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Digging in deeply

December 12, 2018
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Mercedes-Benz Trucks has (finally) expanded its range of Unimog specialised trucks in South Africa, with a model designed specifically for the agricultural sector. GAVIN MYERS gets acquainted with the first unit to land.

The Unimog U 4000/U 5000 model range is well known in South Africa for its bulletproof ruggedness, customisability and suitability for a multitude of applications. Now, another kind of Unimog has arrived – a far more compact, high-tech machine that, in fact, takes the Mog back to its roots.

Back in 1946, the Unimog made its debut as a farming machine and in 1972 Mercedes-Benz launched the MB-trac which was based on Unimog components. Over the years more than 800 of these have been sold locally and, according to Mario Alvelos, business development manager, specialised trucks, many are still in use today.

With the new UGE-series U529 model, Mercedes-Benz aims to bring a new level of speed, productivity and safety to agriculture. (Interestingly, it can also be employed in the timber industry.)

“You need tractors in the farming world, but there are some tasks that can be done more efficiently using a Unimog,” says Alvelos. “We asked farmers in South Africa what they needed. The U529 is a four-season truck… It is fire truck in the dry winter months and a harvester in autumn. It can be used for silage and cattle feeding in summer and spreading fertiliser in spring. All of these tasks can be done faster with the U529 than with a tractor,” he says as an example.

Indeed, at the launch event during November, we were able to witness the U529 tackle the fields with a variety of implements in tow. Its rear 210 kW, 1:1 mechanical power take off (PTO) ensures minimal efficiency loss. A front 160 kW PTO is optional.

Impressively, the U529 is powered by a mere 7,7-litre engine that produces just 210 kW (286 hp). However, its 1 100 Nm torque is made available at just 1 150 r/min. This is paired with permanent all-wheel drive and a Unimog
UG 100 automated transmission with a working range of 16 forward and 12 reverse speeds.

An 85 kW infinitely variable hydrostatic drive can take over for operations requiring constant engine revs or precise speed control up to 50 km/h.

A payload of up to 40-t gross combination mass is available, depending on configuration. The U529’s fuel consumption is claimed at 24 l/hour; up to 20-percent lower than a 200 kW tractor when hauling at 500 hours/year.

A key feature of the U529 is its standard-fit Central Tyre Inflation System (CTIS), which allows tyre pressures to be adjusted between 1,2 and 4,5 bar; aiding grip or ride comfort. “It minimises wear and tear of tyres and increases tyre life by up to 25 percent,” comments Alvelos.

Indeed, the high-tech U529 is made to be as comfortable and easy to operate as possible. The high cab, short nose and panoramic windscreen makes for vast visibility and a standard camera system is employed with up to four remote cameras available.

All equipment, hydraulics and drive functions are operational via the multifunction joystick. The driver’s seat is air suspended and the air-conditioning system incorporates charcoal filters to block out dust and other contaminants.

“The technology in the U529 is bulletproof; there are many built-in securities to prevent unskilled employees from breaking anything,” Alvelos notes.

Alvelos says that the U529 is not intended to replace the tractor… “Mid-range tractors are ever more employed in roles such as road transport and PTO work, where brute pulling power is not necessarily required all the time. This has created the need for a machine like the Unimog.”

The U529 comes standard with a four-year/5 000-hour warranty, while maintenance intervals are set at 1 200 hours.

My life has always revolved around anything with wheels and an engine. It doesn’t matter if its an old banger, the latest hot-hatch or a fancy 4×4 – any excuse is a good excuse to take it for a cruise, spank it at the track or go bundu-bashing (the mud-and-rocks-side-of-a-mountain type, not the exploring-Joburg’s-pavements type). Otherwise, chances are you’ll find me lying underneath one of my beloved toys or with my head buried in its engine bay, tinkering away.

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