FUN IN THE MUD: Graham Harsant having a great time at the Mercedes-Benz AWD test drive.
FUN IN THE MUD: Graham Harsant having a great time at the Mercedes-Benz AWD test drive. COVENTRY STUDIOS

Kermie is as happy as as big rig in mud

HALF-an-hour or so south-west of Melbourne is a four-wheel-drive playground at Werribee.

The tracks run through creeks, ravines, up and down slopes of 45 degrees or more, are full of ruts, and for no extra cost, come with mud, lots of mud.

For our excursion there, the operators even threw in alternating mounds of dirt to test the torsional flexibility of our drives.

But, instead of Land Cruisers or Patrols, we were guests of Mercedes-Benz and no, they didn't provide us with their latest iteration of their capable G Class SUVs.

Instead, as we rounded the last corner to the property's base camp, we were greeted with four trucks, ranging from big to bloody big.

These vehicles are the latest-generation all-wheel- drive models which will appeal to a wide range of customers requiring extreme off-road access.

Think APT Outback Tours or mining companies or communications companies servicing power lines stretched through mountainous terrain in the middle of nowhere.

Our trucks were two 4x4s: the 1630 and 1835, a 6x6: the 3443 and the big daddy, the 8x8 4146.

The first two numbers represent the GVM and the last two numbers (if you add a zero) are the horsepower. Hence, the 8x8 can handle a GVM of 41 tons and has 460 horses under the floor.

Now, as I mentioned, we were at a 4WD playground which is - to state the blindingly obvious - designed for 4WDs.

And we were supposed to throw trucks with beams akin to the Queen Mary and wheelbases of five metres or more along their narrow, rutted and muddy tracks.

Oh well, no skin off my nose if I scratched or dented one of their vehicles which were so new you could smell the fresh paintwork.

Mercedes-Benz very sensibly provided us with an experienced driver for each vehicle in the guises of Glen, Jimmy, Paul and Rob.

"Can I please take it home with me?" Graham Harsant

If you buy a Mercedes- Benz (or Daimler) product, you can have one of these guys teach you all about your latest pride and joy.

The idea was that our coaches would take us around one of the tracks and then we could have a shot.

Glen was my first instructor in the 1630, the baby of the bunch.

As we hit the first creek I thought, "This is good”.

Then we hurled up the 45-degree incline and I mentally shouted, "Holy s--t!” From then on it was just one "whoo hoo” after another.

It had rained heavily a couple of days before and we had mud-on-mud, if that's possible.

It meant that with each run around the site the terrain was constantly changing.

I moved from the 1630, through the 3443 and then into the bad boy 4146, the 8x8. Like the others (apart from the manual 1835) this is an auto/manual box - in this iteration a 16-speed powershift which delivers 50 per cent faster gear changes than previous generation AWD models.

Like the 6x6, it operates in all-wheel drive mode at all times and features front and rear diff locks.

We came to a muddy, rutted slope of at least 45degrees with a sharp right-hand turn at the apex and I asked my instructor Paul if it would get us up there.

"No worries,” he replied.

Knock it out of auto and select a gear, diff locks on and off we go.

Only I could get it stuck at the apex with front and rear axles off the ground and the other two digging into the bog. Bear in mind these trucks are not running mud tyres and are very light on in the rear end.

The problem was solved by rolling back a foot or three and having another go, this time getting over easily.

Going down a slope as muddy and steep, the truck's electronic systems ensure not even the most foolhardy of drivers could get into trouble.

These gearboxes are quite simply, amazing. Whatever the situation, they pick just the right gear for the job at hand.

Instructor Paul Fagg with the bad boy 4146 8x8.
Instructor Paul Fagg with the bad boy 4146 8x8. Graham Harsant

The controller for the 'box is a wand on the steering column which allows you to pick auto/manual with a push, and gear selection with a flick up or down.

Two minutes with it and its use becomes automatic - no pun intended.

The interior of the cab is typical Benz. Everything falls easily to hand with a number of the controls on the steering wheel.

It is indeed, a nice (and quiet) place to be.

It was an icy day but after a couple of minutes I was wishing I'd left the jacket off, thanks to the heating.

I presume the aircon works just as well but they don't pay me enough to test it on a day such as cold as this was.

Coming with 11 and 13 litre Euro 6 engines, depending on model, those who want to go to extremes can opt for more potent 13 litre motors.

One other thing worth mentioning is the chassis.

Benz have put considerable effort into creating high torsional flexibility, along with increased robustness utilising cold-formed ultra-high tensile steel. It works a treat.

Are these vehicles good? Absolutely! Did we have fun? You betcha! I want one and if my carport was taller I'd buy the 8x8 and be king of the off-road.

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