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

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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.

X-CLASS PURE

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

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.

X-CLASS POWER

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.

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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

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