Mil­i­tary-grade tough­ness

Herald Sun - Cars Guide - - WORKING WHEELS -

FOR the brave types in our ser­vices there can be no com­pro­mise in ve­hi­cles they take on per­ilous op­er­a­tions, so the Aus­tralian De­fence Force is a big fan of the Mercedes-Benz G-Pro­fes­sional mil­i­tary range.

The first “civil­ian” ver­sion of the G-Pro­fes­sional is the G300 CDI cab-chas­sis — priced from a knee-wob­bling $119,900.

Add dealer de­liv­ery and on­roads and it seems a huge ask for what is a no-frills com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle with­out the op­tion of even a drop-side tray.

Stan­dard fea­tures de­signed for hard work in­clude a snorkel, bull bar, light pro­tec­tors, sump and ra­di­a­tor shields, two 12V bat­ter­ies, 96L fuel tank, tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor, 16-inch al­loy wheels with meaty all-ter­rain tyres and full-size spare.

Op­tions in­clude a winch prepa­ra­tion pack (mount­ings, wiring etc), a 100kg-rated walkon bon­net with non-slip sur­face, heated seats, heavy duty cy­clonic air fil­ter for high dust con­di­tions and sev­eral colour choices.

You can buy the lat­est sim­i­lar-sized Land­Cruiser 70 Se­ries sin­gle cab-chas­sis Work­mate for half the price but for some buy­ers the pri­mary at­trac­tion might be the G-Pro’s 4490kg gross ve­hi­cle mass — which, with its tare weight of 2346kg, al­lows for a mas­sive pay­load of 2144kg.

That level of off-road load lug­ging abil­ity as stan­dard is un­match­able straight off the show­room floor. Mercedes ex­pects most G-Pro cus­tomers to bring cus­tom bod­ies for spe­cialised ar­eas of op­er­a­tion — for ex­am­ple, forestry and bush­fire man­age­ment, search and res­cue, min­ing and util­i­ties and out­back tour op­er­a­tors.

Tow­ing ca­pac­ity is just 2210kg braked, mean­ing a gross com­bined mass of 6700kg.

Rid­ing on a gen­er­ous wheel­base, the ve­hi­cle has heavy duty four-coil sus­pen­sion mated to live axles. Track widths are equal front and rear.

The cabin is a no-frills work zone clearly de­signed to take harsh treat­ment, from hard­wear­ing vinyl seat trim and rub­ber floor mats to wa­ter drain plugs and stor­age boxes un­der and be­tween the seats. The few com­fort items in­clude aircon, arm­rests and lock­able glove­box.

The com­mand­ing view for the driver suits off-road work. Up­right pos­ture and high seat mean you look down on the bon­net with a clear view of the front cor­ners and sur­round­ing ter­rain. The dash­board con­trols are well laid out, and easy to iden­tify and op­er­ate.

Shared with the Sprinter van, the 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel (135kW/400Nm) turns a fivespeed au­to­matic.

The per­ma­nent 4WD shifts on the fly be­tween high and low ranges at up to 70km/h with the trans­mis­sion in neu­tral. The cen­tre diff splits torque 50-50 front and rear and all diffs can be quickly locked and un­locked.

There are driver and pas­sen­ger airbags plus the ba­sic elec­tronic safety aids..

We didn’t drive the G-Pro on bi­tu­men so we can’t com­ment on its road man­ners, or its be­hav­iour un­der max­i­mum load. How­ever, we gave it a solid work­out at the Mel­bourne 4x4 Train­ing and Prov­ing Ground, empty or car­ry­ing 500kg — apart from a slightly harsher ride un­laden, there was no dis­cernible dif­fer­ence in of­froad per­for­mance.

Our test in­cluded deep wa­ter ford­ing (max­i­mum depth is 650mm) as well as steep, rut­ted climbs and some sharp man­made dirt ramps that were nearly 45 de­grees in places.

The 245mm of ground clear­ance made light work of ob­sta­cles, with re­spon­sive steer­ing and min­i­mal kick­back. The coil-spring sus­pen­sion worked su­perbly with am­ple wheel travel and ex­cel­lent ride qual­ity (with the half-tonne aboard, given the sus­pen­sion is de­signed to take four times that).

Acute climbs and de­scents pre­sented no prob­lems, given the im­pres­sive an­gles: ap­proach 38 de­grees, de­par­ture 35 de­grees and ramp-over 22 de­grees.

The proven turbo diesel is smooth, re­fined and torquey if a lit­tle noisy, which is un­der­stand­able given the cabin’s metal sur­faces and lack of sound-ab­sorb­ing trim.

Three large push but­tons on the cen­tre con­sole op­er­ate the diffs and as usual the cen­tre diff must be locked first. In de­mand­ing off-road con­di­tions a driver can quickly adapt to this se­quence for max­i­mum per­for­mance by en­gag­ing and dis­en­gag­ing the diff locks to best suit each ob­sta­cle.

With the three diffs locked, the G-Pro dis­played an al­most ar­ro­gant “you call that a hill?” climb­ing abil­ity. In first gear and at a con­stant 2000rpm, it steadily as­cended a long, steep, deeply rut­ted and rock-strewn sec­tion that would stop lesser ve­hi­cles in their tracks, and with barely a hint of wheel-spin.

VER­DICT

The maker ex­pects to sell about 200 ex­am­ples of the cab chas­sis a year. In mid-2017, a shorter wheel­base G-Pro­fes­sional wagon will fol­low.

A ded­i­cated core of spe­cial­ist buy­ers will see the worth of the cab chas­sis vari­ant — it can lug more than two tonnes and to its im­pres­sive off-road cred it adds mil­i­tary-grade tough­ness.

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