First Drive: Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute
The Mercedes-Benz X-Class double-cab ute will arrive in Australian showrooms next April. Matt Raudonikis has had a first drive in the hills of Chile
Like Australia, Chile is seen as a key market for Mercedes-Benz ’s new premium onetonne medium-size X-Class pick-up truck along with South Africa, other South American nations, Europe and Russia. The USA is not on Benz’s radar for the X-Class.
It will come to market in a choice of three grades, with three engine options, and with either a part-time or full-time four-wheel drive system depending on the engine selected.
Only a double-cab body style will be offered but both traditional ute and cab-chassis cargo areas will be available.
With this line-up, Mercedes-Benz Vans hopes to have the premium ute market covered.
The range will start with a base, ‘tradie-spec’ Pure variant distinguished by its 17-inch steel wheels, unpainted black bumpers, standard airconditioning unit, vinyl covered floors and basic equipment spec.
It will only be available with the base 120kW 4-cylinder diesel engine and 6-speed manual gearbox as the X220d but in the 140kW x250d guise it will have the choice of manual or 7-speed auto transmissions.
Next level is the Progressive specification, which adds 17-inch alloy wheels, bodycoloured bumpers, carpeted floors, black cloth covered seats, Garmin sat-nav and other convenience features including the Audio 20 sound system with 7-inch display screen. This mid-spec model is expected to appeal to family and recreational use buyers.
X-Class Progressive is available as the X250d 140kW engine with a choice of 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic transmission. There is a host of option packages available to add features such as climate control a/c, LED headlights, improved audio and navigation systems and 18inch alloys.
The top-specification X-Class is the Power and adds a chrome trim under the bodycoloured bumper, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, Artico man-made leather seats and dash trim, dual-zone climate control, ‘Comand’ infotainment system, eight-speaker audio system, and keyless entry among its many standard features.
The Power variant will initially be only offered as the X250d with the 140kW diesel engine and a choice of manual or auto transmissions, but from the middle of 2018 will also be offered with a 190kW V6 diesel engine, 7-speed auto and dualrange, full-time four-wheel drive system.
The 4-cylinder-powered models all come with a dual-range part-time 4x4 system that is conventional for this style of ute. The full-time system allows the vehicle to operate in allwheel drive all the time for improved dynamics and safety on all road surfaces.
The 4-cylinder engines are both the NissanRenault 2.3-litre diesel, tuned to either 120kW and 403Nm with a single turbocharger in the X220d, or 140kW and 450Nm with a bi-turbo arrangement in the X250d models. This is the same powertrain as found in the current Nissan Navara with which the X-Class share its basic platform.
The leading X350d will have a Mercedes
Benz V6 engine making class-leading 190kW of power and 550Nm of torque when it arrives later in the year. Its 7-speed auto transmission also comes from Mercedes-Benz and will feature column-mounted paddle shifters.
Dynamic Select will also be a part of the X350d, offering a selection of driving modes to best suit the conditions. These range from Comfort mode, through to Eco, Sport, Manual, and Off-road modes.
IN THE CAB
Climb inside the X-Class and any connections to the Navara are soon lost. The interior is all Mercedes-Benz with instruments and other hardware taken from the company’s V and C-Class models and integrated into a bespoke dash and door panels. About the only compromise you can see from the shared platform is the placement of the HVAC controls which are located low in the centre stack where they are not as easy to operate as they should be.
The interior of the X-Class Pure reminds you that this is a vehicle from Mercedes-Benz
Vans division as its basic features, vinyl floors and hard surfaces are very work truck-like. At the other end of the range, the Power’s cabin feels more aligned with the brand’s passenger cars with plush carpets, stitched leather dash, power seats and comprehensive audio/ infotainment systems.
It’s this differentiation between the models that displays the breadth of applications that the X-Class has been designed to cover.
ON THE ROAD
Drive the X250d in Power specification and you realise that Benz has done a thorough job in reengineering the donor vehicle to make it its own.
The cabin feels luxurious by comparison and the refinement is a world away from that of the Nissan Navara.
It is well isolated from road noise and the usually gruff 4-cylinder diesel engine.
The hydraulically assisted power steering is on par with other one-tonne utes in terms of feel and directness but the Nissan has never been great in this regard and this is one area where we hoped Mercedes-Benz might have improved the vehicle.
The suspension, however, is a great leap forward as it better soaks up bumps and undulations and keeps the vehicle pinned through sweeping on road bends and controlled on broken and off-road terrain. Notably, the multi-link coil rear suspension is well behaved and predictable.
Mercedes-Benz put a lot of work in to the spring and dampener calibration to optimise the wider wheel track of the X-Class over the Nissan vehicle.
Mounting points and bushes are also revised to improve dynamics and reduce NVH, and the Germans have been successful here.
The suspension instantly put the X-Class up there as one of the best handling 1-tonne utes in the segment, but we’ll have to wait until a direct comparision with the VW Amarok is possible to see just how good it is. Initial impressions are that the VW will still have the edge over its German countryman.
The 450Nm bi-turbo Nissan engine remains a strong performer with plenty of grunt available through its range and the 7-speed auto is slick and direct. It is much more palatable in the refined X250d Power than it is in the Navara, however we were disappointed to find that the gruffness came back again when we drove an X250d in Progressive specification with the manual gearbox.
The mid-spec Progressive doesn’t get the same level of insulation as the Power and, although not a deal breaker, it takes away much of the appeal of paying a premium for a prestige marque when it doesn’t deliver in full.
The Progressive spec could be the most popular here in Australia but that will very much come down to how it is priced both against its competition from other marques as well as the high-spec X-Class Power.
The 6-speed manual gearbox is smooth and simple in its operation. Mercedes-Benz adapted a cable shifter linkage to the box to remove the shifter from a direct mount to the ’box. This in turn reduces vibration to the cabin although it also isolates the driver from the vehicle, which not everyone appreciates.
The vehicle we drove had a whine from the gearbox in top gear but it must be said that this was a pre-production engineering car so we’ll need to wait until we drive the final product to see if it is a genuine problem.
Australian pricing for X-Class is yet to be revealed but it is expected ahead of its April 2018 launch here. We say that prices for the X220d and X250d variants will need to be close to those of other utes already in the market to be competitive, particularly on the Pure and Progressive models.
Mercedes-Benz will be able to set a premium on its range-topping X350d Power variant for those who want a truly premium ute.
5 1/2. The Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute will come in a choice of three grades 3. It got a bit Chile on the test 4. The interiors range from the work-ute styling of the X-Class Pure to the plush luxury of the Power
5. The 4WD system is either part-time or full-time depending on the engine