A CHANGE OF HEART
Transplanting a Stuttgart engine into an Alliance-flavoured body has done wonders for Benz’s premium bakkie
GIVEN that I’ve only got three pages at my disposal here, I’m going to be frank off the bat and admit that I wasn’t at all taken with the four-cylinder X250d manual we tested in May 2018. It isn’t a bad bakkie per se but, despite the lengths to which Daimler had gone to stamp its identity on the X, the modestly powered 2,3-litre four-pot turbodiesel and long-throw manual gearbox did little to plaster over shortcomings you’d hoped to find absent in such a premium-priced vehicle. For something with that famed chrome tricorn on its nose, it simply doesn’t feel like a Mercedes-benz; the choice of powertrain and certain Nissan Navara quirks contrasted with the refinement and performance for which the brand is known. The connection to its workingclass relatives was simply too close for comfort.
On the face of it, the idea of slotting a Benz V6 turbodiesel and an automatic transmission into the equation was never going to amount to a sea change in my perception of the X-class but, put simply, I was wrong.
Certainly, the X350d’s exterior gives little suggestion of meaningful change; the main differentiator is a brace of rather subdued chrome V6 badges on the front wings. Flagship Power specification features such
cosmetic extras as 18-inch alloy wheels, a matte-silver bash plate up front and a chrome-plated rear bumper. Otherwise it’s X-class as usual, being attentiongrabbing in the boldness of its front-end design and badge novelty, but not overly bulky of frame.
It’s a similar story inside, where Power designation sees the likes of leather-effect upholstery and electrically adjustable seats included. Unfortunately, reach adjustment for the steering column remains absent in the V6 but at least the seats are supportive and easily positioned into a favourable driving stance.
It’s down by the driver’s knee that the greatest changes are afoot. That stubby gearlever links to a seven-speed automatic transmission of Mercedes-benz’s own design rather than Nissan’s unit, which is in turn coupled with a model-specific version of Benz’s long-serving 3,0-litre OM642 V6 turbodiesel, which does extensive duty in a wide variety of the rm’s sedans, light commercials and SUVS. Here, its outputs roughly mirror those of the E350d, with the exception of torque where the application of the seven-speeder, as opposed to the sedan’s nine-gear unit, sees the torque output drop from 620 N.m to a still-brawny 550 N.m. Those gures put it slightly behind the upcoming, class-leading 190 kw/580 N.m revised VW Amarok V6 (launching here in 2019, too).
On a mixture of motorway and winding rural roads in Slovenia, the X350d’s engine thoroughly impressed. Although there’s plenty of low-end shove, the application of a variable-geometry turbocharger means that power delivery is pleasingly linear and practically lag-free.
Mercedes-benz’s Dynamic Select drivetrain-management system is standard on the V6, serving up ve pre-tailored throttle- and gearshift-mapping options. Usually these systems are more of a gimmick than anything, with little palpable difference between each preset, but in the X350d the contrast between the default comfort mode and sport is de nitely discernable. The latter setting better harnesses the engine’s power and noticeably sharpens throttle response to unearth the shovein-the-back urgency that comfort masks so well. The gearshifts are smooth and well considered, al-
lowing you to concentrate more on how well the V6 acquits itself.
Motive power aside, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the engine is just how refined it is. The OM642 unit features a counter-rotating balance shaft nestled between the cylinder banks that offsets much of the inherent vibration the engine would otherwise generate. The result is an absence of diesel throb through the steering wheels and pedals, moving the pickup’s perceived drive quality up several notches above that of the four-cylinder.
The more engaging sections of our drive revealed the X350d to be reasonably nimble for a vehicle of its ilk, seldom feeling floaty or top-heavy when negotiating tight turns, and possessing a steering rack with gearing that strikes a good balance between feel and ease of use. The doublewishbone-front, multilink-rear suspension no doubt plays a part in keeping the X350d’s motions in check yet, despite that extra bit of kerb weight ironing out some of the kinks, the ride still becomes fidgety on broken surfaces.
Mercedes-benz remains somewhat cagey regarding the price sticker that the X350d will wear but it’s widely believed that a sub-r1 million figure is the ultimate goal. We’ll see whether or not that is possible. That’s a lot of money for any car, let alone a leisure bakkie. At least this model has the refinement and power expected of MercedesBenz’s wares.
The old adage “bigger is better” – regardless of its broader connotations – has worn thin in an automotive world where impressive downsized engines are becoming the norm. In the case of the X350d, however, that extra displacement goes a long way to making it feel a proper part of the Mercedes-benz family.
clockwise from top Seven-speed auto ‘box is a smooth operator; cabin is well nished but ergonomically quirky; good ground clearance and tough underpinnings make it a capable off-roader.
With 190 kw/550 N.m on tap, there’s more than just punchy performance; the X350d shoulders loads of 965 kg and serves up a braked tow rating of 3 500 kg, allowing it to tackle pretty much everything a family can throw its way.