but also help the overall economy.

The last time they did Cash for Clunkers around the financial crisis, they didn’t really do it until about a year afterwards because it became apparent that the auto industry needed a little bit of a push and the economy needed a little bit of a push.

As more states open up and the various state economies come back, I think it’d be appropriate to look at how they come back and how the economy in general is being impacted. And then make a determination at that point whether or not that type of a program should be reintroduced to help the economy and to help the industry in general. But I think we’re probably in favor of really helping the overall economy get back, because that’ll help everything: It’ll help used cars, new cars and other industries besides just autos.

Subaru began offering 0 percent financing on certain vehicles in April and extended it through June. Do you see that continuing?

We typically don’t telegraph our programs as they go out into future months. We announce them at a month at a time. We’ll evaluate as we get closer to the end of June for what we’re going to do in July.

Has the 0 percent offer been effective?

It’s been effective for us because we don’t offer it that often. It’s very rare that we would go to 0 percent for 63 months. You might see us offer 0 percent for 36 months or 48 months from time to time at the end of a model year on clearance or something, but not 0 for 63 months. We haven’t done 0 for 63 in a long, long time.

The Forester had its best May ever for sales. Why did it do so well?

Forester is in a very strong segment and it’s a terrific car. I think people are just now discovering what a great car it is and the value it represents in the marketplace. That was one of the car lines that had a nice supply of availability that we could sell from. We hope that’s the new normal for Forester.

The First American to 400 MPH: Mickey Thompson | MotorTrend

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Jaguar to test wireless charging of I-Pace taxi fleet

Jaguar Land Rover is teaming up with Oslo, Norway, Momentum Dynamics, an America company in Malvern, Pa., and others to test a wireless electric vehicle charging system that could eventually cut the cord out of the plug-in battery chargers in wide use today.

The system uses inductive charging, which relies on magnetic forces to transmit electricity from pads in or on pavement. An EV parks over a transmitter pad that sends electricity to receiver pads mounted on the undercarriage. Electricity flows from the receiver pad to the vehicle’s battery pack. It works much like wireless charging for mobile phones and other small electric devices.

Twenty-five Jaguar I-Pace electric crossovers are being modified by Jaguar and Momentum Dynamics engineers to accept wireless charging. The vehicles will then be shipped to Norway, where they will be placed in a taxi fleet operated by Cabonline, one of the largest taxi companies in the Nordic region. The test is scheduled to begin by the end of the year.

Andy Daga, CEO of Momentum Dynamics, which engineers and develops the pads and software, believes consumer use of inductive charging will not be the first high-volume application of the technology. EV drivers will be plugging in for a long time, perhaps another five or more years, before they have a viable option to charge wirelessly. But for the coming armada of electric delivery vehicles and work trucks, inductive charging will be key, Daga believes, to keeping those vehicles in service more hours per day.

The Oslo taxi test, which will use pads installed in the pavement in a specially designated e-taxi lane at the city’s train station, will give engineers data on charging rates and times. The goal is to ensure the I-Pace taxis don’t have to come out of service to be recharged.

“Taxicabs can’t get along on one charge per day. They have to be in service,” said Daga. “If they are not in service, they are not making money.”

Momentum has tested the concept for the past three years on a larger scale on city buses that operate in Wenatchee, Wash., between Seattle and Spokane.

In Oslo, the pads will be able to deliver the same amount of electricity at the same speed as a plug-in charger, Daga said. The I-Pace can imbibe electrons at 50 kilowatts per hour. Daga estimates that 15 minutes parked over the charging pads could add about 50 miles of range to the I-Pace. The charges will occur as a taxi driver waits for its next fare.

“There is no human interaction required whatsoever. You simply park over a pad,” said Daga. “You don’t even need to think about charging at all. It makes the connection automatically.”