When you get to the point of actively looking for ever-more extreme obstacles to throw at a car to see if you can trip it up, after mind you, sending it backwards up a 45-degree angle concrete staircase, it’s pretty fair to say the vehicle is pretty capable.
The stair master in question is the go-everywhere version of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz G-Professional cab-chassis.
Dating back to a concept born in 1979, the G-Pro is the same fundamental product as used by government and military fleets around the world, including Australia. The G is still produced in the same factory in Graz, Austria, as it was from inception, and while modernised over the decades, still retains the same iconic look and rugged capability.
Don’t expect to see any Kardashians behind the wheel either, aside from the fact Australia is the only world market to offer the G-Pro chassis for sale, as the 4WD Mercedes is strictly for serious business.
Under the bonnet, which has a neat, 100kg rated, non-slip walk on option, is a 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6. It’s the same motor as found in the more high-street friendly GLE350, although in the G-Pro has been de-tuned to 135kW and 400Nm (the GLE has 190kW/620Nm).
Power is driven to all four wheels, permanently (50:50 split), through a five-speed automatic gearbox and three vacuum operated differential locks.
Crucially, this means the hard-working G-Pro is easy for anyone to drive. There is great vision, light steering and it has a narrower track than a Jeep Wrangler, which is the same front-to-rear, but more on that in a minute.
Priced from $119,900 (before options and on-road costs), the G-Pro isn’t what you’d call cheap. It’s not far off twice the price of the venerable, and still tough as nails, Land Cruiser 70-Series cab chassis.
Toyota usually throws a tray into the deal too, where the Benz is strictly chassis only. The tray or body is entirely left to the buyer.
For your money though, you get the basis of a vehicle that has, and will continue to travel the most rugged, remote and potentially risky places around the globe.
All vehicles feature 16-inch wheels and off-road tyres, a snorkel, bull bar and lamp grilles, plus under body protection for the sump and radiator. Our test vehicle was fitted with a basic alloy tray for road registration purposes, which, if you fancy one, would add about $2500 to the price.
There are a pair of 12-volt batteries plus two tyre carriers under the chassis rails, but just one full size spare. There’s a pressure monitoring system too.
Part of the standard chassis fit out is the capability for a managed idle drive, whether for some pumps or compressors needed by fire-fighting applications or to adapt for a constant throttle hold for even more manageable low-speed traversing.
Inside, it’s basic functionality and nothing more.
Vinyl seats, a hard centre arm-rest with no storage (there are tubs under each seat though), rubber mats, drain plugs (for when that 650mm wade isn’t enough) and simple air conditioning are about the limit of the creature comforts.
No quilted leather, satellite navigation, seat ventilation or massage program here. The windows even have manual winders. There are even a raft of chunky, over-engineered switches on the dash to engage accessory lighting or activate the pre-wired winch setup.
There is a basic single-DIN radio with Bluetooth and USB support to keep you entertained though.
Plus, you can get one in white, black, sand, orange, red or green – all for no additional cost. A black one would look pretty cool, but we’d go for the Fir Green for that traditional Euro forest look.
That said, the G-Pro isn’t a car designed to impress at the shops.
In fact, Mercedes-Benz only offers it for private sale because they can. The reason the car was homologated for Australia is purely due to the demand of government and private fleet buyers who need a vehicle like the Professional G.
Electricity provider Powercor had one of their three remote access service vehicles on display at the launch. For a quick response, all-terrain vehicle which will fit on tighter tracks and be able to carry all the required gear, there wasn’t really any alternative.
Mercedes-Benz has so far delivered about 100 units to clients in the DELWP (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning), Parks and Forestry services in ACT and Queensland plus the CFA in Victoria. That’s outside of the 2000-strong fleet committed to the Australian Defence Force.
Okay, so that is a smidge shy of the 28,000 Land Cruiser 70-Series sold this year, but the G is very much a specialty vehicle, designed to fit a specific niche. There aren’t even any consumer sales targets for the car, as Mercedes isn't really expecting them. The wagon variant which arrives in mid-2017 is expected to be in even lower demand – although, I'd have one!
The G has been designed as a single-chassis solution, more focussed on GVM (gross vehicle mass) than GCM (gross combination mass). And frankly, going where the G-Pro can go, the last thing you need is a trailer trying to follow.
As for towing, the G-Pro is rated only to 2210kg, and more to the point has just a 150kg down-ball weight on the hitch. So if you regularly need to hook up the Jayco, look elsewhere.
That said, with a trailer the GCM is still 6700kg, which is 200kg shy of the LC 70's 6900kg, but up on most 'regular' utes which peak around 6000kg.
