There’s no terrain or task a Mercedes-Benz Unimog can’t tackle, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room left for improvement. Although spurred in part by new Euro 6 emission standards, Daimler significantly upgraded its Unimog model portfolio.
The mid-range Unimog U300/U400/U500 “implement carriers” broke a lot of new ground when they debuted in 2000. Despite the fact these new models share a basic cab design with those trucks, there’s still plenty new.
First, the model range is shifted slightly. The previous light duty U20 – which used a cab from a Brazilian Mercedes-Benz medium-duty truck – is no more, but Mercedes isn’t abandoning the light-duty Unimog segment. Instead, those models are derived from the new medium-range line.
This brings about a new naming system – U stands for Unimog, of course, but the first number roughly points to the size and capacity of the truck, while the last two numbers indicate power. A U 216, for example, is a light-duty Unimog with 160 hp on tap, while a U 530 is a medium-duty ‘Mog packing 300 hp.
The new light/mid-range Unimogs retain the distinctive, upright composite cab and its expansive front windshield, but they no longer lack noses. A new front fascia replaces the vestigal grille found on prior models, and is more upright and rectangular – perhaps an attempt to visually link these models to their larger siblings. This revision also forced the windshield wiper motors to move to the roof. The license plate mount also moved to the roof, largely to satisfy owners who frequently utilize front-mounted implements.
New front bumpers feature individual projector headlamp units instead of a one-piece composite multi-beam array. Hydraulic connectors – key for running a variety of different attachments – are now neatly grouped in a square cutaway located just inset of the headlamp projectors.
The biggest changes lurk beneath the cab. All Unimogs are now compliant with Euro 6 emission standards, thanks in no small part to two new engines. A 5.1-liter turbo-diesel I-4 is found in U 216, U 218, U 318, and U 423 models, while a 7.7-liter turbo-diesel I-6 is packed into U 427, U 430, U 527, and U530 models. Both engines boast dual overhead cams, crossflow cylinder heads, four valves per cylinder, and variable cam timing. By far, the U 430 and 530 models are the most impressive from a power perspective, offering 300 hp and a peak torque of 884 lb-ft.
Daimler has previously indicated the Unimog would retain its familiar semi-automatic gearbox with eight forward speeds and six reverse gears, along with an extra pair of reverse gears and two sets of eight low-range gears as optional extras. Also optional is an improved hydrostatic section, which allows the truck to change direction without coming to a complete stop at speeds up to 31 mph.
While Mercedes-Benz views the light- and medium-range Unimogs as its versatile workhorses, the heavy-duty Unimogs – whose basic designs date back to the mid 1970s — are its ultimate off-road weapons.
As the new names suggest, both the 4000 and 5000-range Unimogs gain the same new 5.5-liter turbo-diesel I-4 found in its smaller siblings. Here, output is tuned to 230 hp and a peak torque of 663 lb-ft. Unsurprisingly, the transmission retains eight forward speeds, six reverse gears, and – if so desired – low-range crawler gears. The gearbox remains an electromechanical semi-automatic design, although it has been tweaked to allow for quicker shift times.
Adding this engine – along with its cooling and emissions hardware — required a bit of modification to both the chassis and cab. As such, it now sits three feet further back in the frame than before. That required modifying the cab structure to accommodate the new packaging, but Daimler also tweaked regular cab models, stretching its overall length by 4.7 inches and raising the roof. Another perk of the new engine position: it now allows for a power-take off to be powered directly by the engine, in addition to the typical transmission-driven PTO options.
Cosmetically, the new trucks stray little from their previous appearance, although they do gain the same projector headlamps as the smaller Unimogs, along with a more aggressive grille insert. Inside, the dashboard is all-new, and — for the first time in decades – feels relatively modern. A new gauge cluster boasts a full-color LCD screen controlled through the multi-function steering wheel controls, while the center stack is more organic and organized than ever before.
Mercedes-Benz notes the Unimog is sold in over 130 countries across the world, but unless Daimler has a sudden change of heart, don’t expect any brand-new Unimog models to find a home in North America without extensive third-party modifications and expensive certification.