MERCEDES-Benz will take public a plan for a new range of rugged SUV models at the 2012 Los Angeles motor show next week with the unveiling of its new Ener-G-Force concept car - an imposing seven-seater that, in kitted-up Highway Patrol Vehicle guise, also provides the centrepiece for the German car maker's entry into this year's Los Angeles Design Challenge.
Mercedes-Benz officials won't be drawn on specifics just yet, but high-placed company sources suggest the Ener-G-Force is the forerunner to a new three-strong line-up of Land Rover-rivalling off-roaders likely to join the German car maker's line-up in coming years, based around existing platforms and driveline combinations, including a long-awaited replacement for the iconic G-Class in production since 1979.
"The Ener-G-Force invokes the genes of the G-class. It could also be a clue about a new beginning for the off-road design idiom of Mercedes-Benz," says Gorden Wagener, head of Mercedes-Benz design, in tacit reference to the new line-up, which would compliment next year's new price-leading GLA along with the existing GLK, M-class and GL-class as well as a sporting version of the M-class flaunting a uniquely designed body due out in 2014.
Styled at Mercedes-Benz's advanced design studio in Carlsbad, California, the Ener-G-Force updates the functional go-anywhere appearance of the 33-year-old G-class with a bold new look that provides clues to how the company's new SUV line-up, which has been conceived to include compact, mid-size and luxury variants in a move aimed at providing broad customer appeal, may appear if current proposals being mulled over by chairman Dieter Zetsche and the rest of the Mercedes-Benz board receive the thumbs up.
Among the styling elements that distinguish the modern-day G-class is a soft front mask similar in concept to that adorning original. It houses a broad four-slate grille dominated by a three-pointed star emblem and distinctive LED headlamps whose slim-line horizontal design combines with a highly technical wing-shaped bumper assembly with integral winch to widen the concept visually.
As on the first-ever Mercedes-Benz off-roader, the indicators are mounted atop the front wings to provide positioning reference in tricky conditions away from the bitumen. They bookmark a raised bonnet that uses a letterbox-like opening along its leading edge for added engine cooling.
Further back, there are pumped-up wing panels providing for plenty of wheel travel, an upright windscreen, high waistline, shallow glass house with recessed side windows, one-piece tailgate hinged within the roof and a rear bumper that mirrors the look of that up front.
As Mercedes-Benz's entry for this year's Los Angeles Design Challenge, which imagines a Highway Patrol Vehicle for the year 2025, the Ener-G-Force proposed driveline consists of four wheel-mounted hydrogen-powered electric motors. Water held in containers on the roof and a so-called Hydro-Tech Converter provide electricity stored in batteries within the concept car's broad sills, which also act as tread plates. Mercedes-Benz projects a range of up to 800 kilometres.
Also included is an off-road application of Mercedes-Benz's new magic ride system called Terra Scan. It uses a camera to detect the surrounding terrain and alter the spring, damper and traction control parameters accordingly in a process aimed at providing optimal levels of traction, both on- and off-road.