TO UTILITY & BEYOND…
Philip Astor navigates the unfamiliar terrain of the Mercedes pick-up truck, before slipping behind the wheel of a plush, powerful Range Rover
‘APICK-UP?!’ Even Lady Bracknell could not have been more flabbergasted when it was proposed that I should write about a pick-up in these esteemed pages. In fairness, the X-class is no ordinary truck. OK, it is based on the well regarded but essentially utilitarian Nissan Navara; yet in terms of interior plushness and on-road handling, the team at Mercedes-benz has done a good job of transforming it into a truly premium model.
It’s quieter for a start, with more sophisticated sound insulation, and it boasts improved suspension and better traction than the Navara. Inside, if you’re a regular Mercedes driver, you will feel immediately at ease with the rotary-control gizmo that operates the ‘infotainment system’; and as in more orthodox Mercedes vehicles, the ‘info’ is revealed on a smart display screen that floats surreally, but in your line of sight, above the dashboard.
The engines currently available are the same as the X-class’ Japanese kinsman, and even the twin-turbo 250 d is a little sluggish: 0 to 60mph takes 10 seconds or more. The good news, though, is that Mercedes promises a sprightlier 3-litre V6 later in the year.
My use of the X-class coincided with London Fashion Week, when the editor of this magazine and its stablemate Harper’s Bazaar (who just happens to be my wife) gets ferried from show to show in a glamorous Mercedes-benz saloon. This year there was a fancy reception at Buckingham Palace, and I was confident that my prince among pick-ups, with its designer air vents inspired by jet engines, and bold three-pointed star on the front grille, was quite stylish enough to chauffeur her there and back. But it was not to be; for while my wife was content to be driven to do the weekly shopping at M&S, the editor felt that for stately events her limousine was somehow more befitting.
Which raises the question of who the X-class is intended for. I dare say that in these days of ‘cakeism’, there is indeed a healthy market for those who want to combine in one lifestyle vehicle a hardy workhorse with the extra luxuries and presence that a Mercedes-benz bespeaks. It would certainly be family-friendly, with the kids thrown in the back seats and their mountain bikes in the cargo area. Plus, you could tow a horsebox with their three ponies inside, or your own eightmetre yacht, according to choice and circumstances. Alternatively, if you were outward bound across ultra-tough terrain, or even climbing the odd grouse moor, you would have the reassurance of a low-range gearbox, rear diff lock and hill-descent assist. And not to be sniffed at are the fiscal benefits that come with being categorised as a light commercial vehicle.
Certainly, I was able to put it to good use in addressing one of the outstanding tasks of my marriage. It had been made very clear to me, in the spirit of marital compromise, that much of the stuff from my bachelor days was no longer required, so it has been languishing for years in storage. At last, the X-class provided the perfect means of carting it all off to auction; and a very smooth trip it was too. But that was, I hope, a one-off occurrence; and to be honest, a pick-up truck is probably not for me.
If I were in the market for a comparable vehicle, I would be looking at one SUV in particular. We spent a shooting weekend in January with friends in Wiltshire, and having heard good things about the Range Rover Velar, I requested a loan. For the purposes of a review I will simply say this: when it comes to comfort, performance, versatility and design, I couldn’t fault it. And Justine, as both my wife and editor, agreed. Mercedes-benz X250 d 4Matic Power from £34,100 (www.mbvans. co.uk). Range Rover Velar, from £45,145 (www.landrover.co.uk).
Above: the Mercedesbenz X-class. Right: the Range Rover Velar