Review: Mercedes Benz Unimog U430 truck
The Mercedes Benz Unimog has been an all-round off-roader for more than 60 years. MATT WOOD gets behind the wheel of the first Unimog U430 in Australia.
TO GET a handle on Mercedes Benz Unimog you just need to look at its name, which is an abbreviation of the charmingly Teutonic 'Universal-Motor-Gerät' or Universal Motorised Working Machine.
However Daimler mostly just refers to it as an implement carrier, which really just means that there aren’t a lot of jobs, vocational or otherwise, that it can’t do.
From load lugging on tough construction or mining sites to acting as a mobile worksite to street sweeping to freeway verge mowing to agriculture, the Unimog — or ‘Mog as it’s often affectionately called — seems to have a spec for all occasions. It can even be found shunting rail wagons.
The Unimog range starts with the baby U400 and U500 series, which cover the more mundane vocational roles that may be covered by a true implement carrier. The U400 has been designed to enable all manner of auxiliary equipment to be mounted on its torsionally stiff yet laterally flexible frame.
The big beasty U4000 and U5000 Unimog is a heavier-duty truck variant. Anyone with military experience may have fond memories of a similar truck.
The Mog’s history in Australia has, for the most part, been a military one. However Daimler Australia is trying to take advantage of the company’s extensive global toy box to target niche areas where vehicles like the Unimog are a walk-up start.
The first right-hand-drive Unimog U430 landed on Australian shores recently and we got to climb behind the wheel and take the new implement carrier for a jaunt, both on and off road.
The Mog we were lucky enough to test belongs to Werribee South-based Noel Squires, who owns and operates The Spreaders, a business which specialises in spreading sand, lime, fertiliser, gypsum and other products for the agricultural sector, turf clubs and sporting grounds.
Squires also happens to be the longest running commercial Unimog operator in Australia, having purchased his first back in the early 1980s. The business has seen 10 Mogs in service over that period of time.
The fleet now numbers three vehicles, including an older 2450, a U400 which acts as a spare, and a brand new U430.
Under the hood
The Unimog U430 is powered by Benz’s 7.7-litre Euro 6 OM 936 engine which creates 299 horsepower (223kW) and 1200Nm of twisty force. And behind the Bluetech donk lies a dual-range, 8-speed preselect semi-auto tranny which then gets power to the dirt via the Mog’s famous portal axles.
These axles provide excellent ground clearance because the diffs and axles are actually higher than the wheel centre and drive the wheels via a hub reduction drive.
The truck’s ladder chassis has been built to maintain rigidity but also to twist laterally, allowing the Mog to keep all of its feet on the ground in challenging off-road situations.
The 400 and 500 series Mogs also feature factory mounting points for implements, which should keep aftermarket equipment installers away from the gas axe. There are mounting points on the front of the truck and on each side of the chassis in between the wheels. Plus there’s room on the rear for all manner of tow hitches if needed.
This 430 has also been optioned with CTI (Central Tyre Inflation) to help keep the little truck afloat in the muck.
Another interesting feature is the Work Mode of the UG 100 transmission. This turns the semi-auto into a hydrostatic transmission for off-road work which means no changing gears, or braking or using the clutch. Just use the go-pedal.
Noel did say that one of the challenges of using such a capable off road vehicle is that if you do happen to get stuck, you often really are stuck. As in ‘bring-in-an-excavator’ stuck. But with CTI fitted the guys regularly drop tyre pressure down to 55psi in the field, and sometimes down to 35psi if needed.
The little Benz is constant all-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case and, as you’d expect, is fitted with diff locks front and rear.
In the cab
Climbing aboard the Unimog for a drive was reasonably easy and, once my butt was parked in the air-suspended seat, I was impressed by the visibility offered from my vantage point.
With its deep window cutaways and deep windscreen, it’s clear from the driver’s seat that the 430 Unimog has been designed to see out of while operating auxiliary machinery.
The Telligent preselect tranny did give me some unkind thoughts of driving old model Actrosses, using the clutch to engage a preselected gear and waiting for the click. It brought back memories of rolling through intersections with a neautralised transmission and a flurry of clicking noises emanating from the stereo speakers.
Thankfully those days are long gone and the Telligent ‘box does seem a good fit in a vehicle like the Mog.
Selecting work mode requires a fiddly combination of button pushing while patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. But once in hydrostatic mode driving the Mog becomes pretty much like operating a very large and heavy ride-on mower.
It really is that simple. Work mode gives you 8 speeds forward and 8 speeds backwards and a top speed of 50km/h. But really, the hydrostatic mode makes tight headland turns in confined areas a cinch, especially where the driver may be operating auxiliary equipment and driving at the same time.
Forward and reverse is selected using the cruise control stalk mounted at the top of the steering column, and the U430 really is very nimble while using this feature.
For roles where the Mog may be using more complex moving equipment there’s also the option of a console-mounted multi-function joystick which can be operated from the driver’s seat.
On the job
With a couple of tonnes of lime in the back we headed to a local equestrian centre so I could have a play in the grass. This wasn’t exactly going to be challenging off-road stuff but it certainly was going to be a good look at the work day characteristics of the sophisticated little vocational chariot.
The U430 took a 4.5-tonne payload with the spreader body on the back. But even with half a load I could feel the high centre of gravity as the Mog rocked on its coil springs when cornering.
The 7.7-litre engine certainly seemed to have enough huff to haul the little truck along, but with a vehicle like this it really is all about the gearing.
Driveline noise is surprisingly good, and on the open road near the little Benz’s 90km/h road limit the dominating sound was the roar of the tractor-like 445/70 R24 off-road tyres.
The U430 has the makings of a hydraulic powerhouse with hydraulic flow options of up to 125l/min depending on spec. A dual-circuit system can provide 32l/min through one circuit and up to 87l/min through the second circuit, making it possible to run a hydraulic motor and powered implements at the same time.
An optional front-mounted PTO also provides a substantial 160kW of power. Or there’s the option of and engine and transmission-mounted PTO if required. There’s plenty of potential to plug in and play.
As far as the steering goes, I was initially a bit taken aback by the right hand drive conversion of this truck. The steering box remains on the left and is joined to the steering wheel by a shaft that runs up into the left hand side of the dashboard and then across the right hand side of the cab.
The U430 is available with a feature called Vario Steer that means that the steering wheel and instrument cluster can be unclipped and slid across the cab for dual-control applications.
This machine isn’t equipped with Vario Steer but the shaft configuration remains, which explains the layout. The steering box itself also looks a little exposed as it peeks out from under the body work at the front of the truck, however anyone tackling severe off road obstacles will most likely be whacking a bar or two across the front end anyway.
The little Mog steered just fine both on and off-road; in fact it was downright nimble out in the paddock with the trans in work mode.
The bottom line
While we didn’t scale any mountains or tackle any desert crossings, the Mercedes Benz Unimog U430 proved to be an easy-to-operate and smooth-performing vocational truck thingy.
Visibility on and off road was great and the ride was surprisingly good. It’s a great little platform for digging, climbing, sweeping, spreading, mowing, ploughing, swimming, trimming, vacuuming … and did I happen to mention rail shunting?
Noel Squires sums the Mogs up perfectly when he says, "They’re tough and they’re robust and they’ve done what we need them to do."
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