BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS LARGE
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.
The Mercedes-Benz G-wagen was originally planned as a German Army wagon, but lost out to the VW Iltis. The first civilian version was produced way back in 1979.
M-B 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.
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.
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 models Mercedes-Benz successfully tendered to the Australian Army were tray-back derivatives. The Army has 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 told them that for years – as well as suggesting they might make even a half-hearted marketing effort with the Sprinter 4WD.
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 was around $120,000.
Now, before you discount that as excessive, take a look at the specifications.
For a start, the G-Wagon had 4.5 tonnes GVM, with a front axle rating of 2.2 tonnes and a rear axle rating of 2.8 tonnes. Tare weight was 2.26 tonnes, giving the G-Wagon a payload capacity
of 2.24 tonnes; around twice that of most utes.
The G-Wagon sat on a 3400mm wheelbase that made it easy to mount a 2.4-metre-long tray. This wheelbase length ensured 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 provided 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 was a boxed ladder design, with heavy duty coil springs at all four corners and live axles front and rear. Braking was by discs up front and drums, rear.
Wheels were 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 was standard and, while the tow rating was only 2.4 tonnes, the bar looked strong enough to haul eight! Huge, red-painted recovery points were 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 was a five-speed, torque converter automatic box, driving through a two-speed transfer case, with 2.1:1 low-range ratio.
The 4WD system was full time, with membrane-push switch control of low and high range.
This combination of an auto box and full-time 4WD was unique in the heavy ute market.
As with all G-Wagons the Pro cab-chassis had a centre differential lock and across-axle locks in both axles.
Our favourite interior touch was a pair of removable floor plugs that you could pull up to let creek water drain out.
If the cab had a stripped-out look the same couldn’t be said for an engine bay that was as full as a fat person’s sock.
Critical components were mounted as high up as possible and the location of some kit dictated a small bonnet bulge that was also evident on the Australian Army vehicles.
In any assessment of whether the G-Wagon Pro was reasonable value for money it’s important to consider that it was 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
Back in 2017 we managed an initial 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 seemed to have been 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. However, tallies and fatties had some space issues.
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 weren’t stacked in that sequence, for some odd reason.
Our on-road drive was much less appealing. We wondered why the standard radio looked old-fashioned and soon found out why: engine noise was so loud that you couldn’t hear it at speeds above 80km/h!
The culprit was a slit cut in the engine bonnet bulge to let turbocharger heat escape. That slit also lets engine bay noise intrude through the windscreen and into the cabin. We seriously took to wearing lawn-mowing ear muffs when driving the ‘Benz on-highway.
In summary, the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon Pro was a rugged, well-proportioned cab-chassis with excellent off-road performance, load carrying capacity and off-road ability.
It lacked much of the equipment that today’s ute buyers expect, but appealed to those who wanted strength without frills and didn’t want to do any long distance highway driving.