Military Merc: Mercedes-Benz G-Class review

By: Matt Raudonikis , Photography by: Ellen Dewar


If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Mercedes-Benz’s G-Class has stood the test of time for 40 years and remains one of the great off-road vehicles

Military Merc: Mercedes-Benz G-Class review
The G-Class - four decades in action.

 

As its 40th anniversary approaches, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is about to receive the first major redesign it’s had in those four decades. The new G-Class has a bigger and lighter body to improve passenger space and fuel efficiency, while the hard edges of the boxy original have been rounded off to improve aerodynamics.

More significantly, the age-old proven formula of a ladder-frame chassis with live axles front and rear has been tweaked for the first time. The new W 463 will utilise independent front suspension (IFS) to greatly improve the wagon’s on-road ride and handling characteristics, as well as the overall driver experience.

Traditionalists will be happy to know there is still a G-Wagen that sticks to the original recipe and keeps its traditional body and live front axle.

The W 461 G 300 Professional is available in both five-door wagon and single cab-chassis variants, and it’s the vehicle overlanding dreams are made of.

Ever since it arrived on the market in 1979, the appeal of the G-Wagen (as it was then known) has been its rugged construction and simplicity.

A functional wagon body on a robust frame with coil-sprung live axles front and rear, triple differential locks and low range; it’s a solid foundation for an overland vehicle and one that has been used by explorers, militaries, NGOs and adventurous private buyers around the globe.

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The G 300 Professional arrived in Australia first as the cab-chassis back in 2016. It is a vehicle unique to this country and came on the back of the Australian Defence Force’s adoption of the G-Class to its vehicle fleet.

The G 300 Cab-Chassis offers an all-terrain, load-hauling vehicle with unrivalled capability.

Its main rival here is the ever popular Land Cruiser 79 series, but the G’s two-tonne payload (dependent on tray fitted) more than doubles that of the Toyota and, with its longer wheelbase, better carries the load over the rear axle rather than behind it.

The vehicle comes as a bare cab-chassis and it’s up to the owner to fit a tray, service body or canopy to it, and it’s ideally suited to mounting a camper body on the back to create an expedition-ready tourer.

The chassis is heavily sprung in order to accommodate its two-tonne payload and, as a result, the ride quality when unladen is stiff and harsh. Fitting a camper-back or loading it up with a one-tonne water tank, as we did on test, softens the ride yet has no detrimental effect on the suspension as it would most any other vehicle.

We also drove a G 300 cab-chassis, fitted with a fully loaded service body that weighed in at around 1,500kg, in the Simpson Desert, and that load perfectly balanced the vehicle. It felt comfortable and at home cresting the sand dunes and exploring the harsh, remote tracks.

The two-seat cabin is spartan by Mercedes Benz passenger car standards, with uncovered painted floors, manual winding windows and a basic radio/CD player that is offered as an option only.

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There’s even a drain plug in the footwell so you can hose out the interior after dirty adventures. The cabin is compact with minimal space for storage, other than the handy enclosures beneath each seat, reflecting the workhorse nature of the vehicle. It also presents a blank canvas to anyone wanting to further equip it for recreational or touring use.

The G 300 Professional wagon provides occupants with a bit more room to move inside. It has four bucket seats, leaving a walk-though space between the rear seats to the cargo area; great for carrying longer goods or perfect for a mountain bike.

The front seats go back further in the wagon than they do in the cab-chassis, which further improves comfort. However, like the truck, it is a basic, hose-out interior with very few modern conveniences.

Our G 300 wagon was fitted with the optional Edition PUR package, which adds heated leather seats, a radio/CD player, smart-looking wood flooring in the cargo area, and a sturdy roof rack.

This is a $10,000 option and really gives the exterior that expedition look, while adding functionality and a touch of class to the inside.

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Both the cab-chassis and wagon are powered by the same three-litre diesel V6 engine that makes a modest 135kW (181hp) and 400Nm. This engine is derived from Benz’s popular diesel V6 as used in passenger cars and SUVs, but it has a low state of tune to make it serviceable in countries anywhere in the world, many of which don’t have the fuel quality to reliably produce high power and torque numbers.

The engine is backed by a five-speed automatic transmission, full-time four-wheel drive with high and low range, and the aforementioned locking differentials. The transfer case and the three differential locks are activated by buttons ahead of the gear shifter, and the lockers are switched in sequence as the terrain dictates; starting with the centre differential.

With all three diffs locked the G 300, be it cab-chassis or wagon, is near-on unstoppable – mud, rocks, sand and ruts are all traversed with confidence and ease.

The stiff suspension doesn’t have a lot of travel so the lockers are needed to keep that momentum up when the all-terrain tyres are leaving the ground, but there isn’t much that’ll hold the locked G back.

In a nod to functionality, those chunky tyres are mounted to practical 16-inch alloy wheels and not the large diameter rollers you find on city-based SUVs. Other practical features include a 96-litre fuel tank, an engine-intake air snorkel, standard bullbar, dual batteries, tyre pressure monitor, dirty air filter warning, headlight and indicator guards, and underbody protection.

Being a vehicle that retains its 40-year-old design, the body of the G 300 Professional is old-school, which means it has a nice big glasshouse – an upright windscreen with thin pillars so it affords the driver plenty of visibility around the vehicle, allowing them to position it well on the track.

This is an important aspect of off-road driving and something lost in more contemporary vehicle designs.

The G 300 Professional is a classic example of form-follows-function design. It’s built for purpose and it serves that purpose like no other vehicle. This is testament to its success and how it has stood the test of time for close to 40 years.

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