2019 Mercedes Unimog. The top of the new Unimog lineup in terms of off-road ability is the new U5023 model, which replaces the previous U5000 nameplates. Sharing the nose layout with its shorter sibling, the U4023, these models are the freshest outside with a dramatic new single-wing grille to house the dinner-plate-sized Mercedes star emblem. The announcement that Mercedes-Benz is planning on introducing a pickup truck seriously has dropped jaws among media and enthusiasts alike, but is it really that crazy of an idea? After all, Mercedes has been producing trucks, vans, and hard-core SUVs for decades. Take, for example, the odd but awesome Unimog, which has been offered with a multitude of body styles, including a pickup. Of course, the new Benz pickup will be a smaller mid-size rig, but we think the ever-useful, somewhat massive Unimog will remain the ultimate expression of a truck wearing the three-pointed star.
Among the 10-plus variations and configurations of the Unimog, the U4023 and U5023 are by far the most reworked on the outside. The smaller models continue with a small grille cutout that is not nearly as current and attractive. The smaller U218 and other variants do have some style benefits of their own, including the four-pack of circular lighting pods in the outer bumper edges. The smaller models also get a much larger windshield glass and roof-mounted windshield wipers. For these hard-core off-road specials, the only difference between the U4023 and U5023 is the truck’s total payload capability: from 21,000 pounds up to 29,000 pounds in the U5023. The front grille, and redesigned hood and cab layout of the U5023 is quite radical for a machine who’s shadow has not changed much since the 1950s.
Wildly flowing grille edges look like they are from a concept car, and the grille’s full width of the Unimog’s face almost makes it seem like an unmanned vehicle at first. It is not, and requires a brave driver still. The LED running lights are paired with indicators and the low/high beam projectors quite low in the bumper, creating an unusual profile at night with no cab-top lights to let you know this is a massive beast coming toward you. Moving to the profile of the U5023, and things start to feel much more familiar. A new running board design and various additional mechanical boxes house the diesel after-treatment and other oily bits of the Unimog. This generation does have a much shorter overhang, increasing the already-formidable approach and departure angles to a barely-imaginable 44-degrees on approach, and 51 degrees on departure. A pickup truck bed is the standard configuration for these cargo haulers, but an enclosed cargo hold is visible in a few of the special purpose demo images: like firefighting, search and rescue, snow removal and hundreds more.
A double cab U5023 option is coming soon. New running boards are a welcome feature, and lead to a cabin that is vastly improved in terms of access and also safety, tech and comfort. While the smaller U218, U230 and other variations maintain the adjustable driving configuration from left-hand-drive to right-hand drive via a sliding wheel, the U5023 and its little brother now have a central dash control center and a set wheel position, either left-hand or right-hand drive. The U5023’s gear level is now moved from the lower console up to the steering column stalk (a la the S-Class), which makes a huge difference in the ability to carry three people comfortably inside. A new heating and A/C system promises much better comfort in extreme weather, while the new steering wheel has multifunction control pads and adjustable rake and reach for the first time. A big promise from Mercedes-Benz for this updated Unimog range is the vastly simplified off-road settings and controls. Locking differentials and multiple low-range gears for forward and reverse continue for 2014, but the U5023 also offers a dial-operated terrain selection mode (like the Range Rover and others).
This updates all the parameters to match the road, sand or ’Bad Surface.’ Included, as always, is the on-board adjustment of tire pressures. This system is critical for real off-roading in deep sand or in other conditions. Once through the obstacle, the tires can be re-inflated for safe road and highway travel. Integrated external cameras are a welcome feature for such a big machine, but the Unimog does not mention the external microphone that is included with the latest Dodge Ram HD trucks. This feature is very critical to hearing trailer hitching instructions over the sound of a big truck engine or in bad weather when you would not otherwise want your window down. The cab is still wide and huge, but now has much more room and a lower floor to give great legroom, especially versus the legs-forward position required by most normal SUVs. This is firmly like driving a truck, except this truck is quite special when the freeways turn to rocks and sand.
The Unimog U5023 is a hugely impressive machine. A giant turbo diesel four-cylinder replaces the previous in-line-six engines with more power, better driveability and greatly increased fuel efficiency. Engine smoothness and throttle response are said to be the big improvements, while the quicker transmission improves acceleration pace. Acceleration is more accurate than “sprint” for any Unimog, as the pace is leisurely while the engine thrums away and the pneumatic automatic fires off speedier changes than last year’s autobox. Performance figures are very broad and should really not be directly compared with road cars. After all, no F-350 can haul big weight over rough ground like the Unimog. An estimates 22 seconds to 60 mph is projected outside the EU, whereas in the European Union an 18-second sprint to 50 mph is realistic. These times, it is worth noting, are possible both empty and with a full load.
That is what this truck is geared to do. An EU-wide large truck speed cap is set at 56 mph, but the Unimog is geared for at least 95 mph before its brick-wall aerodynamic drag ends the fun. Fully synchronized electro-pneumatic transmission with its eight forward and six reverse gears translates the engine performance into tractive power. A special off-road gear group with an additional eight forward and eight reverse gears is available for slow driving speeds. The transmission is characterised by its very smooth and ffective running and long life span. And the synchronised reversing group Electronic Quick Reverse makes it much easier and quicker to change direction while driving. Mercedes-Benz BlueEFFICIENCY Power technology does more than just comply with the standards required by Euro VI.
It combines the greatest efficiency with environmental conservation. Four-valve technology and Common Rail high-pressure injection with 2400 bar make them even more effective. After a brief stint of selling Unimogs in the U.S. for a few years in the early 2000s through Freightliner dealers, the Unimog was pulled from the Mercedes-Benz price sheet after failing to comply with recent EPA emissions rules.We have an email in to Mercedes-Benz HQ in Germany to determine if these new Euro6 engines will allow the Unimog to be road-legal in America. More relaxed rules in Canada means that our northern neighbor has plenty of pre-owned Unimog’s to go around.
Pricing is not yet available from Mercedes, but is estimated at the equivalent of about $250,000 before customization and attachment up-fitting to become a fire truck, etc.