MERCEDES-BENZ X-CLASS

Blue col­lar bakkie in white col­lar suit

Driven - - Contents -

Not to put too fine a point on it, the South African new ve­hi­cle mar­ket would be 100,000 units per year poorer were it not for the light com­mer­cial sec­tor, also known as the hum­ble, uniquely lo­cal, bakkie.

Yes, more than 20% of all pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles we in­vest in lo­cally are pick-ups, and they just keep com­ing. In this edi­tion of

Driven alone, there are no less than three ar­ti­cles about bakkies. If that doesn’t tell you some­thing about how much we pre­fer bakkies over al­most any­thing else, then noth­ing will.

MORE OF THE SAME?

Un­less you’ve been cow­er­ing un­der a prover­bial rock of late, you would have heard at least one com­men­ta­tor talk­ing about the X-Class shar­ing a plat­form with Nis­san’s Navara.

In­deed, the new X-Class dou­ble cab shares sev­eral com­po­nents, as well as the chas­sis and sus­pen­sion, en­gine line-up, and over­all body sil­hou­ette with the yearand-a-bit-old Navara. Nei­ther MercedesBenz nor Nis­san have de­nied the link be­tween the two ve­hi­cles, for the sim­ple rea­son that the two auto giants have been co-op­er­at­ing to co-de­velop new prod­ucts since 2010.

The X-Class is a prime ex­am­ple of how the col­lab­o­ra­tion worked well, mainly where the new Merc bakkie is con­cerned.

The Nis­san Navara is a great plat­form in its own right, and let’s be real here for a moment, Mercedes-Benz was al­ways go­ing to take this strong foun­da­tion and im­prove on the over­all recipe.

That is pre­cisely what they’ve done, with a strong fo­cus on rais­ing the X-Class’ lux­ury ap­peal to a new level – be­yond the reach of its clos­est pre­mium-ish com­peti­tor, the Volk­swa­gen Amarok.

HAND­SOME AS HECK

Be­ing a fan of Teu­tonic de­sign sim­plic­ity means I’m also highly crit­i­cal when Ger­man brands get it wrong. Con­sid­er­ing some of Merc’s more re­cent de­sign faux pas such as the CLA sedan with its droopy rear, it’s not too far-fetched to fear that the X-Class might not have ended up look­ing not quite as good as it does if it weren’t for the strong DNA of its host, the Navara.

So what if the belt­line and roofline look the same, and the C-pil­lar is car­ried over ver­ba­tim from the Ja­panese truck? Mercedes have done a great job of clean­ing up the front end and ton­ing down the lip at the rear of the X-Class, which has given the Ger­man truck a sig­nif­i­cantly cleaner over­all look than its Ja­panese cousin.

Head­light and tail­light treat­ments hand the X-Class a de­sign ma­tu­rity that is not cur­rently matched in the mar­ket, not even by the suave VW Amarok.

The grille is where it all hap­pens, of course, as it echoes the pow­er­ful Mercedes

Gelän­dewa­gen that we see on all Merc’s SUVs and crossovers. The wide alu­minium dou­ble slat grille is stan­dard on both of the X’s two de­riv­a­tive lev­els – Pro­gres­sive and Power – al­though the lat­ter also sports match­ing scuff lip, chrome dif­fuser and fog lamps sur­rounds. At the rear, the Power also gets chrome bumper treat­ment, while all mod­els have a tow bar fit­ted as stan­dard.

PROP­ERLY CA­PA­BLE

One would think that af­ter pro­duc­ing some of the most ca­pa­ble off-road­ers in his­tory, Mercedes-Benz wouldn’t find it nec­es­sary to prove the rugged­ness, and ca­pa­bil­ity of a new four-wheel-drive ve­hi­cle. But to be sure that we get the mes­sage good and proper, Team Mercedes set up a for­mi­da­ble test sec­tion for the me­dia launch drive– in­clud­ing a 200 km-long road trip, com­plete with a cross­ing of the in­fa­mous Duiwelskop Pass in the Klein Ka­roo.

An old Voortrekker trade route, the pass tra­verses some of the tough­est ter­rain that I’ve yet driven, and, as ex­pected, the big Mercs han­dled the rough stuff like it’s been do­ing it for decades.

Power, for now, comes from the Nis­san­shared 2.3-litre tur­bod­iesel en­gine, which can be had in one of two con­fig­u­ra­tions –120 kW and 403 Nm of torque, de­noted

as the X220d; or with 140 kW and 450 Nm of the X250d.

THE IN­TE­RIOR

I may not be a fan of all Mercedes in­te­ri­ors, but the less-is-more ap­proach of the X-Class dash­board de­sign does ap­peal to me.

De­spite the min­i­mal­ist look, Merc has touched ev­ery as­pect of the in­te­rior to en­sure that it re­flects the bakkie’s pre­mium in­ten­tions, swad­dling the hugely com­fort­able seats in Al­can­tara, and pop­ping their sig­na­ture three-spoke wheel onto the steer­ing col­umn, for ex­am­ple.

The cabin feels pre­mium and ro­bust, but it could do with more stowage space for smart­phones and other odd­ments. Dou­ble-cab buy­ers typ­i­cally use their ve­hi­cles for leisure pur­poses, which means they haul a lot of gear around. Sadly, the X-Class sac­ri­fices func­tion for form with a tiny cubby, an equally small arm­rest bin­na­cle, and lack of space to put your smart de­vices.

Mercedes does re­deem it­self with the ad­di­tion of nu­mer­ous ac­ces­sory pack­age op­tions for the load bay, in­clud­ing dif­fer­ent hard — and soft-cover op­tions, rolling cov­ers, and canopies.

Safety tech and stan­dard in­fo­tain­ment lev­els are high enough to com­pete with mar­ket com­peti­tors, but be­ware the spec­i­fi­ca­tion creep that can so eas­ily en­gulf the ea­ger X-Class buyer…

The en­try-level X220d 4x2 Pro­gres­sive with six-speed man­ual comes in at a rea­son­able (for a Mercedes-Benz) R642,103, while opt­ing for the same spec X250d 4x2 will set you back R694,025. Add elec­tron­i­cally ac­ti­vated on-the-fly four-wheel-drive and the price rises to R668,726, or go for the seven-speed au­to­matic and pay R696,785 – all be­fore ac­ces­sories (or metal­lic paint) are added.

Power de­riv­a­tives only come with the X250d en­gine ver­sion and 4x4. The man­ual re­tails for R763,256, while the au­to­matic de­riv­a­tive will cost R791,315. Merc will add a V6-en­gined X350d Mercedes en­gine later this year.

LAST WORD

There is no deny­ing that the X-Class is an ex­pen­sive leisure ve­hi­cle when com­pared to the rest of the bakkie mar­ket. The ques­tion must be whether it gen­uinely brings a level of pre­mium to the seg­ment that did not ex­ist be­fore – and the an­swer is less cut and dried than Mercedes would like you to be­lieve.

What can­not be de­bated, how­ever, is that this ve­hi­cle will ap­peal to an es­tab­lished base of Mercedes fans who have yearned for a pre­mium one-ton­ner wear­ing a three­p­ointed star. It is the right time for X-Class, and those in the know will pay any­thing to get one.

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