A real work-horse
Following our announcement last month that Mercedes-Benz cross count, vehicles, the 280G1 *troll and 300GD (diesel) four-wheel drive estate cars, are to be Onported into the UK, we had the opportunity to try the diesel two-door version in difficult conditions and with Land Rover and Range Rover performances available for comparison. The new Mercedes vehicles are obviously going to provide very strong competition for the Range Rover, although we think the latter is much more pleasant to drive under normal conditions.
Less spartan than the basic Land Rover and less luxurious than a standard Range Rover, the 300GD slots nicely between the two in terms of creature comforts. On our showing, it will go places where neither standard Land Rover nor Range Rover will, the lockable front and rear differentials making all the difference. The basic two door GD costs £13.560 against the normal rwo-door Range Rover price of £13,505. The “Fleetline. Range Rover is very basic inside and costs £12,6701. The Petrol Mercedes costs a further £400 or so, and spent an automatic gearbox as standard, something which is not available on a Range Rover unless a conversion such as that offered by Schuler Presses is fitted, and that costs rather more than £400.
The ladder-type chassis has box section sides with tubular cross members and comes in two lengths. The body is a separate unit, fixed on rubber mountings at eight points, and has two doors for the short chassis, and four for the long. The overall height is an imposing 78 inches, some seven inches taller than a Range Rover, and the overall effect is very much squarer in appearance.
The suspension is by coil springs all round, the rigid axles being located by substantial longitudinal links. Panhard rods. Telescopic shock absorbers and helper springs are fitted all round. The engines arc both well known Mercedes-Benz units, either the 2.8-litre 6-cylinder petrol engine with twin overhead camshafts and fad injection which develops 156 b.h.p. or the 3-litre. 5-cylinder diesel, developing 88 b.h.p. A four-speed automatic transmission with torque-convener is standard equipment on the petrol version, and an £825 option for the diesel.
In normal road use. the G-series runs in two Wheel drive with free differentials. but as soon as Inns of traction is apparent, the driver is able to lock up the rear differential, or change to four-wheel drive, while on the move. Further Mistance comes from being able to lock the front differential and to change down to a lower final drive ratio, again while on the move. Both front and rear power take-offs are available to add to the versatility.
The cabin is comfortable. but aimed at Withstanding hard use rather than providing armchair luxu,. The seats are fabric faced and betas especially in the back; dried mud brushes al very easily. Carpet has made way for plastic covered matting and the door Wings and other trim are Inim plastic materials which will not suffer when in close proximity to muddy, hob-nailed boots. Seating position is high, tin a Par with a young lorry, and all round visibility is excellent. The instrumentation is limited to a sPeedometer, oil pressure, water tempennure and fuel level gauges with a bevy of warning lights to monitor other functions. Switches tor the auxiliary electrical equipment are placed on the broad central console (unfit at night, together with the heater controls. The main light switch is on the dash to the right cif thc steering column and the single stalk. to the right of the steering column controls wipers, washers, horn, and headlamp dip and flash.
There is a reasonable size box above the passenger’s knees for oddments and the moulded gearbox and transmission cover contains very useful shaped wells which are ideal for holding tow-ball covers, gloves, sun glasses, torches or what have yini. The fittings are definitely man sized (who said “chauvinist”?), appreciable effort being required to move the front seat forward to gain access to the rear compartment. and folding the rear seat flat is quite a chore. Even opening the rear door, with spare wheel mounted upon it, is no light task. especially if the vehicle is parked at an angle, when the stay is totally inadequate, allowing the door to close unexpectedly — uncomfortable if one happens to be in the way.
Long distance road work in the diesel engined car on its 6.50 X 16 Michelin lug-pattern tyres is not as miserable as one might at first think. The engine is pleasantly quiet and very smooth for its type, and the howl from the tyres at speed is drowned by the general wind and engine noise. The transmission is quiet, even in fourwheel-drive, low-ratio. Mercedes claim a top speed of just over 70 m.p.h. for the GD and we were anticipating a miserable 60 m.p.h. run up to the Lake District. after towing a trailer down to Somerset, but 70 m.p.h. is definitely pessimistic, the GD cruising happily at this speed with plenty in hand.
Towing the empty box trailer down the old A4, cutting off through Devizes and Trowbridge to Wells, was no problem. the 300 GD barely aware of the small appendage at the rear. Visibility past the trailer was excellent in the two large external rear view mirrors. The quoted towing capacity of the GD is some 2 1/2 tons, so it is hardly surprising that even when laden on the return journey, the one ton all up weight made no difference to ride and hardly any difference to performance.
