M-B G-PRO TESTED

The Mercedes G- Pro­fes­sional is a no com­pro­mise hard­core com­mer­cial work­horse. Per­fect, in other words, for a se­ri­ous work­out in the hands of long-time NZ4WD mag­a­zine tester Ash­ley Lucas.

NZ4WD - - CONTENTS -

Tony, the landowner was a bit taken back when I rang say­ing I wanted to test the Mercedes G-Class Pro­fes­sional on his King Coun­try prop­erty, cau­tiously ask­ing, ” What sort of tyres is the test ve­hi­cle fit­ted with?” It was the mid­dle of win­ter, af­ter all, and the beef and sheep prop­erty has some very steep clay based tracks. Tracks on which usu­ally, you don’t ven­ture far on with­out good mud tyres as a min­i­mum... and the Mercedes was only equipped with BF Goodrich all-ter­rains. Would they be enough or was I head­ing for trou­ble? I’ll get to that, of course. Be­fore I do, how­ever, I need to add an­other word or two about the G-Pro­fes­sional. In short, it is the ul­ti­mate ‘ Tuff Truck,’ one squarely aimed at the lines com­pa­nies, ru­ral fire­fight­ing, forestry con­trac­tors, bee­keep­ers, emer­gency ser­vices and yes, here in NZ, farm­ers. So I con­sid­ered my­self for­tu­nate that I got the task to put its pedi­gree to the test and see if it was as good, if not bet­ter than its ear­lier sib­lings. It is 20 years ago to the month, for in­stance, that I also had the op­por­tu­nity to test drive a Mercedes G-Wa­gen soft top, which was es­pe­cially brought into New Zealand for eval­u­a­tion by the NZ De­fence Force as the pro­posed Land Rover re­place­ment.

Déjà vu-doo!

That par­tic­u­lar ve­hi­cle (see pic) had a 2.9 litre five-cylin­der diesel en­gine, coil sus­pen­sion with lim­ited flex­i­bil­ity, and

750x16 mud tyres. It was a per­ma­nent 4WD with cen­tre lock­ing diff, and cable-op­er­ated dif­fer­en­tial locks front and rear which made it ab­so­lutely awe­some off-road. His­tory tells us that the Army didn’t pro­ceed with the pur­chase but from our short time with the ve­hi­cle we were suit­able im­pressed with its over­all off road per­for­mance and abil­ity that a cou­ple of us at the mag wanted to own it. En­quiries were made to pur­chase the demo unit in fact, but alas back then the price of $ 90,000 was ( well) out of the reach of either of us. Fast-for­ward 20-some years and the new G-Pro­fes­sional is based on the Mil­i­tary ver­sions of the G-Wa­gen with a heavy­duty chas­sis, strong ro­bust me­chan­i­cals and a bare bones min­i­mal­is­tic in­te­rior that can be com­pletely hosed out. Se­ri­ously! The floor is painted, there are to­ken rub­ber mats in the footwells and the black vinyl seats only have the most ba­sic ad­just­ment – fore and aft, and re­cline. There are even two wa­ter drain plugs in the floor to drain the wa­ter out and the win­dows are man­ual wind up. Don’t go look­ing for cup hold­ers and other such lux­u­ries either as there are none, and no ac­cess to what would nor­mally be the cen­tre cubby box be­tween the seats. It is sealed con­tain­ing the ve­hi­cles electrics and serves as an arm rest. There is a glove box though, plus two stor­age boxes un­der each of the seats.

Heavy-duty fit­tings

First im­pres­sions were of how prac­ti­cal it looked with the bull bar, and head­light and in­di­ca­tor pro­tec­tion grills up front. The test ve­hi­cle was al­ready fit ted with the op­tional heavy duty wiring pack­age to fit front and rear winches and also had heavy duty steer­ing guard in­cor­po­rat­ing sub­stan­tial re­cov­ery points. The rear also had chas­sis­mounted re­cov­ery points. In­side the G-Pro you sit up high with a com­mand­ing view over the bon­net, which is also avail­able as a ‘ walk- on’ op­tion fully re­in­forced and with a body-coloured grip sur­face treat­ment. Turn­ing the key on lights up the dash for a few sec­onds il­lu­mi­nat­ing the many and var­ied warn­ing sym­bols be­fore fir­ing up the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel which de­vel­ops 135kW at 3800rpm and 400Nm of torque from a low 1600rpm. This is mated to an ex­tremely smooth five-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with a per­ma­nent four-wheel-drive and two speed trans­fer case with cen­tre, rear and front lock­ing dif­fer­en­tials. Low range re­duc­tion can be se­lected while on the move, along with the front and rear lock­ing dif­fer­en­tials. It doesn’t mat­ter what or­der you lock the dif­fer­en­tials; it will only lock them in a set or­der of cen­tre, rear and fi­nally, front. The se­lec­tion is soft touch and the or­ange light on the left in­di­cates that it has been se­lected but it is only fully en­gaged when the red light on the right il­lu­mi­nates.

