4WD Re­view: Mercedes-Benz G-Class

If it’s not bro­ken, don’t fix it. Mercedes-Benz’s G-Class has stood the test of time for 40 years and re­mains one of the great off-road ve­hi­cles, Matt Raudonikis writes

Earthmovers & Excavators - - Contents - IMAGES: Ellen De­war

As its 40th an­niver­sary ap­proaches, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is about to re­ceive the first major re­design it’s had in those four decades. The new G-Class has a big­ger and lighter body to im­prove pas­sen­ger space and fuel ef­fi­ciency, while the hard edges of the boxy orig­i­nal have been rounded off to im­prove aero­dy­nam­ics.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, the age-old proven for­mula of a lad­der-frame chas­sis with live axles front and rear has been tweaked for the first time.

The new W 463 will utilise in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion (IFS) to greatly im­prove the wagon’s on-road ride and han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics, as well as the over­all driver ex­pe­ri­ence.

Traditionalists will be happy to know there is still a G-Wa­gen that sticks to the orig­i­nal recipe and keeps its tra­di­tional body and live front axle. The W 461 G 300 Pro­fes­sional is avail­able in both five­door wagon and sin­gle cab-chas­sis vari­ants, and it’s the ve­hi­cle over­land­ing dreams are made of.

Ever since it ar­rived on the mar­ket in 1979, the ap­peal of the G-Wa­gen (as it was then known) has been its rugged con­struc­tion and sim­plic­ity.

A func­tional wagon body on a robust frame with coil-sprung live axles front and rear, triple dif­fer­en­tial locks and low range; it’s a solid foun­da­tion for an over­land ve­hi­cle and one that has been used by ex­plor­ers, mil­i­taries, NGOs and ad­ven­tur­ous pri­vate buy­ers around the globe.

The G 300 Pro­fes­sional ar­rived in Aus­tralia first as the cab-chas­sis back in 2016. It is a ve­hi­cle unique to this coun­try and came on the back of the Aus­tralian De­fence Force’s adop­tion of

the G-Class to its ve­hi­cle fleet. The G 300 CabChas­sis of­fers an all-ter­rain, load-haul­ing ve­hi­cle with un­ri­valled ca­pa­bil­ity. Its main ri­val here is the ever pop­u­lar Land Cruiser 79 se­ries, but the G’s two-tonne pay­load (de­pen­dent on tray fit­ted) more than dou­bles that of the Toy­ota and, with its longer wheel­base, bet­ter car­ries the load over the rear axle rather than be­hind it.

The ve­hi­cle comes as a bare cab-chas­sis and it’s up to the owner to fit a tray, ser­vice body or canopy to it, and it’s ideally suited to mount­ing a camper body on the back to cre­ate an ex­pe­di­tion-ready tourer. The chas­sis is heav­ily sprung in or­der to ac­com­mo­date its two-tonne pay­load and, as a re­sult, the ride qual­ity when un­laden is stiff and harsh.

Fit­ting a camper-back or load­ing it up with a one-tonne wa­ter tank, as we did on test, soft­ens the ride yet has no detri­men­tal ef­fect on the sus­pen­sion as it would most any other ve­hi­cle.

We drove a G 300 Cab Chas­sis, fit­ted with a fully loaded ser­vice body that weighed in at around 1,500kg, in the Simpson Desert, and that load per­fectly bal­anced the ve­hi­cle. It felt com­fort­able and at home crest­ing the sand dunes and ex­plor­ing the harsh, re­mote tracks.

The two-seat cabin is spar­tan by MercedesBenz pas­sen­ger car stan­dards, with un­cov­ered painted floors, man­ual wind­ing win­dows and a ba­sic ra­dio/CD player that is of­fered as an op­tion only. There’s even a drain plug in the footwell so you can hose out the in­te­rior af­ter dirty ad­ven­tures. The cabin is com­pact with min­i­mal space for stor­age, other than the handy en­clo­sures be­neath each seat, re­flect­ing the work­horse na­ture of the ve­hi­cle. It also presents a blank can­vas to any­one want­ing to fur­ther equip it for recre­ational or tour­ing use.

