“Battle-Proven solutions & Uncompromised protection when you need it”
Those are just two of the marketing blurbs that Mercedes-Benz uses to describe its range of protected vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz and its iconic three-pointed star emblem isn’t just synonymous with luxury motorcars, it also happens to be the world’s largest truck builder with over 100 years of experience in the business
Alongside its range of commercial trucks, Mercedes-Benz also builds some of the world’s most capable military vehicles. Its range of armoured trucks is particularly well regarded by soldiers working in some of the world’s most dangerous places. That’s where these vehicles do their best work according the Canadians and Germans operating in Afghanistan who have personally thanked the company for the extraordinary level of protection these vehicles have afforded those who operate in harms way.
CarAdvice was recently invited to road test (as a passenger) several Mercedes-Benz military trucks at Victoria’s Angelsea proving ground where we witnessed what can only be described as extreme off-road capabilities in wet and muddy conditions.
The German automotive company has recently won a tender to supply the Australian Army with 1200 of its G-Wagens in both 4×4 and 6×6 configurations. In fact, the 6×6 version was a specific request from the Australian military, which has already attracted interest from other markets keen for its additional off-road ability.
It’s not the first time the Australian Defence Force has bought from Mercedes-Benz either. Between 1982 and 1992 it delivered 1982 Unimog 4x4s, and from 1996 to 1998 another 59 Unimog 6×6 Medium Recovery Vehicles joined the transport pool.
Further sales over the years have included 19 Actros 8×8 TADRS Trucks, 60 Mercedes-Benz Coaches, 70 Sprinter Ambulances and 297 Fuso trucks and buses.
Most of these vehicles are generally considered to be still in service due to a commitment by the company to uphold parts supply over the 30-year factory-specified life of these trucks.
It certainly seems odd that one day we are test driving a veritable four-door supercar in the latest Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG and the next day we are blasting through 1.2m-deep water in the same company’s off-road super truck, they call the Zetros. What this thing is capable of off-road must be seen to be believed. Unstoppable is one word I would use to describe it, amphibious is possibly another.
The truck’s full model description is the Mercedes-Benz Zetros 1833 4×4. It might be the smaller ‘large’ truck in the line-up but there’s no shortage of grunt. Under the conventional-lifting ‘walk on’ bonnet sits a 7.2-litre in-line six-cylinder developing 240kW at 2200rpm and 1300Nm between 1200-1600rpm, which is Euro 5 emissions standards-compliant.
The transmission is an Allison six-speed automatic with torque converter and a two-speed transfer case. It weighs 16,500 kilograms, has a payload of 4000kg and can swim in up to 1.2m of water (unprepared). Don’t believe it? Watch this clip.
The tyres are huge, but thankfully, you won’t need to get out the Zetros every time you need to deflate and inflate these monsters, as one of the optional extras is a ‘Central Tyre Inflation System’ that simply requires the driver to press a button.
This particular Zetros was fitted with a protection cab rated at NATO’s STANAG Level 3 too, which means the driver and crew are safe from the likes of a 7.62mm round from a sniper rifle or an attack from a medium-strength machine gun.
Being armour-protected, you don’t just climb up and open the door, it would be far too heavy due to the weight of the armour plates and windows. You simply press a rubber-coated button on the inside or outside, which automatically opens the door for you.
While cruising through what could have been a fast-moving river with consummate ease, equally impressive was the degree of climb the Zetros could negotiate without any loss of traction in what was some very slippery mud.
Not only that, the seats ride on a cushion of air, so no matter how severe the terrain is, or how fast the truck is moving, the comfort level is up there with an S-Class (well almost). It’s a remarkable feeling riding up so high and in such ridiculous comfort over outrageously difficult terrain.
It didn’t seem to matter how steep the gradient, or how thick the mud, or how deep the water, the Zetros conquered all before it, and with remarkable ease.
Next up was the 38,500kg Actros AK 4150 8×8: a serious bit of military kit as far as trucks go. This thing has been well and truly battle-proven by the German and Canadian armies, many times over.
Under the bonnet is a 15.9-litre V8 good for 370kW (503hp) at 1800rpm and a tank-pulling (literally) 2400Nm of torque at 1080rpm. The transmission is a sixteen-speed synchromesh gearbox with EAS with a two-speed transfer case.
Cab protection on the Actros ranges from STANAG Level 2/2b up to STANAG Level 4/4b on the four axle chassis. In order to have that level of protection (that’s a 14.5mm heavy machine gun firing armour-piercing rounds) you need all four axles to support the weight of the additional armour required for Level 4 protection.
The Actros 8×8 is a formidable-looking truck that can pretty much go wherever you point it, despite its huge proportions. It is also an expert recovery vehicle that has the ability to haul another one of its kind out of harm’s way, if the vehicle were to be damaged in battle.
The Actros showed remarkable climbing ability in thick mud, as well as a propensity for climbing up small mountains, or so they seemed at least, from inside the cabin.
Also on show at the proving grounds was the first ever Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen 6×6 with cab chassis. Although all the military vehicles are based on the their standard commercial vehicles, the Australian Army had its special requests for this vehicle, not least of which was the three-axle configuration for extra load-carrying capacity and off-road prowess.
The specially fabricated cargo module is locally designed and manufactured by Newcastle based G.H. Varley.
Powered by a G 300 CDI engine producing 135kW and 400Nm from 1600-2600rpm, the G-Wagen Professional that we rode in was close to the mechanical specifications of the Military version but was a 4×4, rather than a 6×6.
Again these vehicles are incredibly capable in mud even when climbing steep grades.
Their cab-exchange system is one such system that is particularly innovative. In other words, it’s no use ordering 50 Zetros trucks all with STANAG Level 3 protection if less than half of those won’t be deployed to war zones. It’s far more effective to simply exchange the unprotected cab for a protected cab when you need it. That’s a job that takes just two hours in a workshop, or two men can do it in eight hours in the field if need be.
The people that run the truck business are an experienced group, which includes ex-army personnel and highly skilled engineers seemingly capable of answering any brief from any army in the world, if it’s trucks they want. They also possess the same level of passion as performance car enthusiasts would exude if discussing the SLS AMG grand tourer.
By the end of the day it was clear the German luxury carmaker takes its trucking business as serious as it does its passenger vehicle business. It doesn’t seem to matter what an army wants, Mercedes-Benz has a vehicle on the shelf it can deliver to perform each and every task required on and off the battleground. It also has a long history of supporting its vehicles many years after the initial sale is made.