Snow joke heading for the hills in a Mercedes-Benz G-Professional
Daytime temperatures into the minus figures can't be wrong - we're in the middle of winter. It's a doozy of a winter too, with records for cold, wet and wind being broken seemingly every week.
Hardly the ideal environment for the South Island to host the national media launch of a new vehicle, is it?
As it turns out, this time around the environment and the cold and wet conditions were perfect, because the vehicle the subject of the launch can claim to be the toughest ute available for purchase by the public in New Zealand.
The ute is the Mercedes-Benz G-Professional, which like its sibling the G-Wagen was originally designed way back in the late 1970s purely for military use, but which is now being made available for public consumption. Well - not really. New Zealand and Australia are the only two countries in the world where the G-Professional can be purchased by the public.
And while over the years the G-Wagen has morphed from a utilitarian sort of wagon into something more comfortable, those who desire to stump up the $129,000 to buy one of the strictly two-seater cab/chassis G-Professional utes, will be buying something that hasn't much changed in its basic design in years. It's a tough, uncompromising, heavy-duty ute.
So who would buy one? After all, the G-Professional is definitely not what one would describe as an urban warrior - even a rear window is an option; instead the driver has to rely on a pair of very large extended door mirrors to check what's behind.
Other options? They are restricted to a winch preparation package for $1500, a $1900 walk-on bonnet rated to carry 100kg and with a non-slip coating, a cyclonic air filter that would replace a standard snorkel for $500, and (finally, something with comfort in mind) heated seats for $900.
It makes sense then that customers so far in Australia have included the defence force, parks management people, electricity network companies, and fire services. The G-Professional has only just arrived in New Zealand, and it seems obvious that potential customers will be same.
And maybe, a few South Island high country farmers will also choose to buy one. Which probably explains why members of the country's motoring media found themselves in frigid conditions at Lake Coleridge Station way inland from Christchurch, waiting to have a go in a single example of the G-Professional.
Immediate impression of the G-Professional is that it is a seriously uncompromising truck. Built on an extremely strong ladder chassis and with such features as full under-body protection, heaps of tow lashings, a bull bar, snorkel, the extended door mirrors and even guards for the headlights and indicator lights, it is fitted with reinforced 16-inch alloy wheels that are shod with all-terrain tyres.
So from a design point of view, this ute with its very square body is designed to go almost anywhere. And here are some more statistics that underline its ability off the road: the ute has a 245mm ground clearance, 650mm wading depth, a 38 degree approach angle, 29 degree departure angle, and 22 degree ramp-over angle.
Armed with all that information, we piled aboard the G-Professional for our turn at a high-country drive. First thing we noticed was that the interior is very utilitarian, with the dominant feature being a push-button panel in the centre console that operates three differential locks plus high and low ratios. Yes, three diff-locks, which helps give this vehicle extreme off-road ability.
They're very easy to operate. We headed down an unsealed road for a short distance before turning off into a paddock, where we were asked to hit all three diff lock buttons but keep the five-speed automatic transmission in High ratio, so we could maintain momentum as we took on some very muddy and extremely rutted uphill tracks.
The ute and its 135kW/440Nm 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel took on the tracks with ease, almost laughing off the challenge. Meanwhile we bounced our way around our seats, me holding on to the steering wheel for dear life.
Soon we found ourselves way above the homestead, soaking up magnificent views of snow-covered hills before beginning the downhill slither back to the homstead. Job done in what must rate as one of the most exotic light-commercial vehicles around.
At $129,000 this Mercedes-Benz is expensive - in fact it is more than $50,000 more expensive than that other old-school heavy-duty ute available in New Zealand, the venerable Toyota Land Cruiser 70-Series. But what a ute it is, both in terms of its strangely attractive utilitarian looks and specification, and in its sheer ability off the road.