These were our must criterias for our expedition vehicle:
Realistically the main use will be on the road. However, the vehicle should manage all kind of dirt tracks, not neccessarily hardcore offroad tracks (deep mud, sand dunes). A good ground clearance, a permanent 4x4 drive and difflocks are therefore a must.
Comfort is more important to us than extreme offroad capabilities. That is the reason that our vehicle should have an alcove.
The vehicle should have a high level of self-sufficiency for at least 2 weeks (with solar power, batteries and additional water and diesel tanks), still leaving enough payload.
The 3.5 tons class was not an option for us due to limitations in comfort and because of too many compromises. The >7.5 tons class is "oversized" for us, and also impractical: We don't want to drive such a huge truck through small villages or in the city. Not to mention the huge maintenance costs and the driving restrictions for >7,5 ton vehicles in Europe. So our goal was to stay in the 7.5 tons league.
The overall size should allow a high level of comfort within the cabin (separate shower and bathroom, two good beds etc.), but should still be compact enough to ensure
drivability. So another goal was to stay below 7m in length.
(As of 2016) The vehicle choice in the 7.5 tons class is very limited.
Apart from exotic chassis such as the Bremach, Bucher Duro and the Fuso Canter, there is only the Iveco Daily or the Mercedes Sprinter available as a
The Iveco Daily is available with a max weight of 7.2 tons, but only with
4x2 drive. There is the possibility to order a 4x4 conversion by Achleitner.
The Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 is available with a max weight of 5.3 tons. With a 6x6 conversion package from Oberaigner a max weight of 7 tons is possible. However, such a three-axle vehicle is technically very complex and has some disadvantages in our view (fuel consumption, tire usage, etc.). Also Iglhaut offers 4x4 conversions for the Sprinter. However, such conversion packages are very expensive: Only for the chassis and including the Achleitner or Oberaigner conversion package the total bill would exceed EUR 100,000 (without the cabin).
There are older 7.5 ton chassis available such as a Mercedes 914 or an Iveco 90-16 and they have lots of fans due to their simple technology. But we don't want to drive around with an oldtimer as we are not mechanics. There are also some trucks available downsized to 7.5 tons like the Mercedes Atego or the Unimog, but they have limited payload and an alcove wouldn't be possible.
So at the end of the day there was only one option left: a used Mercedes Vario 4x4.
Luckily we found an ex-army Mercedes Vario 4x4 from 2011 in a top
shape. The ideal choice for our project. Our Benny is a Mercedes Benz Vario 816 DA 4x4. It is a midsize truck in the European 7.5
tons league. The basic concept of this vehicle goes back to the 80s and established a separate category between vans/transporters (mainly up
to 5 tons) and heavy trucks over 7.5 tons. The Vario uses heavy truck technology, which makes the vehicle very robust, and was
produced until 2013. The engine is considered to be unbreakable. That is one of the reasons why the Vario was also used by the German army
and local authorities (road construction, forrest works). The chassis has technical reserves: the max weight can be increased from 7.5 to 8.5 tons without technical changes (but needs then to be
registered as a heavy truck). While Sprinter, Daily & Co offer a car-like driving experience, the Vario has a very rough charm, like a tractor. We like
The Vario has no luxury. There is
power steering and ABS, an air conditioning and electric mirrors. Other modern achievements such as ESP or passenger
airbags do not exist. And that's good, because what doesn't exist can't
break. On the other side, the Vario -with its Euro 5 engine- is not free of electronics.
The Vario is available with four wheelbases from 3.15m to 4.8m. Our Benny has the 4.25 m wheelbase with rear twin wheels. This is good for the stability and security (if a rear tire blows up), but limits hardcore off-road driving (which we do not plan anyway). The ground clearance is sufficient for our purposes. Some Vario expedition vehicles have converted to super single tires. In these cases the maximum permissible weight is reduced down to 7 tons and in Switzerland it is not so easy to get the permission for them.
The Vario has a geat advantage over a heavy truck with more than 7.5 tons: With its compact size the Vario is perfect to manage small roads and small villages. This easy handling outweighs the somewhat limited offroad capabilities.
Furthermore we like the global presence of Mercedes Benz, the availability of spare parts
and the Vario 4x4 community is simply cool :-).
To sum it up: