MERCEDES-BENZ X250D IN THE OUT­BACK

A 5500km out­back tor­ture test for Benz’s new ute. Was the X-class up for the chal­lenge?

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - WORDS MATT RAUDONIKIS

MERCEDES-BENZ’S method of en­try into the mid-size four-wheel drive ute mar­ket is in­dica­tive of the huge growth in this seg­ment. The three-pointed-star brand pre­dicts sales of this type of ve­hi­cle will grow up to 50 per cent over the next 10 years, so it wanted in as soon as pos­si­ble. To make that hap­pen, Benz part­nered with Nis­san to adapt the ex­ist­ing D23 Navara to be­come its new X-class pick-up. By do­ing so it cut devel­op­ment time of a new model by half and, af­ter be­ing teased for three years, the X-class fi­nally landed in Aus­tralia in April 2018.

How­ever, don’t think the X-class is sim­ply a re­badged Navara. It might look sim­i­lar in a lot of as­pects, but it is a very dif­fer­ent ve­hi­cle. It is wider than the Nis­san; the cabin is wider for more in­te­rior space, mean­ing the tur­ret and front and rear screens are also wider. This in turn means the big­ger cargo tub is unique to the Benz.

The wheel track is wider, too, thanks to longer sus­pen­sion arms up front and a wider rear live axle, re­sult­ing in a 70mm in­crease in track. While they were fid­dling with the rear-end, the Benz techs also fit­ted disc brakes in lieu of the drums that are the ac­cepted stan­dard for this class.

The axles are tied to a lad­der chas­sis de­rived from the Navara’s; although, it has been strength­ened for bet­ter dy­nam­ics. Used in the X-class is Nis­san’s coil-sprung multi-link rear sus­pen­sion; although, the spring and damp­ener set­tings are all Benz in the front and rear.

So Benz did a ma­jor makeover of the Nis­san and then teased us with it all over the world be­fore fi­nally bring­ing it to Aus­tralia; but there’s only one place we want to test a 4x4 ute, no mat­ter what badge it’s wear­ing. The Aussie Out­back is the ul­ti­mate test, with its harsh roads, end­less dust, rocky tracks and ex­treme weather vari­a­tions. These are the con­di­tions any Aus­tralian farmer will drive in every day, and well-heeled farm­ers are the cen­tre point in Mercedes-benz’s sights for its new ute, even if we ex­pect most units will be sold in the cities.

With this in mind we locked in two of the new utes – a pair of X250s in mid-spec Pro­gres­sive and top-spec Power guises – for an out­back ad­ven­ture (the base-spec is called Pure). The X220d and X250d mod­els were launched ear­lier this year, while the 550Nm V6-pow­ered X-class won’t ar­rive un­til later this year.

HITTIN’ THE ROAD

EACH X-class was loaded with a 60-litre fridge and all the kit needed for a two-week camp­ing trip. Not a heavy load, but in­dica­tive of what most re­cre­ational four-wheel driv­ers would carry. The X-class utilises the clever ad­justable tie-down rails that are also found in the Navara, and these were used to se­cure the loads. They are mounted high on the sides of the cargo tub, which isn’t al­ways ideal when you are try­ing to tie some­thing ‘down’ in the tub. Older Nis­sans also had the rail mounted on the tub floors, which was a bet­ter op­tion. The fac­tory fit­ted, hard-wired 12-Volt power out­let lo­cated in the tub was used to power the fridge.

With the rocky roads ahead we wanted to fit some tougher all­ter­rain tyres, so the X250d Pro­gres­sive was fit­ted with a set of Toyo Open Coun­try ATIIS for added dura­bil­ity. The X250d Power rides on 18-inch al­loy wheels and suit­able tyres weren’t avail­able at such short no­tice, so we headed off on the stan­dard road­bi­ased rub­ber with an ad­di­tional spare.

Day one in­volved a high­way drive from Melbourne to Bro­ken Hill, where the Ben­zes cruised in com­fort and ease. The in­te­rior of these utes is a few steps above any­thing else cur­rently avail­able in this seg­ment, with com­po­nents taken from the C-class and V-class Ben­zes, in­clud­ing the dash, gauges, seats and trims.

