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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.