G-BANGER

WE LIKED THE G-PROFESSIONAL WAGON SO MUCH, WE DECIDED TO KEEP IT.

WORDS MATT RAUDONIKIS

WEVE become quite fond of the G-Pro wagon since we snared a pre-launch drive of one back in May this year. The actual launch was then delayed and only happened in August, when we took a few of them across the Simpson Desert with explorer Mike Horn as reported on last issue.

That drive reaffirmed our affinity for the military-spec Benz and, once the cars were back in Melbourne and cleaned up after the desert trip, we claimed one for a longer drive.

The G-Pro we have for the next three months is the same one we drove back in May, and it was with us on the desert trip. It still has the scarred wheels from the High Country and red dust under the floor mats to show for its previous action, but these little things dont bother us one bit. What we like about the bare-bones Pro model is its authenticity. This is a stripped-out vehicle made for off-road use, either in the hands of adventurers or military departments. There are no pretentions, no airs and graces, and no luxuries with this Mercedes-Benz wagon. This is a pure work truck.

For our first week with the G300 we thought wed see how it compared with its higher specified, more luxurious sibling, the G350d. Aside from the close-to-$50K price discrepancy, the G350d gets the full luxury interior with a totally different dashboard, big electric leather seats, a much better sound system, and plush carpets among its many extras. Yet its only the little things we miss in the G-Professional: the inability to Bluetooth your telephone conversations on the road or link up your music player; the crappy audio system; the lack of sat-nav; and having to put

the key in the door lock and unlock the car. All are annoyances but certainly not deal breakers.

Mechanically the G-Professional is built on the heavier duty 461 platform, while the G350d is on the more comfortable 463. They both utilise a ladder-frame chassis, live axles front and rear, coil spring suspension, triple diff locks and a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine. Yet, the G350ds engine is tuned to make 540Nm and the Pro only gets 400Nm; and the 350d has a seven-speed automatic transmission while the G-Pro makes do with only five ratios. Both have dual range transfer cases, though.

When driving the two Gs on roads and tracks, they are chalk and cheese.

The 350d has much more grunt in all conditions and its auto is far more refined and precise. The G300 Pro feels asthmatic and restrained in its power delivery, and the shifts from the old auto are more pronounced and harsh.

The G350d was fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels and tyres, as opposed to the 19s that come standard on it, as this vehicle had done some outback travel before we got it. The 16s are certainly more suitable in the bush than 19s with low profile tyres, and the BFGoodrich all-terrains, as fitted to the G-Pro, are better again. The 350d has firm-riding gas shock absorbers which are great on road compared to the oil-filled shocks, which are more compliant on the Professional.

So which is the better G-Wagen for everyday and off-road use? Maybe Im going soft in my old age, but as much as I like the pure authenticity of the Professional, I do miss the comfort and convenience features and the added performance of the G350d. If I was in the market for either of them Id find the extra $50K needed and get the added luxury and performance, but Id option it with the wheels, tyres and suspension package from the Professional model.

That could be the perfect G for Australian conditions. Then again, Mike Horns V8-powered G500s riding on 16s did bellow out a sweet tune as they blasted over the desert dunes.

THIS IS A STRIPPED-OUT VEHICLE MADE FOR OFF-ROAD USE