Heading Bush | TRUCK REVIEW – Earthcruiser Explorer 440 Unimog

Warren Caves indulges the travel bug with the aid of the EarthCruiser Explorer 440 Unimog

The truck and trailer bodybuilding industry tends to be constrained in design by the parameters in which it has to operate in order to produce equipment that can carry loads. But every now and again PowerTorque comes across a bodywork design that is completely out of the box, when it comes to function and fashion.

EarthCruiser Australia is one such company, tackling the challenges of producing overland transport for both recreation and research, manufacturing expedition campers for extended travel across Australia and the world.

EarthCruiser models have in the past been successfully manufactured on base vehicles in the six-tonne range from Iveco and Isuzu, predominantly for the domestic market with the occasional overseas order.

Hard core explorers now have the option of “going large” with the release of the latest Explorer XPR 440 that is built on the Mercedes-Benz Unimog U430.

Unimog is a name synonymous with rugged German-built reliability, particularly for military purposes spanning many years. The Unimog U430 is a 12-tonne GVM truck specifically designed as a utility carrier powered by Mercedes OM 936 300 hp (220 kW), 1200 Nm turbodiesel engine, which has Euro 6 emission compliance by way of SCR (AdBlue) and a DPF exhaust treatment system, mated to an eight-speed, semi-automatic transmission.

Coil spring suspension and the use of portal axles provide excellent off-road ability and good on-road comfort levels. Portal axles are constructed with the axle tube and the differential housing located above the wheel centre line, tucked away high up within the chassis for greater ground clearance.

Three differential lockers are used, being front, centre and rear, and, when combined with low/low working gear sets, the result makes for a formidable off-road performer.

For tougher conditions there are 20,000 lb, 24-volt winches located on the front and rear, along with two secure snatch recovery points. Add to this a 1.6-metre fording depth, anti-starvation fuel pick-ups, bulletproof run flat tyre systems with central tyre inflation system (CTIS) operated from within the cabin, disc brakes and ABS. With all this ability designed into the chassis it’s easy to see that it would take nothing short of an improvised explosive device or an earthquake-induced chasm to prevent the Explorer XPR 440 from delivering you to your destination.

A four-point independently controlled jack-levelling system, with three-stage rams, provides full-weight jacking off ground level for tyre changes or maintenance, and comes in handy when the need arises to position rocks or branches under the tyres for added traction in sticky situations. Fuel tank capacity is generous at 800 litres, which should provide ample reach for remote destinations.

A fibreglass cabin and doors are used for longevity, corrosion resistance and ease of repair. The large front windscreen also offers an unencumbered vista of the adventures ahead. No doubt the fibreglass design also made the implementation of the large walk-through cabin opening an easier task.

Mercedes-Benz Vario Pilot is a unique feature that allows the steering column and instrument cluster to slide across from one side of the driver’s compartment to the other in less than a minute. This feature enables the Explorer to be instantly adjusted to suit its country of travel steering orientation and additionally enhancing resale prospects to wider world markets.

Further enhancing the world-traveller vision is that, by using the narrower U430 as a base, the entire unit can be containerised for sea transport around the globe. By removing the wheels and fitting aluminium billeted container wheels, clamping the suspension down by 50 mm and removing some external fittings, this process takes about one day, effectively allowing this vehicle to be posted anywhere in the world.

The Unimog concept planning started three years ago, and while the U430 ticked most of the boxes, there were some design aspects that EarthCruiser Australia’s owner, Mark Fawcett, says he wanted to alter. Along with air intake modifications to allow the design of a walk-through cabin and repositioning of some ancillary equipment, Mark required a longer wheelbase of 4.2 metres, up from the standard 3.6. This extension would allow the Explorer 440 to encompass all the internal features and equipment planned for the project.

With the Unimog base design laid out, the team of five engineers at EarthCruiser Australia set about designing and constructing the Explorer XPR 440.

The Explorer XPR 440 complements the Unimog with a well-constructed and designed layout, with functionality as a priority over appearance, but that’s not to say that the interior finish is by any means mediocre, it just has to be tough, hard-wearing and lasting.

Internal features include a queen-size bed or singles, two sky beds, which are 120 kg rated stretchers over the main bed, a 212-litre side-by-side internal fridge/freezer, 700-watt microwave, a diesel cook top, two showers (one external, one internal), toilet, one double forward-facing rear seat and a single side facing rear seat (totalling five certified seats), wet and dry vacuum cleaner and air conditioning.

The spec also includes a new touchscreen control panel system, which can be integrated with tablets and android devices, DVR/GPS/4G cellular hot spot (through a 6 dBi gain antenna) and GPS cell net tracking system including five cameras that can be viewed from anywhere in the world. Outside in the underbody rear lockers are housed an Earth Grill 240-volt BBQ with a sink and tap, a 68-litre locker fridge/freezer and a 2.5 kg washing machine with drying area.

A multipurpose 1000 kg 24-volt crane and hoist sit on the rear bar, and when the road finally disappears the rear bar also provides the carry point for a Übco 2×2 electric bike. This lightweight, quiet and powerful bike is propelled by 2 x 1 kW electric motors with a range of up to 100 km and a top speed of 45 km/h, all from its onboard 48 Ah battery.

All this electronic functionality and componentry comes at a price – power! This power requirement has not been overlooked, and the self-sufficiency of the Explorer could easily be calculated, with a little sunshine, in weeks rather than days. All power needs are supplied from the on-board batteries, and no LPG or additional generators are required.

The storage capacity consists of 2 x 24-volt, 200-amp lithium batteries, equivalent to 17 AGM batteries (1500 amps). A 3.2 kVA inverter looks after voltages, and the charging is from the 1000-watt, mono-crystalline, flush-mounted, walk-on solar panels located on the roof.

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