MERCEDES TAKES AIM
Dual- cab 4x4s are booming – not just in Australia but also across the globe – and Mercedes-Benz wants a slice of the action
It’s no secret that Mercedes-Benz’s new X- Class is based on Nissan’s Navara, but don’t think for one minute that it’s a Navara carrying a ‘three-pointed star’, as the X- Class has been re- engineered from the ground up. You’d expect nothing less from a car company that prides itself on engineering excellence.
Were Benz’s engineers happy not starting with a clean sheet to design a dual-cab ute? Probably not, but with pressure to come up with a market-ready product as soon as possible, using the Navara as a starting point saved two or three years of development time. Mercedes-Benz has a technologysharing agreement with the Renault-Nissan alliance, so the Navara was readily available.
In creating this X-Class, Benz’s engineers took a Navara and removed the body and the powertrain from the chassis, then the ladder frame was strengthened with extra cross-bracing and reinforcing, and the track widened via longer wishbones up front (+62mm) and a longer axle at the rear (+55mm). Disc brakes were fitted to the rear in place of the Navara drums and linked to high-end safety kit including autonomous braking. New springs, dampers and sway bars were then fitted, as was a revised steering system for fewer lock-to-lock turns. Then the Navara’s powertrain, re-mapped no doubt, was re-installed.
In the meantime, Benz designed and built a wider body that was fitted on this re-engineered chassis. This is not a case of badge engineering, this is re-engineering.
POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE
The X-Class Renault-sourced 2.3-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo engine shares the same 140kW (188hp)/450Nm power and torque numbers with the Navara and comes close to matching it in performance despite being 160kg to 180kg heavier depending on the spec level.
The extra weight comes from the frame strengthening, wider body, equipment variations and extra sound deadening. That means, in this company – Amarok aside – the X-Class is one of the stronger performers.
The extra sound deadening is especially
significant as the X-Class is much quieter than the Navara and, in fact, is one of the quietest utes here with the Amarok and Hilux. Refinement was obviously a design objective that Benz placed high on the priority list.
ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING
The same can be said for the chassis, as the X-Class offers what is the most comfortable ride here combined with very little road or suspension noise. The X-Class also feels very solid and tight, far more so than most of the utes here and a world away from the Navara.
The X-Class not only offers a relatively supple ride but it handles with a confidence that betters all but the Amarok and possibly the Ranger in this company. The wider track (wider than all but the Amarok) no doubt helps here, as does the increased torsional rigidity and suspension tune.
The extent of the re-engineering involved in turning Navara into X- Class can been seen in the 340kg increase in gross vehicle mass (GVM) and the 220kg increase in gross combined mass (GCM). That puts the X- Class’s GVM at 3,250kg and its GCM at 6,130kgm, which means it betters all of the utes here – including previous class champions Ranger and BT-50.
In turn, this means good payload numbers (even if the X-Class is relatively heavy) and a class benchmark 3,500kg towing capacity.
With our test 900kg payload on board, the X-Class didn’t, however, live up to the expectation of those numbers and felt the least composed of the nine utes, chassis wise. It still was reasonable enough to drive but simply felt the weight most in terms of steering confidence and general stability even if it’s not far behind the Navara and Triton in chassis load performance.
More positively, the flexible engine and short-geared seven-speed auto meant a much better performance from the powertrain with the big load on board.
A work light and 12-volt outlet in the tub are positives and, as per the Navara, there are high-mounted adjustable tie-downs.
Like the Navara, the X-Class has a rear locker, and engaging it keeps the electronic traction control active on the front axle, which is good news. Like the Navara, the X-Class scaled our steep set-piece climb with the rear locker engaged but did so with considerable difficulty and couldn’t make the climb without it.
The X-Class actually did a little better than the Navara and its suspension feels a little softer and more supple, which is a bonus off road. The fact that it sits a bit lower than the already low Navara is, however, a negative. Off road, the X-Class isn’t up with the frontrunners but it’s also not the worst. Interestingly, it claims a deeper fording depth (600mm) than the Navara’s 450mm even though the engine air-intake arrangement looks the same.
CABIN AND SAFETY
The X-Class’s cabin presentation is much more upmarket passenger car than ‘working Joe’ ute and stands out from all here thanks to features like the high-tech centre console touchpad and rotary dial control for the nav, entertainment, phone and media. The ‘tablet’ style touchscreen also adds to the passenger-car feel. Tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment is also a nice touch and one that’s lacking in
“THE CABIN IS MORE UPMARKET PASSENGER CAR THAN WORK UTE.”
nearly half the utes here. The X-Class’s cabin is wider than the Navara but still isn’t notably big, while the rear ‘stadium’ seating isn’t ideal for taller adults as it compromises the rear headroom. All models come with five-star ANCAP rating and advanced safety equipment: notably autonomous braking, a feature unique in this class.
The X-Class is not just a flash recreational ute but comes in three equipment levels – Pure, Progressive and Power – where the ‘Pure’ is very much a work-spec ute. The range includes cab-chassis variants, a lower-spec (single turbo) 120kW engine and the option of a manual gearbox. There’s even a 4x2 model.
Right from launch, Benz offers some factory accessories but will take a while for aftermarket accessories to come on stream, and, even then, that will depend on how well the X-Class sells. A thinner spread of dealers in country areas compared to big-volume car companies is another practicality consideration.
The large screen for audio and navigation stands tall like a drive-in theatre