The X250d Power in­te­rior is as you’d ex­pect of a Benz. It has heated leather, power-ad­justable seats with stitched leather on the dash and door trims, and a black roof lin­ing and trimmed pil­lars. The Pro­gres­sive is a bit lower key, with cloth seats, untrimmed dash and pil­lars, and a light-coloured hood lin­ing.

In all X-class vari­ants the rear seats are raised to im­prove the view of pas­sen­gers, and the roof is bulged to ac­com­mo­date this; how­ever, any pas­sen­gers more than 180cm tall will find it a tight fit. There were no com­plaints from those rid­ing up front on long

days, though. One com­plaint about the cabin is the lack of use­able stor­age space. There is only one cof­fee-cup holder, and the con­sole bin and glove­box are both small. The door pock­ets can house large wa­ter bot­tles and map books, while there are three 12-Volt power out­lets and two USB ports in­side.

Leav­ing the bi­tu­men be­hind us at Sil­ver­ton, we took the back roads north to­wards Ti­booburra, and it wasn’t long be­fore we en­coun­tered a prob­lem with the X250d Power. A gar­den of ex­posed rocks on a crest in the road was un­avoid­able, and the X-class’s tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor al­most in­stantly lit up the dash with a warn­ing. Pulling over re­vealed a huge cut in the side­wall of the driver’s side rear tyre, and it was duly re­placed as we thanked our­selves for that sec­ond spare – lucky we did, as the next day we lost an­other one. This time we were ex­plor­ing an old mine site, with lots of rocks and sharp stumps scat­tered around. One of those stumps cut the pas­sen­ger’s front side­wall, and we felt it be­fore the TPMS had time to warn us. 1. Out­back roads will sort out how

good the tyres are. 2. The tyre-pres­sure mon­i­tor lit-up the dash when the rear tyre’s side­wall was lac­er­ated. 3. Into NSW’S Cor­ner Coun­try. 4. No driv­ing along the wild dog fence.

THESE ROADS WERE CARDESTROYING, AND WE DIDN’T HOLD BACK THE SPEED

We crawled along a rocky road to Ti­booburra sans spare tyres for the X250d Power, and then hit the phones for re­place­ments. We found a set of Gen­eral Grab­ber AT3S that’d serve our pur­pose, but it meant re­turn­ing to Bro­ken Hill to have them fit­ted. It’s a fit­ting re­minder of how harsh the tracks are out here, and that you shouldn’t be out here on stock road tyres. With the Grab­bers on the X250 Power and the Toyo Open Coun­tries on the Pro­gres­sive, we ven­tured on with­out tyre is­sues for the re­main­der of the trip.

The tracks turned sandy as we passed through Cameron Cor­ner, where the states of New South Wales, South Aus­tralia and Queens­land meet. The softer, wider tracks al­lowed a bit more pace, and the sta­bil­ity of the Ben­zes in­spired con­fi­dence in these con­di­tions. The added wheel track helps here to spread the weight of the car over a broader foot­print, while the cal­i­bra­tion of the elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol never in­ter­feres un­nec­es­sar­ily on the tracks.

All X-class mod­els are loaded with safety kit, both pas­sive and ac­tive, and this is the first ute in this seg­ment to fea­ture au­ton­o­mous emer­gency break­ing (AEB). This fea­ture de­tects any pos­si­ble for­ward im­pact and not only warns the driver of the im­pend­ing in­ci­dent but ap­plies the brakes to avoid it if pos­si­ble, or at least lessen the im­pact. Other utes have the warn­ing sys­tem but not the full AEB at this point; although, we ex­pect other man­u­fac­tur­ers to soon fol­low suit. The cal­i­bra­tion of Benz’s elec­tronic safety sys­tems is very good, but the out­back throws up unique con­di­tions (pos­si­bly) found nowhere else in the world. One such con­di­tion – ap­proach­ing a cat­tle grid on a rise which was framed by signs on both sides, on a light sandy-coloured gravel road – tripped up the AEB a cou­ple of times. The AEB picked up the darker steel grid and signs and sud­denly ap­plied the brakes as we hit the grid. Af­ter ini­tially ap­ply­ing the brakes, the sys­tem must’ve re­alised there was noth­ing in front of it and re­leased the brakes, as it didn’t bring the ve­hi­cle to a com­plete stop. This hap­pened three times in the two cars over 5500km of out­back roads.

