10 years ago, Mercedes took the G-Class to Australia’s toughest route, only to be trolled by a Toyota Hilux
Hans · Dec 29, 2021 09:00 AM
Over 1,600 km on the toughest off-road trail in Australia, one of the toughest in the world
Mercedes-Benz G-Class was the first convoy to cross, but at great cost
Toyota Hilux asked what's the big fuss?
If you are looking for a manly car that looks like it’s fueled by testosterone, but at the same time doesn’t make you look like an uncultured swine, it’s hard to do better than a Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
To win a Daniel Craig-type schlong measuring contest, bring a G-Class.
It's G for Geländewagen (all-terrain vehicle), the G-Class’ reputation is not built on fluff propagated by men’s magazine or footballers.
The G-Class' reputation is backed up by the fact that it’s the preferred the vehicle for many military and security organizations around the world. Add that with Kanye West-approved styling, it's now a perfect car for rich men who like to play soldier, never mind if they have never slept on a barrack bed or caught their own meal.
The first generation G-Class was built by Austria's Steyr-Puch, under contract by Daimler, reportedly because the Shah of Iran wanted a 4x4 that was as luxurious as a hotel but as tough as a rhino – a myth that was never confirmed by Mercedes-Benz.
Regardless of the true story of its gestation, few would question the G-Class’ credentials.
In 2011, Mercedes-Benz hosted high publicity media event, inviting media representatives from Australia, USA, and Europe to drive 5 units of the G-Class over 1,600 km of the Canning Stock Route – the toughest off-road trail in Australia’s unforgiving Outback, a place where everything that moves wants to kill you, if the fauna doesn’t kill you, then the hot and dry weather will.
The aim? To be the first manufacturer to take a convoy of standard specs vehicles, specifically the G350d, across the Canning Stock Route.
The convoy was accompanied by two more units of the military-spec G-Class Professional, driven by Mercedes-Benz technicians.
Did they achieve it? Technically yes, but it’s not an event that Mercedes-Benz would want to talk about anymore.
Why? Because every single G-Class driven by the media broke down, and Mercedes-Benz had to arrange for an emergency charter flight to send replacement parts and supplies to the convoy. The G-Class failed on them.
The reason? The Canning Stock Route is characterized by an endless trail of ruts and corrugated tracks that is known to chew and spit out springs and dampers – and the G-Class was clearly not up to the challenge.
Mid-way, the terrain had broken every single damper on all the media cars, including all the available spare dampers.
The only car that was still working was the G Professional support car, which had to drive to the nearest air field where Mercedes-Benz was flying in emergency supplies and replacement parts.
Two cars also had broken air-conditioning, a terrible situation to be in when you are travelling on the Outback. Other problems encountered include spare wheel carriers that had been jolted off their welds, as well as leaking Ad Blue tanks.
Even the military-spec G Professional support car had at one point, encountered problems with its fuel pump, but that’s probably due to contamination from a dirty fuel jerry can, as the vehicle was back on the road after repairs.
Mercedes-Benz insisted that the event was a success, and although the cars encountered problems, they were still drivable.
To be fair to Mercedes-Benz, the dampers would not have failed if the convoy had gone slower.
Usually, it takes a about three weeks to cover the entire Canning Stock Route, including stops for fuel, which in the Outback, needs to be air-dropped at designated locations, ordered weeks ahead. Mercedes-Benz wanted to complete it in 2 weeks.
Had the cars be driven over the rough roads at no more than 10 km/h, the cars would have survived. Or so everyone thought.
In 2016, shortly after Toyota had launched its all-new Toyota Hilux, Toyota invited 4x4 Magazine Australia to attempt to complete the same journey in the Hilux.
Naturally, the magazine staff asked Toyota for spare sets of dampers. Toyota said there’s no need for it. Just take the Hilux and go.
Not only that, Toyota didn't want the crew to stop too long to wait for fuel.
Instead, Toyota wanted them to carry the fuel for the entire journey, power generator, camping gear, all in the Hilux so they could keep pushing on.
The Hilux was carrying over 600 kg of supplies in its rear deck, on standard suspension, with zero spare dampers.
Like the G-Class, the Hilux did suffer some issues along the way, none of which hampered its progress – a cracked windscreen caused by stone chip, which later got bigger; interior trims were knocked loose by the rough terrain; and tie-down points in the rear deck were shaken loose. The latter was simply tightened in minutes.
As for the dampers, not once did any fail. Equally important was the fact that unlike the G-Class, the Hilux's air-conditioning worked perfectly throughout the journey.
What’s even more impressive is that the Hilux didn't cross corrugated tracks at the typically recommended 10 km/h, but at between 50 km/h to 80 km/h.
So why did the Hilux perform so well on a supposedly punishing trail, and it didn’t even need any modification.
“Roads maketh car” is Toyota’s product development philosophy.
You can’t build good cars unless you understand the different road conditions that customers in different parts of the world drive in. Toyota has the world’s biggest database of road conditions around the world.
Specifically for the Hilux, Toyota did more than 650,000 km of testing in Australia alone, because of the country's uniquely tough road conditions. The test covered not just production-spec cars, but also accessories like airbag-compatible bull bars.
"Roads train people, and people build cars," is something that Toyota's President and Master Driver, Akio Toyoda emphasized greatly.
The second part of the quote carries a deep meaning that's lost on most European car companies. People build cars (as opposed to machines), meaning to say that if humans rely too much on computer tools and loses the skills of craftmanship, they can no longer build better processes / machines to build the next-generation cars, because machines are only as good as the people who created them.
Hence Toyota's other tagline "Making ever better cars."
The Hilux benefitted from Toyota’s 5 Continents Drive, which started in 2014 and ran for 6 years, until 2020.
As its names suggests, the project involves driving various Toyota vehicles across five continents, to better understand first-hand the needs of their customers and each region’s unique’s challenges.
Toyota calls this act of getting your hands dirty, experiencing for yourself what customers around the world face in their daily life, as Genchi Genbutsu which simply translates as ‘go see for yourself.' It means to see, verify, and experience for yourself instead of just relying on paper reports (or emails).
And yes, the 5 Continents Drive also passed through Malaysia, in 2019.
This deep, first-hand experience understanding of how varied customers around the world use their cars is also the reason why Toyota doesn't believe in an electric vehicle-only solution for the world, and why it insists that a full range of options must be maintained because the world is too diverse for a one-size-fits-all solution.
In Malaysia, the G-Class costs close to a million Ringgit, RM 999,888 for a G350d AMG Line. It has its appeal. Its design is one of the most iconic, rivalling that of a Porsche 911. It's a design that cannot be changed, because it's already perfect as it is.
Yes the G-Class didn't fare as well as the Hilux but frankly, which G-Class buyer cares if the car cannot survive the Australian Outback? Have you ever seen a dirty G-Class?
Just don’t for one moment think that the million Ringgit G-Class is six times better than a RM 146,880 Toyota Hilux Rogue. Six times more appeal? Yes. Six times more talent? No.
But before you accuse this to be an advertisement for Toyota, then let's put it out here that we will wager that an Isuzu D-Max can do the same, if not better. It's just that the D-Max is not a big seller in Australia.
We didn't give the Isuzu D-Max the 2022 Wapcar.my Editors' Choice for Pick-up of the Year for no good reason.