Euro­peans only re­cently dis­cov­ered how use­ful a bakkie can be, which is why it’s not too late for Mercedes-Benz to en­ter this grow­ing mar­ket. Will the X-Class be­come the most de­sir­able bakkie on Earth? We trav­elled to Eastern Europe to find out.

Go! Camp & Drive - - CONTENTS - Text Cyril Klop­per

It’s sum­mer­time in Slove­nia and we’re rac­ing through the forested foothills of the Alps. A surge of white dust bil­lows be­hind our Mercedes-Benz X-Class and the mighty V6 roars as we take turn af­ter turn. Sud­denly we burst out of the wood­land onto a lush green val­ley floor. In front of us on a grassy plain lies a ham­let called Sveti Ožbolt (pop­u­la­tion: 78). We tap the pad­dle shifters to re­duce speed. Sveti Ožbolt is a com­mu­nity like hun­dreds of oth­ers in this moun­tain­ous re­gion. Next to ev­ery house with its pitched roof is a gi­gan­tic stack of fire­wood wait­ing for win­ter. Towns­folk are mak­ing good use of the sunny weather by work­ing in their gar­dens, and there’s a young girl dressed in a T-shirt and hot pants flirt­ing with the neigh­bour’s son – he’s prob­a­bly the only guy her age in the en­tire vil­lage… Ev­ery­one stops to stare as we pass by in our X-Class. With all the wood car­ry­ing, gar­den­ing and flirt­ing hap­pen­ing in these parts you’d ex­pect this to be bakkie coun­try, but in the two days we spent ex­plor­ing Slove­nia in the X-Class, we en­coun­tered only three other bakkies: a VW Amarok and two Ford Rangers.

Euro­peans, par­tic­u­larly those from the for­mer so­cial­ist Eastern Europe, are not used to bakkies. But things are rapidly chang­ing, and in Ger­many, for ex­am­ple, bakkie sales have in­creased by 57% from 2014 to 2017. That’s why Mercedes-Benz has so much con­fi­dence in its X-Class, es­pe­cially the V6 model.

In­side and out

On the out­side there’s very lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween the 350 d and the 250 d we re­viewed in go! Drive & Camp #12. Even the al­loy wheels are iden­ti­cal. The only way to iden­tify a 350 d is by its chrome V6 Turbo badge on the fender panel and the dis­crete X 350 d in­signia on the tail­gate.

On the in­side the dif­fer­ences are more dif­fi­cult to spot. It’s only the ride mode but­ton next to the in­fo­tain­ment in­ter­face and a dif­fer­ent 4WD but­ton which doesn’t of­fer a 2WD mode since the V6 has per­ma­nent four-wheel drive. When the V6 ar­rives in South Africa dur­ing the first quar­ter of 2019 it will be avail­able in two trim lev­els: Pro­gres­sive and Power. The lat­ter boasts more lav­ish ma­te­ri­als such as leather seats and alu­minium trim in the cabin. It is af­ter all the flag­ship in the X-Class range.

How does it fare on tar?

The dif­fer­ence in ride qual­ity be­tween the 250 d and the V6 is notable. Ev­ery­thing feels dif­fer­ent thanks to Mercedes’s own pow­er­train – from the en­gine to the wheels – which don’t come from Nis­san. Mercedes’s 3.0 tur­bod­iesel de­liv­ers 550 Nm from a low 1 300 revs per minute and this torque re­mains un­changed right up to 3 200 rpm. The en­gine is a per­fect match for Mercedes’s 7G-TRONIC PLUS au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, which doesn’t suf­fer a long pause in power de­liv­ery dur­ing gear changes. You can also change gears man­u­ally by means of two pad­dle shifters be­hind the steer­ing wheel. There are five Dy­namic Se­lect ride modes to choose from: Com­fort, Eco, Sport, Man­ual and Of­froad. The modes change the be­hav­iour of the trans­mis­sion and en­gine re­sponse. When you turn the key, the ride mode is set to Com­fort by de­fault, which in­structs the trans­mis­sion to smoothly change gears rather than race through them. In Eco mode the trans­mis­sion changes gears sooner in an ef­fort to save fuel, and in Sport mode the gears stay en­gaged for longer and the en­gine re­acts faster to ac­cel­er­a­tor in­puts. In Man­ual mode you have full con­trol over the trans­mis­sion and you’re forced to use the pad­dle shifters. The pauses in power de­liv­ery dur­ing gear changes are short in any ride mode, but in Man­ual the gears change light­ing fast. On pa­per, the X-Class V6 and the VW Amarok V6 sport sim­i­lar fig­ures, but in re­al­ity the Mercedes’s ride feels live­lier than the Volk­swa­gen, partly due to a stiffer sus­pen­sion setup, which gives the Merc bril­liant road­hold­ing abil­ity. >

