In the world of utilitarian power rangers, Mercedes-Benz’ Unimog and Econic transporter rank up there as two of the toughest, most versatile vehicles available. Mercedes Special Truck division is hoping to maintain that reputation with the unveiling of its latest models.


Let’s get the aesthetics out of the way. If the
Unimog were in a beauty pageant it would win for Most Utilitarian of the show. With a face only a mother could love, the Unimog is straight-up about the grunt work and versatile functionality, and less concerned about superficial impressions.

Celebrating its 62nd birthday this year, Unimog (a German acronym for “Universal Motor Device”) is a no holds barred, heavy-duty vehicle of strict work ethics and architecture. No flashy chrome add-ons, no excess bells or hoo-ha whistles here people, just straight 100 percent German-get-the-job-done functionality. I believe the professional term is "beautifully ugly."

The job of powering the Unimog is taken up by no less than seven engine options. To comply with strict emission standards two BlueEfficiency diesel engines are available; a four-cylinder and six cylinder option with power output ranging from 115 kW (156 hp) and 260 kW (354 hp). The latter is a 7.7 liter beast of a thing developing 885 lb.ft. of torque to help pull trains and buildings and such. In addition to the diesel options, gas engines are now also available. According to Mercedes, each engine option has been improved in the areas of efficiency, performance and emissions in an effort to comply with the new Europe-wide Euro VI emission standards in effect in 2014.

To meet almost every industrial situation imaginable, Mercedes-Benz now has ten Unimogs to choose from. So do you go with the Unimog U 216 or the Unimog U 5024? The U 216, being the more compact of the lot. To decipher the many alpha-numeric variations, Mercedes points out that the first number denotes relative vehicle size, with the two following numbers denoting horsepower i.e. a U 423 would run a larger “4-series” body, and sport a 230 hp engine.

The new range sees Unimog transmissions improved for shorter gear changes and an increased life span. Off-road Unimogs use eight forward and six reverse gears, with an optional crawler gear for extreme off-road use with a speed range of 2.5 – 35 km/h (1.5 – 22 mph). The big Unimogs – U 4023 and U 5023 – feature beefed up axles and frames allowing for gross vehicle weights of 10.3 tonnes and 14.5 tonnes respectively.

A completely redesigned panoramic cab, new work and power hydraulics systems are also part of the upgrades. The multifunction steering wheel, adjustable steering column, pitman arm control, multifunction touch-keys and instrument cluster with a large display get an overhaul, and a new stronger heating and ventilation system has been added.

The vehicle's many hydraulic ports located about the chassis and frame, plus the system’s overall flexibility, is where the Unimog secures its place as a genuine multifunctional work tool. Since terrain is rarely ideal where Unimogs play, a synergetic traction drive system has been employed. This system allows drivers to change over from manual to hydrostatic transmission (hydraulically powered) while the vehicle is moving.

The redesigned Unimog central tire inflation system known as "Tirecontrol Plus" enable scorrect tire pressures to be chosen according to terrain requirements. Pre-programmed modes for road, sand and "bad surface" can be chosen through a dash mounted display with tire pressures raised or lowered accordingly.

Externally, Unimog’s revised radiator, bumpers and headlamp treatments help distinguish it from previous versions ... but still won’t help it win any beauty contests anytime soon.

Econic Euro VI

In contrast to the Unimog, the Econic Euro VI special-purpose vehicle is cuts a slightly-less utilitarian cloth with its clean Euro styling. Signature low-entry doors that slide back help with visibility and safety for inner city works, while the reworked cockpit has also received functional and ergonomic updates. More stowage space has been made available, along with newly arranged air vents, new buttons, reconfigured gear shift, an electric sunblind and upgraded insulation. The coffee cup holder has even relocated as part of the effort to make the work space more user friendly and comfortable.

Emissions have also been pared-back in the new Econic Euro VI. Mercedes-Benz reports a reduction of emissions and particulate matter by a total of 90 percent in comparison with the previous Euro V model. Two six-cylinder, 7.7 l OM 936 LA engines are used in the new Econic series, providing a base output of 220 kW (299 hp) and a peak output of 260 kW (354 hp). Managing power to the wheels is done via a six-gear Allison automatic transmission fitted with Eco-software designed for fuel efficiency and easier stop/start driving. Fuel savings thanks to the more efficient engine offerings are reported at up to four percent.

The Econic boasts a diverse array of drive-train arrangements. Initially the Econic will come with either 4x2, 6x4 or 6x2/4 axle configurations, each with electro-hydraulically progressive steered leading and trailed axles. Two and three-axled versions are also available in various wheelbases with lengths from 3.45 meters up to 5.7 meters. To further customize the ride, the low-entry cab is also available in different heights of 1.7 meters tall (interior height) and 1.3 meters for the shorter version.

Econic’s list of multi-tasking abilities also makes for attractive commercial fodder. It can be used for garbage collection, street-sweeping, food delivery, or by the fire department when fitted with a turntable ladder or auxiliary equipment. This versatility is made possible by hole-patterns that run along the side supports to allow for the position of the rear cross member of the chassis to be adjusted according to need.

Mercedes-Benz’ new Unimog and Econic Euro VI are slated to roll off the assembly line in September.

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