The AEB also ac­ti­vated when avoid­ing count­less kan­ga­roos – an­other uniquely Aus­tralian sit­u­a­tion – and even pulled the X-class up be­fore knock­ing one over. It slowed the car down and lim­ited the dam­age, but we felt the ABS cal­i­bra­tion could be bet­ter for gravel roads – pos­si­bly if it had a sep­a­rate cal­i­bra­tion when in 4x4 and on un­sealed sur­faces.

The four-cylin­der X-class mod­els use a part-time 4x4 sys­tem to pro­vide rear-wheel drive, locked 4x4 high range and locked 4x4 low range; stan­dard stuff for a one-tonne ute, as is the in­clu­sion of a rear diff lock. When the V6 X ar­rives later this year it will have full-time 4x4 in­clud­ing low range, which will be an­other fea­ture rare in the class – the Mit­subishi Tri­ton be­ing the only other ute with it.

There’s not a lot of need for low range when tour­ing the out­back, but slip­ping into 4x4 high range helps with sta­bil­ity and trac­tion on loose road sur­faces. There was the odd oc­ca­sion for low range when climb­ing out of a steep, dry river bank or over rocks, and the X wasn’t fazed by these.

Once we crossed into south­west Queens­land and broke south to­ward home, the tracks turned into some of the worst we’d felt on the trip. Sur­faces rut­ted up by pre­vi­ous rains, as well as pro­trud­ing rocks and cor­ru­ga­tions, make for ex­treme con­di­tions; but throw them all to­gether and it could be ve­hi­cle de­stroy­ing. On some of the longer sec­tions of these con­di­tions we felt the shocks start to soften up – the stock units can only take so much tor­ture – but they seemed to come back to life when the roads smoothed out and they cooled.

What was im­pres­sive was that, when we hit the bi­tu­men again as we ap­proached Went­worth, nei­ther of the cars had any rat­tles or squeaks in the cab­ins, in­di­cat­ing these Ben­zes are built solid. Those roads, as we headed south, were cardestroying, and we didn’t hold back the speed as we tra­versed them. Tyres, shocks and every nut and bolt are tested to the lim­its when pound­ing these tracks, and both Ben­zes held up very well.

Af­ter more than 5500km over two weeks, most of which was on un­sealed out­back roads, the fuel fig­ures were ex­cel­lent, with the X250d av­er­ag­ing 9.6L/100km for the trip and the Pro­gres­sive 9.8L/100km. Bear in mind both cars were on non-oe all-ter­rain tyres and that the ones fit­ted to the Pro­gres­sive were slightly taller than OE spec.

The big ques­tion re­mains: Is the X-class worth the price pre­mium over its com­peti­tors? The Pro­gres­sive and Power re­tail for $62,990 and $68,360 re­spec­tively as tested with all the op­tions fit­ted ($54,990 and $61,600 list price) so they rep­re­sent the top end of the four-cylin­der one-tonne ute mar­ket. But if you ap­pre­ci­ate a more lux­u­ri­ous in­te­rior, high lev­els of safety and bet­ter dy­nam­ics than the best one-tonne utes cur­rently avail­able, then it’s money well spent.

The real point of dif­fer­ence over the com­pe­ti­tion will come when the V6 en­gine lands later this year. It will cost more again, but the X350d will take the cat­e­gory to an­other level.

Speed­ing up on wider sandy tracks, the Ben­zes im­pressed with con­fi­dent han­dling in tricky con­di­tions.

1

2 3 4

1 Tak­ing the dual-cab to a new level of in­te­rior com­fort, Mercedes-benz bor­rowed com­po­nents from its C- and V-class sedans and vans.

Three-spoke mul­ti­func­tion steer­ing wheel is dressed in high-grade nappa leather.

Class touches in­clude a branded stain­less steel sports­bar, which is also avail­able in black.

2 3

1. Merc’s diesel and dust tour through amaz­ing coun­try. 2. Swag­ging out at a beaut camp on Cooper Creek. 1 2

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