The G 300 Pro­fes­sional wagon pro­vides oc­cu­pants with a bit more room to move in­side. It has four bucket seats, leav­ing a walk-though space be­tween the rear seats to the cargo area; great for car­ry­ing longer goods or per­fect for a moun­tain bike. The front seats go back fur­ther in the wagon than they do in the cab-chas­sis, which fur­ther im­proves com­fort. How­ever, like the truck, it is a ba­sic, hose-out in­te­rior with very few mod­ern con­ve­niences.

Our G 300 wagon was fit­ted with the op­tional Edi­tion PUR pack­age, which adds heated leather seats, a ra­dio/CD player, smart-look­ing wood floor­ing in the cargo area, and a sturdy roof rack. This is a $10,000 op­tion and re­ally gives the ex­te­rior that ex­pe­di­tion look, while adding func­tion­al­ity and a touch of class to the in­side.

Both the cab-chas­sis and wagon are pow­ered by the same three-litre diesel V6 en­gine that makes a mod­est 135kW and 400Nm.

This en­gine is de­rived from Benz’s pop­u­lar diesel V6 as used in pas­sen­ger cars and SUVs, but it

With all three diffs locked the G 300 … is near-on un­stop­pable – mud, rocks, sand and ruts are all tra­versed with con­fi­dence and ease.

has a low state of tune to make it ser­vice­able in coun­tries any­where in the world, many of which don’t have the fuel qual­ity to re­li­ably pro­duce high power and torque num­bers.

The en­gine is backed by a five-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, full-time four-wheel drive with high and low range, and the afore­men­tioned lock­ing dif­fer­en­tials. The trans­fer case and the three dif­fer­en­tial locks are ac­ti­vated by but­tons ahead of the gear shifter, and the lock­ers are switched in se­quence as the ter­rain dic­tates; start­ing with the cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial.

With all three diffs locked the G 300, be it cab-chas­sis or wagon, is near-on un­stop­pable – mud, rocks, sand and ruts are all tra­versed with con­fi­dence and ease. The stiff sus­pen­sion doesn’t have a lot of travel so the lock­ers are needed to keep that mo­men­tum up when the all-ter­rain tyres are leav­ing the ground, but there isn’t much that’ll hold the locked G back.

In a nod to func­tion­al­ity, those chunky tyres are mounted to prac­ti­cal 16-inch al­loy wheels and not the large di­am­e­ter rollers you find on city-based SUVs. Other prac­ti­cal fea­tures in­clude a 96-litre fuel tank, an en­gine-in­take air snorkel, stan­dard bull­bar, dual bat­ter­ies, tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor, dirty air fil­ter warn­ing, head­light and in­di­ca­tor guards, and un­der­body pro­tec­tion.

Be­ing a ve­hi­cle that re­tains its 40-year-old de­sign, the body of the G 300 Pro­fes­sional is old­school, which means it has a nice big glasshouse – an up­right wind­screen with thin pil­lars so it af­fords the driver plenty of vis­i­bil­ity around the ve­hi­cle, al­low­ing them to po­si­tion it well on the track. This is an im­por­tant as­pect of off-road driv­ing and some­thing lost in more con­tem­po­rary ve­hi­cle de­signs. The G 300 Pro­fes­sional is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of form-fol­lows-func­tion de­sign. It’s built for pur­pose and it serves that pur­pose like no other ve­hi­cle. This is tes­ta­ment to its suc­cess and how it has stood the test of time for close to 40 years.

The G 300 CabChas­sis of­fers an all-ter­rain, load­haul­ing ve­hi­cle with un­ri­valled ca­pa­bil­ity.

1/2. The heavy-duty roof rack fea­tures solid base and am­ple tie-down points 3. The two-seat cabin is Spar­tan by Mercedes-Benz pas­sen­ger car stan­dards 4. The G 300 Pro­fes­sional has four bucket seats, leav­ing a walk-though space be­tween the rear seats to the cargo area

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