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The Sherp Makes Every Other Off-Roader Look Weak

No Jeep, G-Wagen, or Land Rover can go where this Russian beast can.

© DW Burnett   No Jeep, G-Wagen, or Land Rover can go where this Russian beast can.

By Matt Farah, Road & Track

We are in northern Minnesota, on the banks of Cass Lake, which is mostly frozen. Near the lake’s edge, the ice is almost three feet thick, and fishermen are scattered about. Toward the middle, the ice isn’t quite as sturdy. "See that section over there, where the bridge crosses the lake?" says my guide, Josh Copiskey."“That’s where we’re going to bust through the ice. It’s about 30 feet deep." I think of the possibilities. "The first time we went in the water, people freaked out, and it was like police, fire, EMS, everybody. Now when they see us, they call their friends to come watch." I almost relax.

The front wheels crash through the thin ice, and our vehicle dives nose first into the frigid water, which splashes more than halfway up the windshield. I yelp like a child and stand on the dashboard as we bob among chunks of ice. Copiskey shifts to second gear and mashes the throttle, spinning all four tires. And just like that, we are a paddle-wheel boat, cruising at three knots.

We are in a Sherp, a Russian-designed, Ukrainian-and-Canadian-assembled, all-terrain amphibious vehicle. It’s roughly the size of a tiny Japanese van but jacked up on 63-inch tires. I, like many other Americans-including Copiskey-learned about the Sherp on YouTube. It is one of the most photogenic vehicles on the planet, with its Iron Man face, charmingly stubby proportions, and a tendency to end up in places that vehicles generally do not.  

© DW Burnett   The Sherp Makes Every Other Off-Roader Look Weak

The cab hangs over the front axle. The cockpit is spartan but functional. There are cubbyholes, underfloor and underseat storage, 12-volt and USB ports aplenty. The cargo-area walls, covered in military-style nylon loops, offer endless configuration. The seats are comfortable by ATV standards, though considering the Sherp’s incredible 2500-mile range, more support would be welcome.

A row of 10 marine-grade switches lines the front bulkhead, and the primary gauge cluster sits overhead, where the headliner meets the top-hinged windshield. A tire-pressure gauge pokes prominently off the A-pillar; that position reflects its role in adjusting the Sherp’s dynamics.

The hull is high-strength steel and aluminum, buoyant on its own, with a reinforced roll structure and a thick skid plate underneath. With its tires fully inflated to just 3 psi (!) the Sherp offers 23 inches of ground clearance. The entire powertrain is inside the hull. If you break down while floating, you can fix the engine and transmission without having to find land.

"One of the only ways to break one," Copiskey says, "is if you literally hit a wall big and hard enough to stop the Sherp, while staying on the power in a low gear. The gearing generates enough torque ]multiplication] that if this happens, it will break a fail-safe point in the powertrain. It’s not a cheap fix but . . . cheaper than a transmission. I've only had to fix those twice" He shakes his head and chuckles. "Same customer both times. But I've never replaced a flat tire, never really had to fix an engine or a hub or anything. I keep the parts just in case, but even under what you'd traditionally call very serious off-road conditions, the Sherp is overbuilt and understressed. The chain drives are, like, four times thicker than they need to be for the power and weight."

There is no traditional suspension. Impact absorption is all done by the tires, which are inflated centrally, from a diverter valve on the exhaust. It’s a genius move; the Sherp’s 44-hp, 1.4-liter Kubota turbodiesel can inflate all four tires from flat in just 30 seconds. Opening the manual dump valve will deflate the tires and drop the Sherp onto its hubs just as quickly. The tires provide a staggering amount of ride quality and traction; flattening them drops load height by a foot. 

The Sherp’s Kubota sits amidships, covered by a console and connected to a five-speed manual gearbox. You steer using a pair of levers operated by your left hand. Each lever has two stages; a light tug declutches both wheels on whichever side you’ve pulled. The Sherp turns like a tank-by sending power to the outside wheels while the inside pair coasts. Tug harder and hydraulic brakes engage, tightening the turn. Tugging both levers gives straight-line braking, though the Sherp is geared so low-its top speed is just 25 mph-that engine braking is often more effective.

There is almost nothing on wheels more fun than a Sherp. You can go anywhere. We drove over giant piles of rocks and logs; we drove over a pair of Toyota Camrys. We drove over a three-foot-diameter pipe, a wall, into lakes and rivers, and through icy bogs, and then used the Sherp's front bash bar to cut down trees. Anything under four inches in diameter goes down like butter. We drove through snowdrifts and into deep mud holes. And with the Sherp's dual heating system, battery bank, and 17.7-gallon fuel tank, you could easily use one to stay off the grid for weeks. Copiskey brags, coyly, "Ten hours a day for 12 days, that's the fuel range."

In 2017, a pair of Sherps crossed Russia, from the western border to the Pacific Ocean, 6200 miles, without using a single road. They set four world records in the process and reportedly had zero mechanical issues. That is an eye-widening feat, far beyond the bounds of any Land Rover, Geländewagen, or Rubicon. In that light, at $119,999 delivered, the Sherp is almost comically underpriced.

That money buys you true capability, the kind that carmaker marketing goons imagine when they pose crossovers on far-flung forest roads. The Sherp isn’t for everyone. Commuters and family haulers, gym poseurs and middle managers will have no use for its awkward ingress and crawling top speed, but that’s what makes it great. Our favorite vehicles are seldom made for the masses.

© DW Burnett   The Sherp Makes Every Other Off-Roader Look Weak


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Autos News: The Sherp Makes Every Other Off-Roader Look Weak
The Sherp Makes Every Other Off-Roader Look Weak
No Jeep, G-Wagen, or Land Rover can go where this Russian beast can.
Autos News
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