PRE­MIUM PICK-UP

Go­ing one-tonne bet­ter, Benz builds a lux­ury work­horse (on Nis­san foun­da­tions)

The Coffs Coast Advocate - - YOUR SAY - CRAIG DUFF

Xmarks the spot. Mercedes-Benz aims to steer buy­ers out of ri­val one-tonne utes and into the X-Class, its take on a lux­ury work­horse.

Utes ac­count for al­most one in five new ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tions and, says Mercedes-Benz Vans CEO Diane Tarr, more than half of these are up­per-spec ver­sions.

This gives the Ger­man brand the in­cen­tive to re­pro­duce its success in pas­sen­ger cars in the light com­mer­cial arena.

“The mar­ket is mov­ing in this di­rec­tion … buy­ers want the rugged­ness and off-road abil­ity of these ve­hi­cles but they also want pas­sen­ger car han­dling and re­fine­ment,” Tarr says.

“That’s what the X-Class de­liv­ers and we are the only ones in this seg­ment with au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing across the range.”

More than 9000 prospec­tive Aus­tralian buy­ers have reg­is­tered in­ter­est in the X-Class, the first pick-up from a pres­tige brand, even though it is based on a Nis­san Navara that costs $12,000 less.

To be fair, there’s lit­tle of the Navara left in the X-Class that you can see or touch. The chas­sis has been strength­ened, the track is ex­tended 70mm to im­prove on-road man­ners and the body is 50mm wider, ne­ces­si­tat­ing unique body­work.

Throw in re­cal­i­brated sus­pen­sion dampers, ven­ti­lated disc brakes all-round and a be­spoke in­te­rior and it’s hard to ar­gue with Benz’s as­ser­tion this is as far re­moved from “badge engi­neer­ing” as is pos­si­ble.

Opt­ing to use a donor car, rather than de­velop its own from scratch, was a mat­ter of tim­ing for Mercedes.

“The as­so­ci­a­tion with Nis­san saved us three years of de­vel­op­ment time,” says X-Class prod­uct chief Scott Williams.

“The Navara is the third best-sell­ing pick-up glob­ally and we’ve im­proved it in ev­ery area from the ride to the in­te­rior re­fine­ment.”

The X-Class’s as­ton­ish­ing 13 vari­ants range from $45,450 to $64,500. That cov­ers cab-chas­sis and tub vari­ants, all dual-cabs for now.

Later in the year, the six-cylin­der diesel ar­rives to sup­plant the $74,990 Ford Ranger Rap­tor as the most ex­pen­sive one-tonne work­horse on sale in Aus­tralia.

The X220d will be sold in rear and four-wheel-drive guises, the sole trans­mis­sion a six-speed man­ual. In base Pure trim, it is the work­horse of the range and unashamedly aimed at fleet buy­ers, with black front and rear bumpers, steel wheels and plas­tic floor­ing for easy clean­ing.

Lift­ing the vis­ual bar — at least in the top sec­tion of the dash — are el­e­ments fa­mil­iar to Mercedes pas­sen­ger car own­ers, such as the in­fo­tain­ment screen, steer­ing wheel and in­stru­ment clus­ter with coloured dig­i­tal screen be­tween the speedo and tachome­ter.

To sat­isfy oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety re­quire­ments of fleet own­ers, it comes with five-star ANCAP rat­ing, au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing with pedes­trian de­tec­tion, tyre-pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, rev­ers­ing cam­era on ver­sions with a tub and lane-de­par­ture warn­ing.

Plas­tics in the lower sec­tion of the dash and on the doors are less im­pres­sive — grained in tex­ture and black in colour, they feel tough but will prob­a­bly scratch over time.

It re­flects the util­i­tar­ian na­ture of the genre and is no dif­fer­ent to the Ranger Wild­trak and HiLux SR5 — but it may jar with Benz pas­sen­ger car buy­ers.

The X250d is four-wheel drive only and has an op­tional $2900 seven-speed au­to­matic. The Pro­gres­sive trim level adds painted bumpers, al­loy wheels and rear-view cam­era, auto wipers, sat­nav, car­peted floors and bet­ter qual­ity cloth seats and au­dio.

The top-spec Power ver­sions have a sur­round-view cam­era, chrome ex­te­rior bling, 18-inch al­loys, LED head­lights, key­less en­try and start, syn­thetic leather seats and in­stru­ment panel bin­na­cle, power front seats, semi-au­to­mated park­ing and 8.4-inch in­fo­tain­ment screen. ON THE ROAD

Mercedes makes much of the noise sup­pres­sion in the X-Class and there’s no doubt it is the qui­etest in the class, at least on the road. The diesel is barely heard and there’s only the faintest of wind noise off the wind­screen pil­lars at high­way speeds.

Hit de­cent gravel at 80km/h or above and there’s plenty of ping­ing as rocks are flicked into the un­der­car­riage. The up­side is the sus­pen­sion is su­perbly sorted whether on tar­mac or bush tracks and the sec­ondary bounc­ing and jig­gling com­mon to this class is no­tably ab­sent even over re­peated cor­ru­ga­tions.

Load some­thing in the tub and, in com­mon with the VW Amarok, the rear end be­comes even more com­posed … dare we say car-like.

Per­for­mance is rea­son­able rather than re­mark­able and buy­ers want­ing the glam­our of the three-pointed star with com­pa­ra­ble get-up-and-go will need to wait for the X350d, with 190kW/550Nm V6 and per­ma­nent all-wheel drive. It will trim the 0-100km/h run from 11.8 sec­onds to 7.9.

The steer­ing is ap­pre­cia­bly faster than that in the Navara and its weight­ing is a de­cent com­pro­mise be­tween ur­ban driv­ing and rock crawl­ing. For now the only limit to the X-Class’s off-road abil­ity is the road-bi­ased rub­ber. The com­pany hasn’t yet ho­molo­gated an all-ter­rain tyre and it showed on a sec­tion of off-road driv­ing, where the X-Class strug­gled for grip.

A fac­tory bull bar and nudge bar, un­der de­vel­op­ment specif­i­cally for Aus­tralia, won’t af­fect the AEB or park­ing sen­sors. Williams hopes their ar­rival will co­in­cide with the six-cylin­der’s in­tro­duc­tion.

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