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Unimog as an extreme motorhome: freedom and adventure redefined

Ulrich Dolde
Unimog as an extreme touring vehicle
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J For decades, advertising has drummed into us that freedom and adventure are well can only be experienced on a horse with a glow in the corner of the mouth. On the other hand, the universal power tool from Mercedes Benz, better known as the Unimog, offers a much healthier way to REALLY experience freedom and adventure.

It represents an almost ideal basis for building an expedition vehicle for the really wild dogs. Because what makes it so unbeatable at work, its off-road mobility, makes the Unimog “so you can get everywhere mobile” even when traveling. It plays out its off-road genes not only in the forest, but also in the world.

Technically, the Unimog has some special features that clearly distinguish it from conventional all-wheel-drive trucks. Preferably, it is the portal axles that give the Unimog unique ground clearance. Where in the classic all-wheel drive truck thick differentials limit the air under the keel to a manageable 25 to 30 cm, in the Unimog there is a gaping void Vehicle 50 or more centimeters of ground clearance can be created depending on the choice of tires. Another special feature of the Unimog is its extremely twistable ladder frame. It looks like it is made of rubber when the vehicle is moved in difficult terrain. This guarantees, even in extreme situations, that all four wheels remain on the ground and provide propulsion. In order to guarantee this propulsion even if one of the wheels spins, the Unimog is equipped with a rear axle, central differential and front axle lock.

Another chromosome in the Unimog's off-road genome is its coil spring suspension. Where leaf springs teeter in conventional trucks, coil springs in the Unimog create significantly more spring travel, which is particularly important when the chassis is severely twisted. So much for the theory, which calls for practical evidence. We are on the Mercedes-Benz off-road test site near Gaggenau, where a course has been created that demands pretty much everything even from a Unimog. Gradients of up to 80%, both with asphalt and loose gravel, moats and steep descents, rocky passages and inclines up to 38 ° not only demand everything from the Unimog, but sometimes also from the driver.

Climbing the Unimog cab falls surprising modernity catches the eye.Where in the model years of the last century, functional switches and levers, formed without any design claim, exude a bitter sobriety, today everything is well shaped both for the eye and for ergonomics. The space available is also significantly larger thanks to the larger cab dimensions. The instructor explains the most important functions to me. Our U 5023 has switchable all-wheel drive, a built-in tire pressure regulation system and only has a flatbed with a tarpaulin at the rear. This of course reduces the weight, which is a great advantage in off-road use.

Ulrich Dolde
A Unimog will take you anywhere.

Shooing the Mercedes demonstrator through the off-road test site is of course everyone's dream Child in man and so I'm already looking forward to this experience, which one does not have every day. After all, the good piece costs around 150,000 euros - mind you, without the housing construction.

So turn the key and off you go. First surprise: Anyone who has ever driven an old Unimog will have to listen twice to see whether the engine is running. O.K., that is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, because the 5.2 liter four-cylinder is already noticeable. But clearly quieter and more soundproofed than was the case with its ancestors. Press the clutch, let your right hand fall casually to the gear lever and desperately try to feel it. Second surprise! The instructor grins. 'The gearshift lever sits as a small rocker lever below the steering wheel and only needs a small pull to shift into gear.' Aha! This puts an end to the agitation in the gearbox. Drive off. Next surprise: briefly pull the gear selector lever to upshift, but nothing happens. The gear change only takes place when you press the clutch pedal. Then the transmission shifts to the next gear semi-automatically. This takes a bit of getting used to at first, but after the first 100 kilometers it should work like in sleep. Unfortunately, I will hardly be able to complete this on the test site - what a pity.

We drive to the rear of the site, where small gravel hills with moderate inclines are waiting to be climbed by us. The Mog does all of this without engaging the all-wheel drive.However, we are already driving with the air pressure reduced to around 2.2 bar, which significantly improves traction on the rear axle. What is particularly impressive is the torque with which the OM 934 engine already produces at idle speed. The maximum torque of 900 Newton meters is already available at around 1,100 revolutions. Where I have to accelerate vigorously on my Mercedes 914 before every incline in order to master it with a meager 400 Nm, the U 5023 rolls completely relaxed and calmly even over the steepest inclines. I could get used to it!

Now it's time to go up and down the steep slopes in the front area of ​​the site, with 60, 70 and 80%. Only here is the all-wheel drive activated, otherwise the rear wheels would spin. It is impressive how little gas the Unimog uses to negotiate the steepest parts. And even more impressive to stop in the middle of the 80 percent and start up again in reverse. Only the belt keeps me in the seat and the outstretched arms that are supported on the steering wheel. With a little gas the load starts moving and effortlessly pushes the 8 ton fighting weight up the steep mountain. Here, too, of course, the reduced air pressure helps to enlarge the tire contact area and thus improve traction. I would have either stalled my 914 here at the latest or dissolved the clutch in smoke.

Ulrich Dolde
Space is scarce, but the comfort is now good.

We continue diagonally through the moat. The Unimog has a fording depth of over a meter thanks to its high air intake and high exhaust. You can throw yourself into the floods of a river ford with no worries and trust to come out again at the other end with dry feet. The built-in tire pressure control system is of course a great advantage here. If you find that you need more traction while crossing the river, you can activate a whole range of off-road genes to continue your journey. Of course, you will always approach such a passage with all-wheel drive and gear reduction. But if it gets sandy or slippery and individual wheels spin, then we recommend asfirst the insertion of the rear and center lock, in extreme cases the front lock can also be activated. If progress is still difficult, we recommend reducing the air pressure, if this has not already been done preventively. The latter in particular works wonders, because with an air pressure of less than one bar, the tire contact area increases considerably, and the tire also becomes softer and can adapt to the ground much better. In this way, river crossings while traveling, but also the obstacles in the Mercedes off-road test area can be mastered playfully, which contributes significantly to the relaxation of the crew - especially the female ones.

To be honest: I would love to have a few more hours Romped up and downhill in the Unimog over hill and dale. But there were a few other candidates who were really eager to put the new Unimog through its paces.

On the other hand, there was another test drive on the program: the one with the Bimobil EX 435 Based on a U 4023. However, I was not allowed to beat it through the terrain, but rather tested it moderately on asphalt roads. Because this is usually not the domain of a Unimog, which with its coil spring chassis and heavy housing structure had a reputation for being significantly more prone to swaying than a classic truck chassis. So I wanted to convince myself of the driving characteristics of the Unimog on asphalt and I have to admit that these were also convincing. Shifting with the semi-automatic transmission took some getting used to, but once you get used to it, driving a Unimog on asphalt is really fun. Of course, 231 hp and 900 Nm of torque also contribute to making rapid progress. With the six-speed gearbox, the gear ratios fit much better than with my 914, which has a much too large 'hole' between third and fourth gear.

But there are almost 30 years between the two vehicles - and 280,000 euros ! The bimobile globetrotter has to shell out an impressive 345,000 euros. No cardboard style. But you really can't expect that from an all-terrain two-room apartment with kitchen and bathroom. But what you can expect are a lot of emotions that the Unimog arouses in its crew and in its surroundings. More than any other commercial vehicle, it stimulates the imagination of those who see it and disappear in their minds on a trip around the world. Seen in this way, the Unimog is without a doubt the better device for experiencing freedom and adventure. And all that without nicotine and chafed buttocks.

Author: Ulrich Dolde


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