Aug 23, 2016
How to Drive a Mercedes-Benz Unimog
Behind the wheel of Mercedes-Benz’s legendary all-wheel-drive off-road expedition trucks in Germany’s Black Forest, PLUS a fireside chat with Gunther Holtorf, who’s put in a million kilometers on his trusty 1988 G-wagen, driving to nearly every country in the world.
When Daimler invited me to Stuttgart over a weekend to go on a drive to the Black Forest in Germany, I couldn’t say no – especially when I learnt that we’d get a chance to test the legendary Unimog off-road truck on a test track in Ötigheim.
Accompanied by mostly German car and adventure travel journalists, we headed out to the Unimog Museum for a briefing – where we also met our companion for the trip, legendary traveler Gunther Holtorf, who’s driven nearly a million kilometers in his trusty G-wagen “Otto”, to nearly every single country in the world.
I’d gotten a fantastic introduction to the off-road capabilities of the G-wagen during my desert drive in Namibia in a month before. However, I’d never driven a Unimog before.
At the museum we got a first look at our convoy: expedition Unimogs with fully-livable campers (from Merex, a specialist Unimog service-provider and builder); a Zetros; a G-class; and the new Sprinter van and V-class (great for surf trips!). All were fitted out for sleeping in overnight in the rolling hills of southern Germany’s Black Forest region.
We got a jaw-dropping introduction to the capabilities of these off-road trucks at the testing ground – their professional driver leisurely drove the vehicles up and down on everything from 60% to 110% gradients. Then, with no second thoughts, we watched as the trucks were driven in reverse up a stairway.
After a while, it became like watching a video game – the “Mogs” and Zetros were driven over boulders, through bombshell craters, meter-deep waterways, and obstacle courses that would literally break the spine of any other vehicle.
Check out the following pictures to see the incredible articulation and suspension of the Mog.
Finally, I got a chance to get behind the wheel of the incredible off-road truck. It felt surprisingly easy to drive, with three diff locks which one could engage as needed, automated tire-control systems and a lot more I wasn’t familiar with. Modern “Mogs” have a surprising amount of electronics in it, just like the G-classes I drove a month before in Namibia. I climbed into the cabin, adjusted my seat, and followed the instructor’s guidance. The Mog practically drove itself, and I found myself climbing up steep inclines and terrain that would have been difficult to walk on, let alone drive. I began to imagine the potential and possibilities for expeditions in remote regions of the world, as has been done before with these vehicles – from desert crossings to scientific expeditions and explorations.
For us at The Outdoor Journal, sustainability is our top concern. We realize the need for vehicles in our daily lives as well as for global adventures but we always want to find out more. Modern Mogs are Euro-6 compliant and are constantly engineered to evolve with time.
So are we going to see a hybrid or electric Unimog? Mercedes did just release a first-of-its-kind fully-electric 26-tonne urban truck last month. Hopefully this is a trend that will also eventually percolate down to this very hardy 60-year-old outdoor off-road platform.
Feature Image: The Unimog’s “home” is in Gaggenau, where it was first manufactured, and from there we drove further south into the Black Forest or Schwarzwald, the legendary, haunted, deeply forested hills that form a historic border region between France, Switzerland and Germany © Apoorva Prasad/ The Outdoor Journal