by Scott Brady

Conceived in 2009, the Mercedes Entdecker, designed by Alex Beccaria and Stanley Illman, was to be the ultimate overland wagon. Their goal was simple: create the most capable long-distance overland vehicle available—and spare no expense to do so. By physical dimension alone, the Entdecker varies greatly from larger overland trucks, or lorries. It is smaller, more nimble, and designed for the narrow lanes of colonial towns of the old world—or maneuvering around the edge of a washed-out road in the Atlas Mountains. The concept appeals to me personally, as I have a strong affinity to the traditional wagon-based platforms. The wheelbase, large windows, solid axles and coil spring suspension, as well as the technical prowess rewards the driver. Sharing space on the trophy shelf with 70-series Land Cruisers, Defender 110s and Patrols, the G-Class is certainly amongst the Best of Breed.

The Foundation

The base platform for the Entdecker is the 461 commercial G-Wagen. Specified with the armor-rated axles, chassis and suspension, it is intentionally robust and spartan. Despite sporting a diesel mill, the modern 3.0L V6 is derived from complex sensor systems and numerous computers. Long gone are the days of diesel engines that will continue to run without any 12v power. One feature, which is a bit of a disappointment, is the loss of a traditional 4WD lever and mechanical locker controls. These are replaced with membrane switches on a complex center-stack—engaging low-range and locking differentials rests at the tip of a finger.

The fuse block is mounted high in the center console—good for fording high water, but difficult to access if needed. The interior materials are heavy on plastic, but the fit and finish is good. Clearly, this model is intended to be hosed and wiped down in the field. All of the surfaces are black. Hot in the summer, yes, but I like the serious nature of the cockpit. In typical G-Wagen fashion, system controls are complex and cryptic, leaving the driver wondering if the button they activated sets the cruise control, or activates the passenger ejection seat. Despite this, and a few ergonomics issues, the Entdecker offers Mercedes quality and engineering on a solid platform.

The Unicat Systems

To properly describe every modification could consume an entire issue of Overland Journal, so emphasis will be on key attributes. Starting at the roofline, Unicat installed a Front Runner Slim Line roof rack and carbon-fiber Maggiolina roof tent from AutoHome. I am not a fan of roof loads, but this system is thoughtful and weighs just over 100 lbs. Glancing at the exterior, notable accessories include wire guards for all lights, a Canadian military-spec snorkel and Unimog side mirrors. Hot shower connectors are recessed into a custom panel in the rear bumper. I appreciate modifications that are practical and clean.

With twin National Luna fridges and custom drawer system, things get more interesting inside. A half-dozen Alubox cases tethered with a Stratchet ride atop the drawers. Forward is an 88-liter water tank and two auxiliary fuel cells. In total, the Entdecker carries 230 liters of fuel. Adjacent to the fuel tanks are twin air compressors—ensuring redundancy and quick fill times.

Other modifications include heated G-Wagen 463 seats, a 10-inch LCD monitor with input jacks, and a hidden Nexcom carputer unit. The MUD-UK dash pod is loaded with an iPhone doc, Garmin GPS, and dual-band HAM radio. The center stack hosts a Becker Grand Prix stereo, 12v and 24v power points, twin USB outlets and an Iridium Satellite phone. Below the HVAC controls rides a master battery disconnect and 4WD controls. Personally, I feel the electronics overwhelm the dash and are somewhat distracting. (My judgment may have been jaded after bouncing through 23 countries (2010 Mongol Rally) in a vehicle worth less than the Entdecker’s wheels). I also expect that electronics lovers will look at it as the Shangri-La of Teutonic wizardry.

“Having traveled about 400,000 km over 30 years through the most remote and hostile terrain in Africa in Mercedes vehicles and never once needing a tow, we knew the Mercedes 461 was the platform on which to build the ultimate expedition vehicle.” – Stanley Illman

Can you buy an Entdecker?

The easy answer is yes, although there are really two means of doing this. My perspective on the Entdecker is that it is most useful in the more ‘interesting’ parts of the world, so there is little incentive to have the vehicle actually registered in the United States. Buy the vehicle and have it registered in South Africa or in Switzerland. Both are easy to do and then the vehicle can just be shipped from continent to continent as you choose to explore with it. Being a $200,000 vehicle, these logistics should be within the budget of the buyer.

