Mercedes-Benz Zetros 4x4 and 6x6 truck review
Specialised vehicles can be a profitable niche for truck makers. Matt Wood gets behind the wheel of the all‑wheel drive Mercedes-Benz Zetros
I’d like you to think that the dark arts of journalism require extensive and exhaustive research.
It would be nice to think that Peter Greste was freed by a united front of educated scribes clamouring for justice and a desire for all human beings to live free with dignity and compassion.
That said, whoever says the pen is mightier than the sword has clearly never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones.
The reality is we tend to be so busy that we generally just revert to Wikipedia, or Google those trifling yet troubling titbits of info that we need to meet our deadlines.
So you can imagine my dismay when I tried to find the true meaning of the word ‘Zetros’.
According to our computer overlords, there isn’t any meaning to this word other than in reference to a certain Mercedes-Benz off-road truck.
There is no reference to the ‘Greek God of Throwing Mud at Your Enemies’, and there’s no reference to an ancient Aramaic text.
No, the Zetros appears to be just that: a 4x4 and 6x6 military derived truck.
What’s more, I still don’t know what to call more than one Zetros in any given place.
The collective noun for a fleet of Zetros? Zetrosses? Zetrosi, Zetri? I think Daimler is trying to screw with my head.
And I’m starting to think they may have just made up a word.
Of course I could’ve just asked, but then that would’ve taken the fun out of it.
It could just be that the word Zetros doesn’t have any unfortunate translations in other global market languages.
Vehicles with military heritage like the Zetros tend to have a look all of their own.
Function takes over from form very quickly, and you often end up with a vehicle that looks like someone has emptied a parts bin over the top of it.
I actually quite like the effect.
Take the Mercedes-Benz Zetros for example: it’s kinda ugly, brutish and cool all at the same time.
Engine and Transmission
The Zetros uses a Euro 5, 7.2-litre OM926 LA engine, which provides 326hp (240kW) and 1300Nm.
Tranny options include a 3000 series 6-speed Allison auto or a hydraulically controlled 9-speed Benz synchro manual.
The odd shaped cabin means it will fit into the cargo hold of a C-130 Hercules and even a rail wagon. Everybody needs a portable truck, don’t they?
Much like its Unimog stable mate, the Zetros has been designed as a mounting point for all types of machinery.
However, the big Benz keeps its chunky rubber feet firmly planted in truck territory, rather than the ‘mog’s implement carrying, part tractor, multi-tasking approach.
The Zetros features a smooth topped ladder chassis to allow versatility when it comes to fitting bodies and auxiliary equipment like cranes.
This can be quite tricky in a purpose built off-roader, as the chassis still needs quite a bit of flex to allow for off-road articulation.
The 6x6 and 4x4 Zetros off-roaders are an interesting combination of Benz components bolted together in a functional package.
The doors are Unimog, the engine is Atego/Axor, the interior is pure Benz truck family.
There are familiar bits and pieces wherever you look.
The Zetros is a constant all-wheel drive that uses a two-speed transfer case, giving you a choice of 1.00:1 for road use or 1.69:1 for belting around the bush.
All axles use a planetary hub-reduction drive and diff-locks are standard front, centre and rear.
And the whole kit and caboodle sits on steel parabolic springs.
This all should mean that it’s a pretty tough character.
The trouble is the Zetros is a very hard truck to review.
Mainly because it’s hard to find the limitations of a vehicle that is designed to go anywhere.
So as I rolled along the freeway at 90km/h at 2000rpm, where the Zetros felt most comfortable, I began to fantasise about what I could do with this beast.
Driving through a house seemed like fun, but not many people would have a sense of humour about that.
Pushing over trees for laughs wouldn’t win me many friends, either.
The 4x4 cab chassis I first drove kicked and bucked as you’d expect an unladen truck to ride.
But the 6x6 I later drove was carrying four tonne on its back, which did a good job of planting it in the dirt.
Off the blacktop it was simply a matter of twisting a dial on the dash to grab the lower geared off-road mode and another dial to select diff-locks if needed.
This thing literally ate any obstacle I pointed it at.
It flattened mounds of dirt and climbed hills that would make a LandCruiser squirm.
In fact it became very clear that the only way we were really going to unsettle this thing would’ve been with some IEDs and maybe some withering sniper fire.
One of the advantages of using a heavy vehicle off road is that the extra weight helps keep things firmly planted on the deck.
Though as experienced operators of off-road trucks like this have told me in the past, if you do happen to get stuck, you are very, very stuck.
Wading depth for the Benz is 800mm out of the box, but can be upgraded to 1190mm easily.
A remote tyre pressure control unit is also available to keep the wheels turning on loose surfaces like mud and sand.
Ground clearance is a quite respectable: 428mm under the front diff, which is a pretty good number considering the Zetros doesn’t use portal axles to drive the reduction hubs.
The combination of chassis flex and parabolic springs did an excellent job of keeping all six feet on the ground while roaring through the scrub.
As the 6x6 had a body fitted to it and weight on it, I did get a real sense of just how well the Zetros chassis handles off road in a real world setting.
The Allison tranny behaved quite well and is a nice, quiet installation, although it didn’t appreciate being fiddled with too much in the bush and was hesitant to make manual down changes at times.
But it’s also hard to ignore the tractability benefits of having a torque converter in an off-roader like this one.
Having a bonnet out front makes for a much better ride than a Unimog and cab access is also very easy for a big off-roader.
The only downside is visibility compared to the ’mog, but it’s also a much bigger truck.
If you want a better vantage point you can always go for a walk on the bonnet, as it’s been fitted with non-slip material in places and has clearly been designed for that purpose.
The accelerator pedal position is a little awkward too, as the switch to right hand drive means there’s some wheel arch intrusion under the pedal area.
But, to be honest, at times I was too busy hanging on the steering wheel and making juvenile whooping noises to really notice.
In between evil chuckles I even managed to notice that the Benz donk did a nice job of hauling the Zetros down rutted tracks and uphill sides.
This thing ticks a lot of boxes for the infrastructure sector.
Some of those larger companies in Australia have in recent years been relying on ageing Mercedes-Benz and MAN fleets for their back of beyond work.
After all, specialised vehicles like this aren’t exactly cheap to replace, especially once fitted with cranes and other equipment.
Powerline maintenance, rail maintenance and construction are all perfect roles for the mud-crunching Benz.
There are even some agricultural roles where the Zetros would do well.
And no doubt, there’s an emergency service or two that could do with a vehicle like this.
Make/Model: Mercedes-Benz Zetros 4x4 and 6x6
Engine: 7.2-litre OM926LA 6-cylinder turbo‑diesel with SCR
Power: 326hp (240kW); 1300Nm @ 1600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed Allison automatic or 9-speed manual
Drive: Constant All-Wheel-Drive
GVM: 4x4 model, 18,000kg; 6x6 model, 27,000kg