In­take phrrooaarrr!

That V6 diesel en­gine is cer­tainly re­spon­sive and the roar of the air into the raised air in­take ( snorkel) on the right hand side was a bit like lis­ten­ing to a race car ex­haust. The snorkel could be quite loud when the win­dow was down but when you thought about it the ve­hi­cle was

orig­i­nally de­signed as a left­hand drive and the driver would be on the other side. I didn’t mind the noise when the win­dow was open and it was cer­tainly quiet enough in­side when the win­dow was up.

First test

First test of the G- Pro was a trip into Auck­land’s New­mar­ket to the movies, a night out for the ‘other half’. Be­ing a big ve­hi­cle at over 5.2 me­tres in length park­ing could have been a prob­lem but I found a par­al­lel park that it slot­ted into nicely. It was only later treat­ing ’ the other half’ to a burger from the ’ Broad­way Diner‘ ( a night-time in­sti­tu­tion in New­mar­ket since 1962, when it was first called the New­mar­ket Pie Cart. Ed) that the size had a bear­ing. Do­ing a U-turn in the Mercedes re­quired the full width of the road as the turn­ing cir­cle is 15.9m and re­minded me of the 1964 Wil­lis Broth­ers hit Give me Forty Acres and I’ll turn this Rig Around. OK, I didn’t need 40 acres but when you con­sider that the wheel­base is a full 3,428mm or 135-inches ( in the old money). That is longer than the De­fender 130 which was only 3,226mm or 127-inches so you have to ex­pect a slightly larger than nor­mal turn­ing cir­cle. The ‘Other Half’ wasn’t over com­pli­men­tary re­gard­ing the ride of the G-Pro­fes­sional on city street and mo­tor­ways but I thought it wasn’t too bad con­sid­er­ing the ve­hi­cle weighs in at 2,346kgs un­laden and has a Gross Ve­hi­cle Mass of 4,490kgs, giv­ing it a car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of 2085kgs, and that is sub­stan­tial for a 4WD ve­hi­cle on the NZ mar­ket. Even the almighty sin­gle cab 70 Se­ries Land Cruiser can only carry just over half that weight. Add to that a tow­ing abil­ity of 3200kgs braked when fit­ted with the up­rated tow­ing pack­age ( stan­dard tow bar is lim­ited to 2210kgs) then you re­ally do have a solidly built ve­hi­cle ready for work. Just like the De­fender of old, un­der­neath the sus­pen­sion is live ( or beam axles) front and rear with coil springs, front ra­dius arms and rear trail­ing arms, prov­ing that you don’t need leaf springs to carry heavy loads. Fi­nal drive ra­tio is 5.287. The ride im­proved when the op­por­tu­nity was taken to trans­port 350kgs of new steel shelv­ing units and while it was only a frac­tion of the G-Pro­fes­sional’s to­tal ca­pac­ity the all al­loy deck of the test ve­hi­cle eas­ily han­dled the 2.0 me­tre length car­tons.

No com­pe­ti­tion

When it comes to com­peti­tors, there is very lit tle that can match the Mercedes G-Pro­fes­sional’s all round abil­ity. As al­ready noted the Toy­ota 70 Se­ries can only carry around 1200kgs and the only other ve­hi­cle to come close is the Iveco daily 4x4. The real test had to be off-road and a trip down to the King Coun­try was planned.The drive down was com­fort­able and re­laxed enough and the V6 en­gine pulled over the hills with its 400Nm of torque. It was sur­pris­ingly quiet in­side the ve­hi­cle, even on our coarse sealed coun­try roads, con­sid­er­ing the lack of in­te­rior sound­proof­ing. The gear­box was so smooth you don’t feel it shift and if you want to shift man­u­ally the ‘ tip­tronic’ se­lec­tion is side to side. Once used to this set-up it was far eas­ier to use rather than the usual for­ward-aft of most oth­ers and had me won­der­ing why

other man­u­fac­tures don’t use this set-up. On the road you ap­pre­ci­ate the few safety fea­tures that the G-Pro­fes­sional has such as driver and pas­sen­ger airbags, ABS brakes as well as Brake As­sist ( BAS), Elec­tronic Brake force Distri­bu­tion ( EBD) and Elec­tronic Sta­bil­ity con­trol ( ESP) which is se­lectable on/ off for off road. Brakes are ven­ti­lated disc at the front and drum for the rear, and the pedal gave a good feel un­der brak­ing.

In the thick of it

It’s off road where the real abil­i­ties are with the G-Pro­fes­sional, and once at Tony’s prop­erty it was soon in the thick of it. First up I went to lower the tyre pres­sures and re­alised while I had a good se­lec­tion of off-road re­cov­ery gear, the tyre gauge was still sit­ting back home. I hadn’t checked the ac­tual tyre pres­sures be­fore set­ting off but fig­ured they would be around the 35- 40psi, so let the tyres down about the same length of time for each. This promptly in­voked the t yre pres­sure loss mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem which is a dash warn­ing light in­di­cat­ing that one t yre was lower than the oth­ers. Not a prob­lem for now though, as low range was se­lected and the cen­tre diff locked and I headed across the muddy river flats, leav­ing deep ruts in the sod­den pad­docks. Over the bridge and up the muddy and rut­ted farm track to the hay shed at the top. As I started to climb, the rear locker was also en­gaged, firstly flash­ing or­ange be­fore go­ing red to con­firm the fact. The 265x75x16 BFG All Ter­rains that wrapped the 16” al­loy rims, quickly filled up with mud but still found enough ‘ bite’ to get through although I did won­der if I would a fail be­fore I even started. Much to my plea­sure it climbed all the way with­out any prob­lems, in­creas­ing my

con­fi­dence in the big M- B’s abil­i­ties. Loaded with bales of hay it was a re­turn trip down and af­ter se­lect­ing low range with its 2.16 ra­tio and first gear it crawled down the slip­pery tracks with ease. Tony’s prop­erty is split into two blocks, the fam­ily farm down the bot­tom and Tony’s own block higher up with a steep bush track as ac­cess in­stead of the long way around the roads. The hay needed to be for stock on the top block so we would use the bush track to get there. The first part of the track drops down and fol­lows along the river flats be­fore cross­ing the river and climb­ing the hills.

Well within its lim­its

With its 38 de­gree ap­proach an­gle and 35 de­gree de­par­ture an­gle drop­ping into the stream was well within its lim­its as was the wad­ing depth of 650mm with the stan­dard snorkel. It was com­ing up the other side where the first prob­lem was en­coun­tered. There were two op­tions, a longer slight in­cline or the steep bank around the cor­ner. Cat­tle had made con­di­tions very muddy on the slight in­cline and the first at­tempt lost trac­tion in the mud even with the rear diff lock en­gaged. Back­ing out I tried again with both lock­ers en­gaged and got sig­nif­i­cantly fur­ther but the ve­hi­cle slid side­ways off cam­ber so I stopped. Trac­tion was lost com­pletely and I was un­able to re­verse out this time. Tony de­cided he would walk back for the trac­tor, but I wasn’t pre­pared to give up just yet. An­noyed at not bring­ing the tyre pres­sure gauge, I looked the mud filled tyres over and con­sid­ered they still had too much air and let them down fur­ther. Once down I was able to rock the Mercedes back and forth get­ting a bit more trac­tion each time un­til it re­versed out back into the stream. Next I headed around to the steep bank to climb out and with ev­ery­thing still fully locked man­aged to climb up and not lose any bales of hay which weren’t ac­tu­ally tied on. Tony even­tu­ally ar­rived back with the trac­tor to find me wait­ing on the track for him. He had also brought along his nephew who was driv­ing the Po­laris which would fol­low at a dis­tance in case we needed as­sis­tance again.

Down to busi­ness

Leav­ing the trac­tor there it was now down to se­ri­ous busi­ness as we climbed up the steep track away from the stream. Put one foot wrong here and it could have dis­as­trous con­se­quences but the G-Pro­fes­sional was very much like a sure­footed moun­tain goat and drove up eas­ily. The bluff part of the track which had to be blasted through with dy­na­mite years ago would be OK as it was metal based but it was fur­ther through the bush where things got slip­pery. Talk­ing rather than fully con­cen­trat­ing on the track and con­di­tions, trac­tion was lost on an­other clay sec­tion as I only had the rear locker en­gaged. Back­ing down, the sur­face was now rather churned up and the t yres clogged with clay re­duc­ing the chances of a sec­ond at­tempt be­ing suc­cess­ful and with both lock­ers en­gaged the G-Pro went fur­ther but still failed. Once again I was an­noyed at not hav­ing that tyre gauge to know ex­actly what the tyre pres­sures were but not all was lost as at that point there was an old part of the orig­i­nal track off to the side that was grassed over but still use­able so af­ter a quick walk to check it out it proved too easy. At the top farm the hay was fed out to the wait­ing stock and the G-Pro­fes­sional crawled around the steep grassed gul­lies only mo­men­tar­ily spin­ning the tyres once or twice on the odd “cow pat­tie.” Job com­pleted it was time to head for home. It’s one thing to climb the slip­pery hills; its an­other to come back down but

once again the ben­e­fits of the torquey diesel V6 en­gine, su­per smooth gear­box and a good low ra­tio it han­dled the con­di­tions ex­tremely well. Tony had a drive of the Mercedes while I did the pho­tos once we were back at the river and was also very im­pressed with the G-Pro­fes­sional, even com­ment­ing on how good that gear­box was once he got used to the man­ual shift­ing. Af­ter cross­ing the river and home­ward bound I asked Tony how he man­aged to get his Hilux through dur­ing win­ter. His re­sponse was “I don’t, I only use the Po­laris.” No won­der he was orig­i­nally hes­i­tant about the tyres on the ve­hi­cle.

Post­script

Be­fore head­ing for home I checked the tyre pres­sures be­fore pump­ing them up. They were still at 26-29psi af­ter all the air I had let out but the vari­ance was enough to flag the Tyre Pres­sure Loss warn­ing sys­tem. Seems that the tyre pres­sures were set at the rec­om­men­da­tion for laden ve­hi­cles be­tween 50- 60psi. I set the pres­sures at 36 be­ing un­laden and had a bet­ter ride back to Auck­land. Just as I was in awe of the orig­i­nal mil­i­tary spec Mercedes G-Wa­gen 20 years ago, I was even more im­pressed with the off-road abil­ity of the new G-Class Pro­fes­sional. This would have to be one of the best per­form­ing ve­hi­cles off road that I have driven in stan­dard for­mat and can only imag­ine how ca­pa­ble it would be with more suit­able tyres for the ad­verse con­di­tions en­coun­tered. It was hard to hand it and the keys back to Mercedes, but only once I cleaned it af­ter its big ad­ven­ture. And clean­ing it took sev­eral hours and yes the hose even went in­side to clean out the in­te­rior once the drain plugs had been re­moved. Com­pared to the G-Wa­gen 20 years ago the G-Pro­fes­sional of­fers so much more in terms of abil­ity, per­for­mance and fea­tures yet the cost is only marginally more. It might be a no com­pro­mise ba­sic ve­hi­cle but when it comes to off-road per­for­mance and abil­ity there is no com­pro­mise.

Story and pho­tos by Ash­ley Lucas Loaded and ready to go to work.

River cross­ing well within the wad­ing depth of 650mm.

20 years ago Ash­ley tested this ear­lier ver­sion of the M-B G-Pro.

Feed­ing hay out com­pleted.

At home in the bush or on the farm.

Ar­riv­ing at the top farm, now to fed out the hay.

The muddy exit from the river was too much for the AT tyres un­til aired down fur­ther.

In­te­rior is min­i­mal but func­tional.

Hose out in­te­rior.

En­gine bay houses diesel fed V6 and two bat­ter­ies next to­gether for the 12 and 24 volt sys­tems.

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