Military Mercedes test drive

These are the only two Mercedes Benz LAPVs in Australia. They are bullet-proof, bomb-proof and battle ready. So tough, they even trusted us with them.

4X4 Australia was given exclusive access to the only two Mercedes Benz LAPV (Light Armoured Patrol Vehicle) vehicles in Australia, on loan as a deal with the ADF (Australian Defence Forces).

The ADF is currently in the process of replacing its aging fleet of Land Rovers with Mercedes Benz 461 G-Wagons, on which the LAPV is based, and already some 1800 of them are in service here with our troops. The military Gs come in various guises including 4x4, 6x6, single-cab, extra-cab, soft top and other specialist styles and eventually there will be 2200 of them in use by the ADF.

The 461 G is the heavy duty version of the G-Wagen while the G 350 BlueTEC, G 500 and G 63 G-Class models, that you can buy from your Benz dealer, are the civilian 463 version. The LAPV is the next step up, offering armoured protection for its occupants when patrolling unfriendly territories.

For the ADF, the LAPV would sit in its range of vehicles in between the 461 G and the Australian-made Hawkei. The Hawkei is manufactured by Thales, the same people that make the Bushmaster that sits further up the heavy duty armoured vehicle ranks.

The LAPV is offered in two versions — the LAPV 5.4 and the LAPV 6.1, the numbers referring to the GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) of the tougher than your average G-Wagen trucks. The 6.1 is the big beastie-looking one riding high on the beadlock rims, while the 5.4 is the smaller model and a lot like the G-Wagen.

The main change to the LAPV, that distinguishes its appearance from the regular 461 G-Wagen, is the body which is an armoured monocoque cabin that replaces the standard Mercedes Benz body. The monocoque is plated with steel and thick, fixed, bullet proof glass, or transparent armour in military speak, to resist a 7.62mm calibre round. Additional steel is used around the door openings and window jambs to ensure ballistics can’t find any weaknesses there and the occupants are kept safe.

The monocoque body is available in a variety of configurations to suit different applications including personnel carrier, canine carrier, military police and medical vehicles. The cabin has a roof porthole and a mount for a remote controlled machine gun, as on the 6.1 shown here.

Both LAPVs have STANAG Level 2 protection against ballistics, the 5.4 has Level 1 mine protection and the 6.1 is at Level 2a. The extra mine protection for the 6.1 comes from its additional ride height courtesy of those massive 37 inch tall, run flat equipped Pro Comp tyres and the portal axles that raise the belly further from the track where IEDs can be hidden. The floor in both vehicles incorporates a blast panel to absorb the force of explosions from IEDs used by guerrilla forces. The 6.1’s floor is also contoured to direct the force away from under the cabin but it’s a compromise between the depth of the floor and ground (hence explosion) clearance.

As you would expect, all this protection adds weight and the LAPV 5.4 tips the scales at around 4,550kg depending on final spec and the 6.1 at 4,800kg. This puts their 5.4 and 6.1-tonne GVMs in to perspective giving the LAPV’s payloads on par with similar sized civilian vehicles. It’s just that payload is much better protected in one of these.

The power train in both vehicles is the same as what is found under the G-Wagens currently used by ADF and starts with Benz’s well proven 3.0L V6 turbo diesel engine. In this case, it is tuned to Euro 3 emissions so it will run on just about anything that burns and it puts out 135kW and 350Nm between 1600 and 2600rpm. Higher tuned versions of this engine, in Benz passenger cars, put out 190kW and 620Nm.

The transmissions are a 5-speed automatic, again in line with all the G’s in use by the ADF. There are no manual gearboxes. Drive is permanent 4x4 and the diffs in the LAPV 5.4 are standard 461 G-Wagen units but braced and fitted with the standard run of three manually activated lockers. The 6.1 has the same drive system but it benefits from the portal axles that give 189mm of extra ground clearance at 412mm over the 5.4’s 223mm. This also increases the wading depth to 800mm over the 600mm of the non-portal axle vehicle.

HOW’S IT DRIVE?

As the only two vehicles of their kind here in Australia, it was understandable that Mercedes Benz wasn’t about to hand the LAPVs out to us for a road test. In fact, the vehicles were here for display purposes only and there were restrictions on who could drive them. Mercedes Benz Australia kindly offered to transport the two left-hand drive vehicles to the Melbourne 4x4 Training Centre at Weribee for an exclusive drive for us. They also brought along the new G 500 G-Class for comparison.

Even on this private test track, we weren’t allowed to drive the LAPV 6.1 but just sitting inside the armoured cockpit was a thrill. It was driven by a Mercedes Benz staffer and it soon became evident that its locking diffs weren’t operational. We were allowed behind the wheel of the LAPV 5.4.

Once you get over the massive weight of the doors when climbing in to the LAPV, and the LHD configuration, it is just like any other ADF G-461 to drive. It was very similar to the RHD G-Professional we drive on the Canning Stock Route. On this hot summer’s day, the aircon was cranked up to the max as the bullet-proof windows can’t be opened and the rear view camera proved essential for reversing as rearward visibility is massively limited. The seats are sculpted sports-style buckets and there were four of them in this 5.4, each fitted with inertia-reel retractable 5-point safety harnesses. These seats are comfortable and you’d have this combo in any touring 4x4 vehicle if you could. The ADF guys and girls would no doubt appreciate them in their G-Wagens.

The interior of the G 461 is nothing like that in a 463 G-Class. All the luxury and entertainment features are gone and it’s a bare basic interior that greets driver and passengers. But all the heavy duty hardware you want and need is still there.

The three buttons for the locking diffs, that sit high on the dash of the 463, are lower in the purposeful console of the 461 but just as easy to operate. The vehicle has a 60-degree climbing ability and easily made it up a rutted climb at the 4x4 track with the centre and rear diff locks activated. All three were locked in for the deep mud bog, and after an initial hesitation at the deepest point the G powered through.

As this was an off road only drive, we can’t comment on the on road ride. Suffice to say we think it could be a bit noisy with the lack of sound deadener or insulation to the cabin. The LAPV 5.6 is speed limited to 120km/h while the 6.1 tops out at 140km/h, still fast enough when you consider the weight of these rigs.

There is no list price on the LAPV for public consumption but you wouldn’t get much change from half-a million-dollars if you could convince Benz to sell one to you. 

 

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