UTES LARGE

MERCEDES-BENZ G-WAGON PRO

This version of the G-Wagon family has a market success chance

The tray-back version of the G-Wagon was released in early 2017. Outback Travel Australia managed to get its hands on one of the pre-production vehicles for an exclusive report.

The Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen was originally planned as a German Army vehicle, displacing the VW Iltis. The first civilian version was produced way back in 1979.

M-B has had three goes at selling the Gelandewagen in Australia, as short and long wheelbase wagons that sold in microscopic numbers. They’ve always been too expensive in this market and have had either asthmatic diesel or thirsty petrol engines.

There are a few of the earlier marketing efforts in the used-4WD market, but not many come up for sale. The early-model, naturally-aspirated, three-litre diesel wagon is a slug, but the 1990s petrol-engined versions go well – especially the three-door models.

It’s not clear to us what Mercedes-Benz was thinking when it decided to re-introduce the Gelandewagen to the Australian 4WD wagon market in 2010. The company’s two previous efforts in the 1980s and 1990s proved unsuccessful and the two wagon models currently on offer are at stratospheric price levels.

Anglicised to ‘G-Wagon’ the ‘base’ G350 vehicle is powered by M-B’s aluminium-block BlueTEC, 3.0-litre V6 diesel, with 155kW and 540Nm, driving through a seven-speed, 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission to coil-sprung live axles front and rear with full-time 4WD.

Diff locks are fitted to the transfer case differential and both drive axles. The price was ($163,900 in 2016) in Range Rover territory, or nearly twice what you’d pay for a Land Cruiser 200 Series.

But there’s more: the G55 AMG version, powered by a 5.4-litre petrol V8 with 373kW and 700Nm could be yours for a mere $233,900!

That's how the commercially-available G-Wagon model range Down Under has stayed.

All that money could possibly be justified if the fit and finish and the inclusions were even half of what’s de rigueur in all other 4WD wagons these days, or if the powertrain was matched to class-competitive chassis dynamics, but they’re not.

The G-Wagon is crude and ill-equipped wagon and its coil-sprung live axles front and rear can’t deliver the on-road behaviour that even bargain-basement 4WD wagons have these days.

We drove the previous-model AMG version in Germany a few years back and the flat-faced G-Wagon felt really weird at anything over 160km/h on the autobahn – it’s no high-speed cruiser.

Sure, the G-Wagon is unbeatable off-road, but who’s going to risk damaging such an expensive machine to prove that point?

However, all may not be lost. The G-Wagon models Mercedes-Benz successfully tendered to the Australian Army were tray-back derivatives. The Army has now taken delivery of 1200 4WD and 6WD G-Wagons.

It must have dawned on someone at Mercedes-Benz HQ in Victoria that there may be a commercial market for a tray-back G-Wagon, whose old-fashioned cab and ‘square-rigged’ chassis may actually be assets.

We might lack a marketing degree on the office wall, jelly in our hair, Gucci suits and pointy-toed, winkle-picker shoes, but we’ve been telling them that for years – as well as suggesting they might make even a half-hearted marketing effort with the Sprinter 4WD.

 

G-Wagon Pro

We understand that calling the 2017 G-Wagon cab-chassis model ‘Professional’ prepares prospective buyers to shell out plenty for what is a workhorse, but not a cheap one. The RRP is around $120,000.

Now, before you discount that as excessive, take a look at the specifications.

For a start, the G-Wagon has 4.5 tonnes GVM, with a front axle rating of 2.2 tonnes and a rear axle rating of 2.8 tonnes. Tare weight is 2.26 tonnes, giving the G-Wagon a payload capacity of 2.24 tonnes; around twice that of most utes.

The G-Wagon sits on a 3400mm wheelbase that makes it easy to mount a 2.4-metre-long tray. This wheelbase length ensures that front and rear axles share the payload, unlike the short wheelbases prevalent in the Australian ute market that almost guarantee rear axle overloading at GVM.

The wheelbase length provides space for twin spare wheel storage, horizontally on each side of the vehicle, between frame and tray, and also space for the exhaust pipe to emerge in front of the LHS rear wheel.

The frame is a boxed ladder design, with heavy duty coil springs at all four corners and live axles front and rear. Braking is by discs up front and drums, rear.

Wheels are as fitted to Australia Army G-Wagons: aluminium spoked one-piece 7.5J16s, shod with BFG 265/75R16 A/T LT tyres

A tow bar is standard and, while the tow rating is only 2.4 tonnes, the bar looks strong enough to haul eight! Huge, red-painted recovery points are fitted front and rear.

The pre-production vehicle also sported the same ‘roo bar as fitted to the Australian Army G-Wagons and a Warn winch with steel-wire cable.

This single-cab vehicle was powered by the three-litre aluminium-head-and-block Mercedes-Benz V6 diesel, de-rated to around 135kW and 400Nm.

The standard transmission is a five-speed, torque converter automatic box, driving through a two-speed transfer case, with 2.1:1 low-range ratio.

The 4WD system is full time, with membrane-push switch control of low and high range.

This combination of an auto box and full-time 4WD is unique in the heavy ute market.

As with all G-Wagons the Pro cab-chassis has a centre differential lock and across-axle locks in both axles.

Our favourite interior touch is a pair of removable floor plugs that you can pull up to let creek water drain out.

If the cab has a stripped-out look the same can’t be said for an engine bay that’s as full as a fat person’s sock.

Critical components are mounted as high up as possible and the location of some kit has dictated a small bonnet bulge that’s also evident on the Australian Army vehicles.

In any assessment of whether the G-Wagon Pro is reasonable value for money it’s important to consider that it’s a standard package. To bring a LandCruiser 79 Series to G-Wagon level you’d need to option the factory diff locks and tow bar, then pay for a wheelbase extension, stronger springs and shocks and a GVM upgrade. Additionally, you’d need an automatic transmission conversion and a rear axle-track widening job or a replacement Dana rear axle.

Guess what all that totals: 110 grand and your warranty has gone out the window.

 

On and off road

We managed only a short dirt-road and rocky trail climb drive in an unladen G-Wagon and with 40psi up front and 35psi in the rear the ride was quite firm. The springs seem to be designed for a permanent load.

The steering was very heavy, despite power assistance and the turning circle was wide.

Performance from the de-rated V6 diesel was excellent and shift quality, superb. The lever could be flicked for up and down manual shifts, when required.

There was the occasional gurgle from the A-pillar-mounted snorkel, but otherwise cab noise levels were very low.

Forward vision was excellent, thanks to a high-set driving position and rear vision was fine, through an interior mirror and two door-mounted, swing-away mirrors – manually adjustable, of course.

The vinyl-covered seats were quite supportive and had sufficient adjustment for drivers up to two-metres in height. Tallies and fatties might have some space issues.

Our off-road evaluation was done on slippery, muddy trails and over steep rock shelves. The G-Wagon took all in its stride.

The shift from high range to low and back again could be done at walking speed, with the transmission in neutral.

The centre diff lock and across-axle locks worked quickly after each pressure-pad switch was pushed. The switches are numbered one to three, in the desired sequence of centre then rear then front locks, but the switches aren’t stacked in that sequence, for some odd reason.

In summary, the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon Pro is a rugged, well-proportioned cab-chassis with excellent performance, load carrying capacity and off-road ability. It lacks much of the equipment that today's ute buyers expect, but will appeal to those who want strength without frills.

Given its long wheelbase and high GVM, it’s the ideal vehicle for legal and well-balanced slide-on camper fitment.

 

 



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