Happy as as big rig in mud

Mercedes-Benz of­fer­ings an awe­some four­some off-road

Big Rigs - - TEST DRIVE - Gra­ham Harsant

HALF-an-hour or so south-west of Mel­bourne is a four-wheel-drive play­ground at Wer­ribee.

The tracks run through creeks, ravines, up and down slopes of 45 de­grees or more, are full of ruts, and for no ex­tra cost, come with mud, lots of mud.

For our ex­cur­sion there, the op­er­a­tors even threw in al­ter­nat­ing mounds of dirt to test the tor­sional flex­i­bil­ity of our drives.

But, in­stead of Land Cruis­ers or Pa­trols, we were guests of Mercedes-Benz and no, they didn’t pro­vide us with their lat­est it­er­a­tion of their ca­pa­ble G Class SUVs.

In­stead, as we rounded the last cor­ner to the prop­erty’s base camp, we were greeted with four trucks, rang­ing from big to bloody big.

These ve­hi­cles are the lat­est-gen­er­a­tion all-wheeldrive mod­els which will ap­peal to a wide range of cus­tomers re­quir­ing ex­treme off-road ac­cess.

Think APT Out­back Tours or min­ing com­pa­nies or com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies ser­vic­ing power lines stretched through moun­tain­ous ter­rain in the mid­dle of nowhere.

Our trucks were two 4x4s: the 1630 and 1835, a 6x6: the 3443 and the big daddy, the 8x8 4146.

The first two num­bers rep­re­sent the GVM and the last two num­bers (if you add a zero) are the horse­power. Hence, the 8x8 can han­dle a GVM of 41 tons and has 460 horses un­der the floor.

Now, as I men­tioned, we were at a 4WD play­ground which is – to state the blind­ingly ob­vi­ous – de­signed for 4WDs.

And we were sup­posed to throw trucks with beams akin to the Queen Mary and wheel­bases of five me­tres or more along their nar­row, rutted and muddy tracks.

Oh well, no skin off my nose if I scratched or dented one of their ve­hi­cles which were so new you could smell the fresh paint­work.

Mercedes-Benz very sen­si­bly pro­vided us with an ex­pe­ri­enced driver for each ve­hi­cle in the guises of Glen, Jimmy, Paul and Rob.

If you buy a Mercedes Benz (or Daim­ler) prod­uct, you can have one of these guys teach you all about your lat­est pride and joy.

The idea was that our coaches would take us around one of the tracks and then we could have a shot.

Glen was my first in­struc­tor in the 1630, the baby of the bunch.

As we hit the first creek I thought, “This is good”.

Then we hurled up the 45-de­gree in­cline and I men­tally shouted, “Holy s--t!” From then on it was just one “whoo hoo” af­ter an­other.

It had rained heav­ily a cou­ple of days be­fore and we had mud-on-mud, if that’s pos­si­ble.

It meant that with each run around the site the ter­rain was con­stantly chang­ing.

I moved from the 1630, through the 3443 and then into the bad boy 4146, the 8x8. Like the oth­ers (apart from the man­ual 1835) this is an auto/man­ual box – in this it­er­a­tion a 16-speed pow­ershift which de­liv­ers 50 per cent faster gear changes than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion AWD mod­els.

Like the 6x6, it op­er­ates in all-wheel drive mode at all times and fea­tures front and rear diff locks.

We came to a muddy, rutted slope of at least 45 de­grees with a sharp right-hand turn at the apex and I asked my in­struc­tor Paul if it would get us up there. “No wor­ries,” he replied. Knock it out of auto and se­lect a gear, diff locks on and off we go.

Only I could get it stuck at the apex with front and rear axles off the ground and the other two dig­ging into the bog. Bear in mind these trucks are not run­ning mud tyres and are very light on in the rear end.

The prob­lem was solved by rolling back a foot or three and hav­ing an­other go, this time get­ting over eas­ily.

Go­ing down a slope as muddy and steep, the truck’s elec­tronic sys­tems en­sure not even the most fool­hardy of driv­ers could get into trou­ble.

These gear­boxes are quite sim­ply, amaz­ing. What­ever the sit­u­a­tion, they pick just the right gear for the job at hand.

The con­troller for the ’box is a wand on the steer­ing col­umn which al­lows you to pick auto/man­ual with a push, and gear se­lec­tion with a flick up or down.

Two min­utes with it and its use be­comes au­to­matic – no pun in­tended.

The in­te­rior of the cab is typ­i­cal Benz. Ev­ery­thing falls eas­ily to hand with a num­ber of the con­trols on the steer­ing wheel.

It is in­deed, a nice (and quiet) place to be.

It was an icy day but af­ter a cou­ple of min­utes I was wish­ing I’d left the jacket off, thanks to the heat­ing.

I pre­sume the air­con works just as well but they don’t pay me enough to test it on a day such as cold as this was.

Com­ing with 11 and 13 litre Euro 6 en­gines, de­pend­ing on model, those who want to go to ex­tremes can opt for more po­tent 13 litre mo­tors.

One other thing worth men­tion­ing is the chas­sis.

Benz have put con­sid­er­able ef­fort into cre­at­ing high tor­sional flex­i­bil­ity, along with in­creased ro­bust­ness util­is­ing cold-formed ul­tra-high ten­sile steel. It works a treat.

Are these ve­hi­cles good? Ab­so­lutely! Did we have fun? You betcha! I want one and if my car­port was taller I’d buy the 8x8 and be king of the off-road.

❝ Are these ve­hi­cles good? Ab­so­lutely! Did we have fun? You betcha! I want one and if my car­port was taller I’d buy the 8x8 and be king of the off-road.

PHOTO: COVENTRY STU­DIOS

FUN IN THE MUD: Gra­ham Harsant hav­ing a great time at the Mercedes-Benz AWD test drive.

PHOTO: GRA­HAM HARSANT

"Can I please take it home with me?"

PHOTO: GRA­HAM HARSANT

In­struc­tor Paul Fagg with the bad boy 4146 8x8.

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