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Mercedes Benz 4×4 vehicle guide

Mercedes Benz make several off-road and overland vehicles, but only one true off-roader that is not a truck. And that, strictly speaking, it’s not a Mercedes. It’s the Stuye Puch Geländewagen, marketed as the Mercedes G-Wagen. I have deliberately excluded Mercedes Benz’s many fine 4×4 trucks – for the reason that they are trucks all weighing far in excess of what a regular 4×4 passenger car weighs. The Unimog is included briefly, because it fits in between the two.

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Still built only in Austria the Mercedes Geländewagen (also known as the G, G-Wagen and the G-Class) is one of the most impressive 4x4s ever made. The secret is a long-travel coil spring suspension that provides good articulation while not suffering the body lean that tends to lift weight off opposite wheels on side-slopes, low centre of gravity and even front and rear weight distribution. Off-road this translates into easy going over rocks and boulders while at the same time, wheels don’t lift when the vehicle is negotiating steep turns on slopes. In addition, the vehicle is so beautifully engineered and built for serious work that from the driver’s seat it feels invincible. It is also am immensely strong vehicle. I know of one that was rolled down a slope, going over three times and at the bottom the driver walked out without a scratch and not even the windscreen had broken. The 461-series versions have part-time 4WD, the 463-series full-time 4WD and ABS brakes. G-Wagens have remarkable transmissions as it is one of very few 4x4s where low-range can be engaged while the vehicle is still moving and this happens effortlessly. In addition all G’s have front and rear hydraulic locking differentials that can be engaged at any time by pulling a long lever out of the floor (461) or pushing a button (463).

The G showing off its remarkable roll-over angle

The G showing off its remarkable roll-over angle

Like all 4x4s, the G has its weaknesses. Among them are its rear springs which must be replaced after 200 000 kms as they are prone to breakage after this and the break-over angle on the 463 LWB models is not particularly high. Another weakness is the front diff lock actuator, which is prone to failure. Almost all pre-1998 G-Wagens are underpowered, which often means low first gear when the ideal gear would be low second, although the vehicle is so good off-road it rarely seems to matter! Early models are poor performers on sand, due primarily to their underpowered engines.

MERCEDES BENZ

1990, 463-series with the new squared-off headlamp trim

From 1998 and 1999 a 290GD was sold in South Africa. It was a 461-series, 5-cylinder, 2.9-litre turbo-diesel auto in long and short wheelbase, absent of many frills but with cruise-control, air-con and electric windows. The rest of the vehicle was spartan and practical, all the way down to the floor plugs to drain water from the interior after hosing it out after a long safari. I have owned two such G’s and they earned a place in my heart that will never die. I absolutely love this vehicle. RHD production ceased in about 2001 but it looks as if it is about to start again, although I have yet to verify this good news. I find it amusing that the almost famous 4×4 explorer and author of several books for Land Rover, and my mentor, Tom Sheppard, now drives as his personal vehicle, a 290GD. This doesn’t surprise me one bit.

Like all 4x4s, the G has its weaknesses. Among them are its rear springs which must be replaced after 200 000 kms as they are prone to breakage after this and the break-over angle on the 463 LWB models is not particularly high. Another weakness is the front diff lock actuator, which is prone to failure. Almost all pre-1998 G-Wagens are underpowered, which often means low first gear when the ideal gear would be low second, although the vehicle is so good off-road it rarely seems to matter! Early models are poor performers on sand, due primarily to their underpowered engines.

My second G-wagen, also a 290GD TD

My second G-wagen, also a 290GD TD

From 1998 and 1999 a 290GD was sold in South Africa. It was a 461-series, 5-cylinder, 2.9-litre turbo-diesel auto in long and short wheelbase, absent of many frills but with cruise-control, air-con and electric windows. The rest of the vehicle was spartan and practical, all the way down to the floor plugs to drain water from the interior after hosing it out after a long safari. I have owned two such G’s and they earned a place in my heart that will never die. I absolutely love this vehicle. RHD production ceased in about 2001 but it looks as if it is about to start again, although I have yet to verify this good news. I find it amusing that the almost famous 4×4 explorer and author of several books for Land Rover, and my mentor, Tom Sheppard, now drives as his personal vehicle, a 290GD. This doesn’t surprise me one bit.

What follows is a video review of my own G, the second one I operated from 2001 to 2004.