Thrashing up the M5 and M6 on a Friday afternoon proved the GD’s cruising capability, while the final 40 or so miles through the Lake District itself to Cockermouth showed the ride to be comfortable, if spongy and inclined to roll much more than a Range Royer on corners. The controls require a positive approach, but the steering is light and the gear change is considerably better than that of early Range Rovers. The brakes are excellent, hut An require a hard initial push to have any effect. After heavy braking, the short chassis model rocks backwards and forwards on its springs in a rather uncomfortable manner.
The aim behind the trip up to the Lake Distrten was to assist with marshalling and other duties on the VSCC’s Lakeland Trial. We were positioned half-way along a section, just after a boggy sump and before a steep final climb on hard but damp earth. The idea was that we should use the Mercedes to extract any competitor unlucky enough to stick in the sump, and pull those who failed on the final slope clear after they had reversed a few yards. Two-wheel-drive failed to get us over the first hump of the section, but moving the transfer lever, aft of the main gear lever, forward for four-wheel-drive was all that was necessary to enable the GD to romp away to the top of the section. It was perfectly controllable reversing down the 1 in 4 slippery final slope to park on the apex ot the final corner. Only five cars came through the sump to see us, the remainder failing low down. Two of these were Austin 7s, which we pushed clear and two were Frazer Nashes which we attempted to pull out, but inexperience with the GD led us to use low-ratio, bottom gear with both differentials locked, thinking that this would provide best traction. In this mode, we had the embarrassment of finding the towing vehicle stuck, unable to move itself, with the towed catching it up! Disappointment! The fifth vehicle was a 30/98 Vauxhall which could not be coaxed round the final corner and had to reverse back down the way it had come.
When the competitors had left, we tackled some of the other very steep and difficult sections —tine was up a forestry track, very steep and deeply rutted without any obvious firm base. used only by forestry tractors coming down. It was marked from zero at the bottom to twenty some thirty sands before a sharp left hand corner at the top. The previous day a Range Rover had failed to get beyond 12, and that after two or three attempts. A Land Rover, on oversize crosscount, tyres did no better. Four-wheel-drive, high ratio took the Mercedes to 14, where it stopped. A change to low ratio, by moving the transfer lever across its gate and back, and locking breeze differential by pulling the rear plunger-switch alongside the transfer lever, enabled us to start off again, using second gear — first gear was too low the vehicle simply sitting still with all four wheels spinning lazily at tick-over. The GD came to rest again on the apex of the corner, land Rover and Range Rover owning spectators looking pretty impressed at the performance so far. The ground was somewhat steeper here but there were some stones in the Nit toms of the ruts, so we tried pulling up the front plunger to lock the front differential. engaging bottom gear, and trying a gentle take off— again, the GD sat still: second gear was too high. We tried again, in bottom. allowing it to rock slightly on its suspension each time we engaged and disengaged the clutch and slowly, but surely, the GD climbed on to the top of the hill. It was soon noticeable that locked .differentials make for lousy steering. the three-point turn on the apex of the corner being conducted with free aisles. After this. we went hack to the scene of the morning’s embarrassment, stopped the GD where an had stuck on the steepest part of the slope and used second, low ratio, instead of bottom. With gentle coaxing, it started off and climbed strongly to the top — the value of a little experience.
Later on, we tried another section which had proved difficult. but possible, to one of the Land Rover owning organisers. We started in two-wheel-drive, but were soon losing traction in the deep mud: a change into four-wheel-drive on the move maintained fonvard motion and enabled us to accelerate slightly, but as the track steepened, the wheels started to spin again necessitating pulling out the rearplunger — with the mar diff, locked, the GD went on to the to, well past thc final wheelspin sears left beat Range Rover. That Land Rover owner was suitably impressed, commentating that his machine would do tite same thing if it had locks for its differentials . . .
So the 300GD taking advantage of its up to dale transmission arrangements, is more than a match for the vehicles from Solihull in the rough. It does not compare with the Range Rover on she road, where the latter is just as comfortable and effortless to drive as most cars and so is unlikely to find favour with the “towing set”, unless the snob, appeal of the three-pointed-star outweighs personal comfort. But contractors, and those who spend much time off the road will look at the GD very closely. Economy, by the way, is not at all bad, the tank full used in the Lake Distnct itself returning better than 21 m.p.g., and that includes all the off road stuff, while the long thrash down the motorway cruising at dose to the GD’s quored maximum speed, brought the figure down to well below 18 m.p.g. Overall average for the 1,060 miles, including trailer towing, was 19.7 m.p.g. – P.H.J.W.