To have an Entdecker in North America, you will need to build your own. Fortunately, a G500 can be purchased with low mileage and the team at Front Runner USA can bring in all of the important parts and accessories to manage the conversion. It would not be a 461 G-Class with a diesel, but it would be the next best thing.

On-Road Performance

At first glance, one would expect the Entdecker to perform well on the dirt, but suffer on hardened roads. In reality, minimal engine noise penetrates the cab, and the aggressive BFGoodrich tires emit barely a rumble. The seats are supremely comfortable and widely adjustable, the steering wheel leather-wrapped, and the gauge cluster is large and easily viewed—though the center console could use some padding, as could the door. Looking over the wheel, the windsceen provides a commanding view of the road. The 3.0L diesel pulls strong and is quiet and refined. Turbo boost arrives in a fluid manner with minimal lag, allowing easy throttle modulation. Equipped with Eibach springs, handling is good given the vehicle’s size and mass. Brake modulation at speed is excellent, and inspires confidence. However, at low speed the brake boost is too aggressive, which is fatiguing and makes smooth stops a challenge.

Technical Terrain Performance

At low speed and rpm, torque from the diesel, combined with near-perfect accelerator modulation, inspired confidence. Left-foot braking was slightly more challenging because of the sensitive nature of the brakes. In a particularly rocky assent, and with all three locking differentials engaged, the Entdecker climbed slowly and securely with no drama. The vehicle fared well in cross-axle terrain, though in severe situations it may see its articulation limitations—we never found that limit, but this is worth noting. For higher-speed work the driver can unlock the center differential and disable the ABS. With the ABS off the 461 stops straight and quickly on gravel roads, and while cornering, the front end has minimal understeer and a solid feel.

Conclusions

As expected, the Entdecker is an exceptional dirt performer and it will do well in deserts, dunes, mud and moderate rock obstacles. It is without question one of the most well-executed and thoughtful vehicle conversions we have tested. However, the spare-no-expense approach comes with a hefty price tag. To land one in your driveway will require lots of cash—150,000 Euros to be exact (about $200,000 USD). That is not to say the vehicle isn’t a fair value, but it does step outside the affordability range for all but the most affluent or committed enthusiasts. I appreciate vehicles like this. It shows what is possible. Still curious about the Entdecker? Check out another Entdecker article we’ve done here. [link]

Specifications

2010 Mercedes G-Class Entdecker

  • 461 Commercial G-Wagen with HD axle package
  • 3.0L turbo diesel
  • Canadian specification snorkel
  • Five-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift
  • Solid front axle with coil suspension and locking differential
  • Solid rear axle with coil suspension and locking differential
  • 16″ Hutchinson beadlock wheels
  • 235/85 R16 BFGoodrich Mud Terrain tires
  • 463 factory seats

Unicat Exterior Modifications

  • Tow pin bumper
  • Light guards
  • Twin alternators
  • Hepa HVAC filter
  • Unimog side mirrors
  • Front Runner Slimline roof rack
  • AutoHome carbon fiber Maggiolina
  • Titanium shovel
  • Exterior shower connection
  • HD rear tire swing out
  • Tire cover and trash storage

Unicat Interior Modifications

  • MUD-UK headliner map storage
  • 10″ LCD navigation screen
  • NexCom onboard computer with 3G
  • Iridium satellite phone
  • iPhone dock
  • Garmin GPS
  • 5v, 12v and 24v outlets
  • Custom drawer system
  • Twin auxiliary fuel tanks
  • Water tank
  • Twin National Luna 50L fridge units
  • Twin air compressors
  • Overhead net storage
  • Alubox storage units
  • Stratchet tie downs
  • Twin rear door tables

The Mercedes Geländewagen Entdecker

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About the Author: Scott Brady

Scott is the publisher and founder of Expedition Portal and the co-founder of Overland Journal. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents, including being part of the first American team to cross Antarctica (with Expeditions 7). Scott has circumnavigated the globe overland three times and was the first American driver to win the Outback Challenge. He lives in Prescott, Arizona