X-class a quiet achiever among utes
The existential crisis that Mercedes-Benz is facing with the launch of its first-ever ute (aka pickup) is made obvious very early on in the official press kit.
It offers up a self-consciously blokey summation of the X-class’s 1.1-tonne load capacity by saying it will carry 17 full 50-litre barrels of beer . . . but it then scurries back into premium territory by also stating that the 3.5-tonne towing capacity is good for three horses in a float or an eight-metre yacht.
While the X-class is a product of the van division, the company is very much aware that it will be crossing into the passenger segment, particularly in markets like New Zealand and Australia. It’s due here in the second quarter of 2018.
The X-class will come to NZ in three guises initially, with Pure, Progressive and Power models available. As is well-known, the chassis and four-cylinder engines are derived from (but not exactly the same as) Nissan’s Navara. The Pure model is the rugged workhorse of the range and is available with either a 120kW or 140kW 2.3-litre engine.
The 120kW Pure is available in either 2WD or 4WD with a sixspeed manual transmission, while the 140kW Pure is 4WD only and is available with either the manual or a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The Pure really is a workhorse: black bumpers, 17-inch steel wheels and plastic floor coverings. The Pure also comes standard with manual air conditioning, but does have a backing camera, electric mirrors and halogen headlights. An optional Plus Package adds parking assist and load securing rails on the deck floor (the basic Pure comes standard with rings in each corner).
The Progressive ups the game considerably and is only available with the 140kW engine.
The Progressive adds painted front and rear bumpers, carpeted floors, 17-inch alloy wheels, rain sensing wipers, satellite navigation, a leather steering wheel, gearknob and handbrake lever, aluminium door sill panels, eight-speaker audio system, a chromatic rear view mirror with integrated compass and loadsecuring rails.
The Power is the high-spec townie ute of the range (for now) and is also only available with the 140kW engine.
The Power adds chrome exterior highlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, heated mirrors, Artico upholstered dash with contrasting stitching, electrically adjustable seating, Comand multimedia and navigation system, dual-zone climate control, a 360-degree camera, a parking assist system and keyless entry and start.
The first thing we noticed about the X 250d Power we drove on the international launch in Chile was how startlingly quiet it was around town.
Even out on the open road, the only real noise was coming from the wind around the wing mirrors. How it will perform on NZ’s coarse chip seal roads remains to be seen, but the cabin of the X-class is so quiet that tyre noise may well be an issue.
That said, it certainly wasn’t bad on Chile’s coarse surfaces and seriously broken roads.
One thing that won’t be an issue is ride comfort and handling, as the X-class has a beautifully composed ride that only betrays its ute underpinnings around town at lower speeds.
Crank the speed up and the composure and refinement increase, with the X-class riding and handling like well-sorted SUV, rather than a tough pickup. The 140kW 2.3-litre engine in the X 250d is adequate, without being particularly exciting. With a hint of turbo lag and slight sluggishness on the transmission’s part to kick down, it does lack the Ford Ranger’s big punch; but nor does it have the Ranger’s intrusive bellow. It’s incredibly refined for the segment.
As these were all preproduction vehicles, picking on some of the niggly fit and finish issues is probably unfair, but the shiny black plastic air vents were not a high point of the interior: they looked cheap and fitted poorly into the dash.
Elsewhere, the news is far better, with superbly comfortable seats, a nicely detailed dash and centre console and the touchpad and rotary dial out of the company’s sedans to control the infotainment system.
It would be nice if the hydraulic steering was a bit faster and offered more feel, the steering wheel lacks reach adjustment (which is a very disappointing oversight) and the rear seats, while impressively comfortable, are too high for taller passengers.
None of these issues lessen the impact the X-class will have on the ute segment.
It has the potential to to redefine what we will expect in terms of ride, handling and refinement in a ute.
This is the flagship Power variant of the X-class pickup. Townie’s truck?