THE second vehicle in the G-Professional range has arrived, and the wagon proves to be a better recreational vehicle than the truck.
In an era when real 4x4s are becoming rarer and most vehicles are getting softer, a new live axle, diff-locked wagon is a welcome addition to the new car showroom.
We say new, but Mercedes Benz’s G-Class is closing in on four decades of service and is set to be updated in 2018 with the first new body panels in more than 35 years. Yet the G300 CDI Professional wagon is new to the Australian market for 2017.
But those ‘luxury’ versions of the G-Wagen are based on the civilian W463 chassis, while the Professional models, like the G300 CDI we are testing here, come on the heavy duty 461 platform that is shared with military vehicles used by the Australian Defence Force and military units around the globe.
We first saw the G-Professional badge with the cab-chassis version in 2016. This is the five-door wagon riding on the same heavy duty chassis with a shorter wheelbase than the ute.
It remains a body-on-frame design, with live axles front and rear, coil springs all around and electronically switched diff locks front, rear and centre. The four-wheel-drive system is full-time with low range, so the equipment list ticks all of the right boxes.
That equipment translates well out on the tracks, too. The chassis is stiff, but the coil suspension is much more supple than it is on the 4490kg GVM-rated, cab-chassis model. This allows the G-Wagen to comfortably cross rugged and rocky tracks, ably helped by its standard-fit all-terrain tyres and triple diff locks.
A bit disappointing is the use of the Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain tyres on the wagon, as opposed to the BFGoodrich A/Ts fitted to the cab-chassis. They are slightly lower, too, being 265/70-16s as opposed to the ute’s 265/75s. They are fitted to the same 16-inch alloys, so there’s plenty of choice for practical rubber.
The powertrain is the same as the G-Professional models, comprising the 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine and five-speed auto transmission.
This is a de-tuned version of Benz’s V6 engine used in many of its passenger cars where it needs more performance. In the G-Pro, it makes a modest 135kW and 400Nm, but it’s designed to run on poor fuels and in harsh conditions anywhere in the world.
On the open roads, this driveline gets along nicely, but it needs a solid prod on the long-travel accelerator pedal to keep it motivated. It’s not slow, but it’s certainly no AMG racer. The five-speed auto is a bit old-school as well, and you feel the ratio changes more so than you might in a ’box with more speeds.
The G-Pro feels more like a German-made Land Rover Defender than anything else, and there are plenty of bigger and more refined SUVs wearing Benz’s three-pointed star if that’s what you want.
Like the G-Pro cab-chassis, the wagon version has a stripped-out, barebones interior. The floors are paned with no carpets, there are rubber mats for the footwells, the windows are wind-up, and the central locking requires you to put the key in the door.
The vehicle we drove here was fitted with a PUR option pack that adds leather to the seats, with heating on the front pews, power adjustable door mirrors and a timber finish to the floor in the cargo area.
The timber slats are separated by C-channels that can take eye bolts for latching things down, and there are three sturdy tie-downs on each of the rear wheel wells. In case you hadn’t noticed in the pictures, there are only four seats, with no five- or seven-seat option in the G-Professional.
That PUR option pack is yet to be confirmed for Australian issue, but it does add some good kit to the G. The roof rack is a work of art and one of the best we’ve seen, certainly the best factory offering from a vehicle manufacturer.
It’s fully welded with no pop rivets or screws to loosen, it has a mesh floor in the centre, and it’s heavy duty with C-channels running down the sides for anchor points. It might create a bit of wind noise at highway speeds, but I’d be prepared to put up with that on such a quality expedition product.
Another part of the PUR pack is the flip-up front number plate, which is handy if you want to fit a winch in the bumper. After numerous creek crossings, I thought we’d lost yet another plate, but it hinged up to reveal a solid recovery point.
The G-Professional sacrifices luxury, refinement and performance for practicality, off-road ability and functionality. You can throw a hefty dose of exclusivity in to the mix as well, because for a vehicle without floor coverings, Bluetooth phone connectivity or power windows, the G-Pro is not cheap.
The sale price was yet to be confirmed at the time of our drive, but expect it to be in the $110K to $120K bracket, depending on how Mercedes-Benz Australia decides to specify it.
That’s a lot of money for any vehicle, but the G-Professional is far from any vehicle. It gets admiring looks on the streets, particularly when covered in mud, and it gets the job done on the tracks.