The G is still hand-made. German language video

In 2012 the G300 Professional was launched, together with two revised 463 models, both being powered by a 3.0 litre V6 petrol engines. The G300 pro though, has the impressive 3.0 turbo-diesel engine. In my view, this might be the first time a G has been launched without the necessary testing. I have come to this conclusion because this G is having serious reliability and build quality problems. Electrical faults with the G300 Pro are ‘normal’, and it is not uncommon for these vehicles to spend months of their early lives in the workshop being repaired. One problem, is that this vehicle has a serious aversion to water! A bit of rain and its been known that the engine goes into limp-mode. I am not sure if the reasons have been worked out yet. The other thing is that the raised air intake howls like a jet fighter after-burner, and the interior noise can be unbearable at low speeds. In addition, the recommended after-market cruise-control is troublesome and there is every sign that these vehicle are not what they seem. If I look closely, I can see remnants of a military spec vehicle. Could it be that Styre had built a few thousand military specs and the deal went sour, or they could not sell them? I’m only speculating. But why is there an enormously heavy steel 24-volt electrical box between the front seats, and why do the axles look stronger than the standard version? Are the split rear seats another clue? And the price is stupid! The showroom price does not even include the optional flimsy mats that can be ordered, or the nice mag rims as seen in the picture below. It looks like a mil-spec converted back to road spec. But, given all this – I would still buy one. Nothing impresses me quite like the G. No, it’s not as good an over-lander as a Land Cruiser. But it’s better off road than all of them, and I would be happy to put up with its eccentricities – as long as I could still drive it in the rain.

 

Mercedes Benz 300G Professional

Mercedes Benz 300G Professional

My test of the G300 Professional

 

 

One of the early launch pictures - 1979

One of the early launch pictures – 1979

My first G, in the Koakoveld, Northern Namibia, 2002

My first G, in the Koakoveld, Northern Namibia, 2002

461-Series, 290GD

461-Series, 290GD

G-wagen built in 1999, a 290GD model with the 2,7-litre, 5-cylinder engine.

G-wagen built in 1999, a 290GD model with the 2,7-litre, 5-cylinder engine.

 

 

The M is not a thoroughbred off-roader, its light duty chassis and clearance keep it in the class of Range Rover Sport and Pathfinder, but better than Q7 and X5 because unlike these, the M-Class has low range gearing, although it shares their inadequate clearance for off-road use. The M-Class has improved in most ways since it was first introduced and its traction control is excellent. Standard tyres are suited only to ordinary road use so even for long distance gravel operations they should be changed. The trouble is, the makers do not approve any alternative tyres that are suitable, so owners must run on ‘unapproved tyres’ if they want to leave the tarmac. Very short-sited for a car maker selling a 4×4 in Africa! Engine options are 3-litre V6 diesel and 5.5-litre V8 and 6-litre AMG, V8 petrol. There is no manual transmission option.

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First released in 2007 the best way to describe the G-Class is a big M-Class. Thankfully, the G-Class was never meant to replace the G-Wagen, because there is not much Gelände about it. Soft and cozy but with advanced traction control and big powerful engines, it is no doubt, like the M, developed to attract American customers and not African tourers. Engine options: 3-litre V6 diesel and a 5.5-litre V8 couple to Merc’s 4-Matic auto gearbox. It is equipped with low range gearing, inadequate ground clearance and low profile tyres. I have not driven the G-CLass, but imagine it is magic in the high Alps carrying RayBan ski-bunnies to the uppermost ski-lift. But for Africa? I don’t think so.

gLclass1

 

Unimog designates a range of multi-purpose auto four wheel drive medium trucks produced by Mercedes-Benz, a division of Daimler AG. The name Unimog is pronounced [ˈuːnɪmɔk] in German and is an acronym for the German UNIversal-MOtor-Gerät”, Gerät being the German word for machine or device. Daimler Benz took over manufacture of the Unimog in 1951 and they are currently built in the Mercedes truck plant in Wörth am Rhein in Germany. Another assembly of the Unimog at the plant of the Mercedes-Benz Türk A.Ş. in Aksaray, Turkey.[1] In Argentina, had built until the first years of the 80’s, in the González Catán factory.

New Unimogs can be purchased in one of three series.

  1. The medium series 405, also known as the UGN (“Geräteträger” or equipment carrier), is available as the U300 through U500 models.
  2. The heavy series 437, also known as the UHN (“Hochgeländegängig” or highly mobile cross country), is available as the U3000-U5000 model.
  3. The U20, the smallest Unimog, is based on a shortened U300 frame and has a cab over engine compartment from the Brazilian Accelo light truck (Caminhões Leves) series.

The first model was designed shortly after World War II to be used in agriculture as a self-propelled machine providing a power take-off to operate saws in forests or harvesting machines on fields. It was designed with permanent 4WD with equal size wheels in order to be driven on roads at higher speeds than standard farm tractors. With their very high ground clearance and a flexible frame that is essentially a part of the suspension, Unimogs are not designed to carry as much load as regular trucks.

Info from Wikipedia.

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Unimog-old Unimog unimog4



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