Taking the Mercedes-Benz U430 Unimog for a drive

By: Matt Wood


There’s not really any other vehicle around like a Mercedes-Benz Unimog.

Taking the Mercedes-Benz U430 Unimog for a drive
The Mercedes-Benz U430 Unimog.

 

For more than 60 years, the Unimog has straddled the line between truck, tractor and… er… whatever else you can think of doing with a purpose built off-roader thingy like a Unimog.

Daimler like to call the Unimog an "implement carrier', which sounds like a grandiose name for a golf caddy.

However, it seems the uses for a Unimog are only really limited by one’s imagination.

The baby end of the range was revamped in Europe a couple of years ago.

But the first right-hand drive Euro 6 U430 Unimog has only recently landed in Australia.

And we got to take it for a spin.

This Unimog has gone into service with one of Australia’s longest standing inimog customers, The Spreaders, based in Werribee, west of Melbourne.

Its owner, Noel Squires, has had 10 of the vehicles since the early 1980s and this new truck replaces a U400 that will act as a spare, and a venerable old 2450 which Squires himself pilots on a daily basis.

The U430 is powered by Benz’s Euro 6 7.7-litre OM 936 engine which creates 299hp (233 kW) and 1,200Nm of twisty force.

Behind the Bluetech donk lies a dual range 8-speed preselect semi-auto transmission which then gets power to the dirt via the Unimog's famed portal axles.

The Spreaders apply lime, fertiliser, sand and gypsum within a 100km radius of Melbourne on everything from sports grounds, turf clubs, vegie crops and even the odd broad acre spreading job.

Vegies are the main reason for the U430 being the vehicle of choice for the business as the portal axles give the Benz more ground clearance than other options, plus the Unimog also has the right footprint to straddle veggie beds without turning cabbages into sauerkraut.

This 430 has also been optioned with central tyre inflation (CTI) to help keep the little truck afloat in the muck.

But 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.

Climbing aboard the Unimog for a drive is reasonably easy, but once my butt was parked in the air suspended seat I was impressed by the visibility offered from my vantage point.

The preselect transmission did give me some unkind thoughts of driving old model Actros’s, using the clutch to engage a preselected gear and waiting for the click.

But the 430 is no highway truck and it didn’t cause me any dramas at all.

With a couple of tonne of lime in the back we headed to a local equestrian centre so I could have a play in the grass.

The U430 will take a 4.5 tonne payload with the spreader body on the back.

But even with half a load it can feel the high centre of gravity as the Unimog rocks on its coil springs when cornering.

The 7.7-litre engine certainly seems to have enough huff to haul the little truck along, but with a vehicle like this it really is all about the gearing.

And this truck will still haul a small float trailer and telehandler to site when required.

Driveline noise is surprisingly good and on the open road near the little Benz’s 90km/h limit the dominating sound is the roar of the tractor-like off-road tyres.

Out in the grass it was time to select work mode which 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 Unimog becomes pretty much like operating a very large and heavy ride-on mower.

It really is that simple.

And it makes tight turns in confined areas a cinch. Forward and reverse is selected using the cruise control stalk, and the U430 really is very nimble while using this feature.

The spreader unit runs off a hydraulic pump fitted to the front of the engine in place of the factory-fitted PTO unit.

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.

However, 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 wasn’t equipped with vario steer but the shaft configuration remains which explains the layout.

That said, the little Unimog steered just fine both on and off-road.

While we didn’t scale any mountains or tackle any desert crossings, the 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 sweeping, spreading, mowing, digging, ploughing, climbing, swimming, trimming, vacuuming… and stuff.

 

 

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