Our Project G-Class has been completed to perfection. To put it to the test on various surfaces and give it the Leisure Wheels stamp of approval, we joined Bennie van Rensburg and his wife, Thelma (and their Yorkie, Priscilla) on a trip to the farm they inherited in the Kalahari.
For readers who have not followed the evolvement of our project Mercedes-Benz G300 Professional, here is the background.
Bennie van Rensburg, sales executive at Mercedes-Benz Centurion, came up with the idea of creating the ultimate overlander from an already iconic – and dare we say perfect – 4×4.
“Mercedes-Benz prides itself on doing its utmost to understand its customers and their requirements,” says Bennie. “At our dealership, we realised that our G-Class customers fell into three very distinct categories.”
The G63 AMG customer is not necessarily an avid off-roader or a person who purchases the vehicle just for its mind-numbing performance. These are customers who want to stand out from the crowd.
“They are very successful business people or entrepreneurs for whom image is crucial. On all levels – be it luxury, styling or performance – the G63 AMG will stand out in any company, and this is exactly what these customers want. Their vehicles will be the talking point in any situation. The G63 fits the bill at every level.”
The G350 BlueTEC and G500 customer is essentially the same type of person – one who wants to own a G-Class based on the vehicle’s heritage and performance, specifically off-road.
“However, this customer is likely to use the G-Class on a daily basis to commute to the office and back, but will also use the vehicle over weekends for whatever purpose takes their fancy. The G-Class, in this specification level, fits any environment. It never looks out of place off-road (naturally), but looks equally at home at the bluechip hotel or restaurant.”
According to Bennie, the G300 Professional owner is a customer who has very specific requirements. The perceived high cost of the vehicle (and this is prevalent only in the eyes of those who do not understand it) has absolutely no effect on this customer’s buying decision.
“This person knows what he wants and understands fully that the G300 Professional will meet and even exceed all his requirements. This customer wants the ultimate boskar and will use it virtually exclusively for that purpose. He sees the G300 Professional as the ultimate off-roader, doing trails, competing in 4×4 competitions and, importantly, as an expedition or overland vehicle. The G300 Professional is the kind of vehicle in which the owner can happily travel north of our borders.
“We have found that these customers, almost all the time, adapt the vehicle to suit their requirements better. The factory options available bear this out.
“However, this kind of customer also has other requirements in terms of packing systems, extra lights, fridges and increased ground clearance – to name a few. The vehicle’s warranty is often of no real importance.
“With this in mind, Mercedes-Benz Centurion, together with Arctic Trucks, Gary Swemmer of TJM Africa and other interested parties, developed this vehicle. Before we began, we spoke to a number of G300 Professional owners and they told us a number of things they would like to see in the vehicle.
“Some of the accessories fitted to this car are available from Europe but, unfortunately, there is a time and cost implication which makes acquiring them difficult, hence the local development.
“In terms of the warranty, there is an option through a local company to back the vehicle. We’ve been fortunate enough to not only build this car but to test it extensively over the past months. We’ve used it as a trail vehicle and overlander, and have even lived out of the vehicle. We can confidently say this G300 Professional passed all its tests with flying colours, completely exceeding our expectations.”
And this is where the Leisure Wheels trip to the Kalahari with Bennie, Thelma, and their Yorkie, Priscilla (queen of the desert) kicked off.
A Leisure Wheels team travelled in a RAV4 2.5 AWD VX to Molopo Lodge, near Askam, where we spent the night. Also on our itinerary – after the stint with the G-Wagon – was the town of Kakamas for another article, so we followed Bennie, Thelma and Priscilla, who led the way in the Merc.
The 150km stretch of gravel between Van Zylsrus and Askam played havoc with the Rav, and we struggled to keep up. At times, I realised we were going too fast in those conditions, but did not want to fall too far behind. Regular travellers on this road will attest to its poor condition and the all-in-all unpleasurable driving experience. Or perhaps it just needed a grader to clean it up.
Next morning we all bundled into the G-Wagon and hit the road for Thelma’s family farm, about 80km from Askam. I am usually not a good passenger and prefer driving but here I was, a passenger next to Bennie with the two wives and the doggie in the back.
The rear legroom is generous and offers enough space to make a long journey a pleasant one. From the feedback received, the passengers would have been ready for a much longer haul, Priscilla included.
I was immediately impressed by the comfort in the G-Wagon, even on the rough dirt roads. At times, when Bennie took a turn too fast for my liking, I was amazed at how the vehicle stuck to the surface and cruised happily on. The new suspension and wider wheels made all the difference in its handling at high speeds.
The farm was stunning – dune upon dune of red sand surrounding a quaint farmhouse. We stopped at the house to get some firewood before heading into the dunes, where Bennie and Thelma were treating us to a braai.
After a delectable Kalahari lunch of springbok wors, skaaptjops and Thelma’s very unusual potato salad (see the recipe elsewhere), we headed deeper into the dunes for some dune-play and to check out how the G-Wagon performed in those conditions.
Is it really so much better than the standard model? Yes, for me personally, it all made sense now. Leisure Wheels will most certainly recommend the conversions to anyone who can afford them. I was surprised that the vehicle felt so much better – in all road conditions – with the benefit of the suspension and wheel conversions.
Leaving for Kakamas the following day in the Rav was quite a reality check. One could understand why G-Wagon owners maintain that it is only those who cannot afford them who feel these magnificent vehicles are pricey. If one has the money, there simply is no comparison!
Just one drawback, in the city: Fully fitted, the G-Wagon does not particularly like parking areas at shopping centres with a low access height.
Something interesting that Bennie mentioned was that there were customers who bought a G300 Professional and fell so completely in love with it that they also purchased the G350 BlueTEC for everyday use. Now, there is something to aspire to…
For more information:
Bennie van Rensburg
Tel: 012 641 3000
Mobile: 082 770 8644
email: [email protected]