And on dirt?

The X-Class’s 4MATIC per­ma­nent four-wheel drive uses a two-stage trans­fer case from the G-Class (once known as the Gelän­dewa­gen) and Mercedes’s own axles. The central dif­fer­en­tial trans­fers the drive force in a fixed torque dis­tri­bu­tion of 40 and 60%, favour­ing the rear wheels. An op­tional diff lock on the rear axle helps when con­di­tions be­come ex­ceed­ingly tough.

You can switch from high to low range while driv­ing (be­low 40 km/h) by turn­ing the 4WD dial to the low-range po­si­tion fol­lowed by se­lect­ing Neu­tral and then switch­ing back to Drive. You can even en­gage low range on a steep slope be­cause the 4MATIC four-wheeldrive sys­tem will pre­vent the X-Class from rolling out of con­trol down a moun­tain when you se­lect Neu­tral.

We put the X 350 d V6 through its paces on nar­row log­ging trails in the Slove­nian Alps and the X-Class’s trac­tion con­trol kept us from go­ing off the rails (lit­er­ally). The elec­tronic trac­tion con­trol to­gether with the per­ma­nent all-wheel drive for­bade us from slid­ing the tail out and drift­ing side­ways through cor­ners, which was just as well.

On an ob­sta­cle course near the pic­turesque town of Med­vode, about 20 km north of Slove­nia’s cap­i­tal, Ljubl­jana, we turned off the nan­ny­ing trac­tion con­trol and en­gaged the low-range gear­ing. The X-Class’s 4MATIC four-wheel-drive sys­tem en­abled it to fol­low a G-Class over al­most any ob­sta­cle. What does hold it back, though, is its rel­a­tively poor ap­proach, de­par­ture, and breakover an­gles – to be fair, it’s a hand­i­cap af­fect­ing most dou­ble cab bakkies.


X-Class or Amarok: Which one is the best? Mercedes-Benz cares very lit­tle about its com­peti­tor’s at­tempts at cre­at­ing an equally pow­er­ful and lux­u­ri­ous bakkie. The car­maker from Stuttgart knows that peo­ple who earn Mercedes-Benz salaries will al­ways pick a Mercedes-Benz prod­uct above any­thing else. Is the X-Class the most de­sir­able bakkie in the world? That’s a mat­ter of per­sonal taste, and the ma­jor­ity of South Africans will no doubt con­tinue to choose ei­ther a Hilux or a Ranger. If, how­ever, you’re lucky enough to be able to af­ford an X-Class, start pre­par­ing your­self for snide re­marks. Amarok own­ers also had to en­dure ridicule be­fore the bakkie fi­nally proved it­self. But you can take com­fort in the fact that most bakkie en­thu­si­asts are ac­tu­ally sim­ply green with envy.

SIM­PLY SMART. The in­te­rior is strik­ing, but not in an over­bear­ing way. All of the but­tons you need are there and none of the ones that you don’t. The 360° cam­era is a use­ful op­tional ex­tra, but it’s not es­sen­tial. The dash­board is all plas­tic, but at least it’s easy to keep clean.

POW­ER­HOUSE. There’s enough space in that en­gine bay for a V8. Just sayin’... Upon ask­ing if there will ever be an X63 AMG ver­sion, we re­ceived only wry smiles and shrugs from the en­gi­neers and mar­ket­ing peo­ple. Se­ri­ously though, the V6 of­fers more than enough power.

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