In its standard form, the Professional cab-chassis has the ability to carry a 2085kg payload, for a 4490kg GVM. For context, the CFA Fire Tender Mercedes constructed to help demonstrate the capability of the G-Pro has a 900kg module plus a 180kg falling-object protection system fitted.
That vehicle is also fitted with a winch, brush bars and other equipment, bringing its tare weight to 2400kg. Throw the fire equipment on top for 3480kg and you can still add 600kg of water to bring the GVM to around 4080kg. Allowing STILL 400kg for a couple of operators and some extra equipment. For even more context, that payload is close to 1000kg MORE than a Land Cruiser 70.
The result is a massively capable, go anywhere, single-vehicle problem solving solution.
And while that five-speed auto makes the big G a pussy cat (a pretty rough one) on the road, off road is where the G-Pro is most at home. The 245mm ground clearance (25mm higher than a 70-Series and 65mm more than a 4x4 Hilux) and 650mm wading depth mean that most obstacles are simply driven over or through before you’ve even noticed them.
There’s a 38-degree approach and 35-degree departure angle, as well as a 22-degree ramp over angle. Mercedes-Benz states the G-Professional will climb greater than a 45-degree incline. We can attest to that!
On a day trial at the Victorian 4X4 Proving Ground in Werribee, we put the G-Pro through all manner of technical tests, and the big Benz just kept on trucking.
At one point, driving out of a 500mm deep river and up a slick, muddy bank of about a 30-degree angle, we experienced a bit of slip from the front wheels.
No problem. Roll back slightly, engage the front diff lock, pop it into first and hit the gas. The slippery surface seemingly vanished as the G-Pro just climbed its way out onto the dry ground and continued on its way.
There are coil springs all round and solid front and rear axles.
The V6 can draw on all 400Nm from 1600 to 2000rpm, with peak power at 3800rpm.
The core to the G’s capability are the three, vacuum hydraulic differential locks. One in the centre to lock in a 50/50 front-to-rear torque split, then one at both the front and rear to manage the same half-and-half locked drive to both left and right wheels.
The locks can be engaged in the cabin and on the move thanks to a bank of push-button switches. Activation is fast, thanks to the vacuum operation, ensuring you can keep rolling by barely lifting a hand from the wheel.
Low-range drive is also quick to engage, providing the vehicle is in neutral. You can do this on the fly too, by just slipping the transmission out of Drive, engaging the low-range setting and popping the shifter back to D.
There are no sugar-coated hill descent control systems or other consumer level aids available. Low range disengages the traction control program too. To go down a steep hill, and we did, tap the shifter from Drive to first-gear, and manage the descent with your foot on the brakes. Just like the old days.
Another test saw us crest a hill into a near vertical drop which transitioned into a 45-degree slope. The ease with which the G could be positioned and controlled both cresting and descending the hill was great, but the more impressive feat was to turn and climb back up that slope.
The tyres are an all-terrain pattern, but not overly aggressive and the manner in which the Mercedes just ‘dealt’ with the obstacle in its path was really quite amazing. This was with a 500kg ballast load in the back too!
Importantly too, the G-Pro’s track is the same front and rear (1513mm). That’s about the same as a Land Cruiser 70 at the front (1555mm), but the Toyota’s rear is narrower (1460mm). This means on heavily rutted tracks, keeping the car aligned is just that bit more challenging. Mercedes has opted for the symmetrical route to give the G more confidence in extreme terrain, and to help mitigate roll over risk of the rear wheels struggling to follow.
As a work horse, it is a highly versatile tool. For a consumer... probably not so much.
Think of the G-Pro as like buying a camera.
You could run getting a little point and shoot digital (cough, Hilux, cough), or you could grab a nice Canon DSLR. I’ve got a 7D and it handles the photos and videos we shoot here at CarAdvice just fine. It isn’t cheap, and will set you back about $3000 for a camera and lens.
That is the calibre of a vehicle like the Toyota Landcruiser 70-Series. Strong, versatile and capable in most medium to advanced situations. It’s not the cheapest, but like the camera, you are paying for robust ‘pro-sumer’ solution.
But keeping on the theme, the G-Professional is like the Canon 1DX. It costs about $10,000 for the body alone. It takes pictures just like the 7D, but the level at which it works, and the reliability of how it performs is second to none. If your work depends on it, then the cost is more of an investment into business continuity than anything else.
It’s a product chosen, not for what it does right now, but for the potential which it offers. Both the camera, and the G-Pro.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz G-Professional is a no-compromise, no-frills solution to going further than any road does. Despite being what I imagined a giant, grown-up Lada Niva to be, in reality it is quite possibly too much car for most of us, unless driving backwards up a flight of stairs is part of your daily commute.
We love that you can buy it, and can see the rationale for government and enterprise use, but given its price point, it just doesn't make sense for most regular buyers.
That doesn't stop it being cool though!
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward.