X-class a quiet achiever among utes

Selwyn and Ashburton Outlook - - MOTORING - DAMIEN O’CARROLL

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 (across a range of spec lev­els and dif­fer­ent up­hol­stery), a nicely de­tailed dash and cen­tre con­sole and the touch­pad and ro­tary dial out of the com­pany’s sedans to con­trol the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem.

Yes, there are ar­eas of hard plas­tics in the in­te­rior, but th­ese lessen as you move up the range.

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 flag­ship Power vari­ant of the X-class pickup. Townie’s truck?

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