Thursday 16th November 2017
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First drive: Mercedes-Benz X-Class. Image by Mercedes.

First drive: Mercedes-Benz X-Class
Mercedes’ first one-tonne pick-up is understandably superb, but we’re waiting for more...

 



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Mercedes-Benz X-Class

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Here comes Mercedes, the first premium manufacturer (sorry, Volkswagen...) to weigh into the one-tonne pick-up truck market. The German company has done so by taking the excellent Nissan Navara and subjecting it to a thorough round of updates, resulting in one of the most refined trucks on sale right now. It's not perfect in this range-topping X 250 d Power guise, but next year a V6 model is coming, and all the signs are that the X 350 d will be the machine to depose the Volkswagen Amarok V6 from its throne as king of the pick-ups.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mercedes-Benz X 250 d Power
Pricing: X-Class range from £27,310 (excl. VAT); 250 d Power from £34,100 (excl. VAT), from £40,920 (incl. VAT)
Engine: 2.3-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: all-wheel drive, seven-speed automatic
Body style: four-door pick-up
CO2 emissions: 203g/km (£240 flat rate commercial vehicle road tax annually)
Combined economy: 36.7mpg
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 11.4 seconds
Power: 190hp at 3,750rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 1,500- to 2,500rpm

What's this?

The Mercedes-Benz X-Class, finally with us after a long build-up. It joins a growing flotilla of deeply impressive, more passenger car-oriented one-tonne pick-ups that are on sale in the UK, and Mercedes is pitching it at the top end of the market in terms of its pricing and as an ownership proposition. That means it's a direct rival for the mighty Volkswagen Amarok V6 and the upmarket Ford Ranger Wildtrak. Both of these are expensive and luxuriously appointed trucks that are bought ostensibly as commercial vehicles, but which are more usually ordered in bells-and-whistles spec and used as pseudo-SUVs for family and/or private use.

To that end, Mercedes' decision to kick off the X-Class range in the UK with only four-cylinder diesel power will seem a bit odd. But of course the X-Class is intended to be bought by some customers that do the tough stuff on occasion, and the 2.3-litre turbocharged motor from the closely-related Nissan Navara is more than adequate at providing the necessary grunt. Like the Nissan, the Mercedes pick-up comes with either 163hp/403Nm (the X 220 d) or 190hp/450Nm the (X 250 d) and all models are 4Matic all-wheel drive as standard. Trim lines are different to the brand's passenger car range, as the X-Class will be sold through Mercedes' commercial vehicle outlets rather than its car showrooms, so they run Pure, Progressive and Power.

Without VAT, that gives the X 220 d Pure a starting price of £27,310, which is competitive but not as low as rivals like the Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi L200 or indeed the Navara itself. The Pure model comes with steel wheels, a six-speed manual, a fairly basic roster of standard equipment and a, er... distinctive black front bumper/grille arrangement that means it will be an automotive unicorn in the UK.

Much more representative of what a UK punter will option up is the current range topper, the X 250 d Power driven here. With the most potent engine, a seven-speed automatic and an equipment list that's SUV in its quality, including Artico leather and Dinamica microfibre upholstery with heated and eight-way electrically-adjustable front seats, a top-stitched leather dash and steering wheel, cruise control, climate control, seven-inch touchscreen with Comand Online and Garmin Map Pilot functionality as an option, DAB, Bluetooth, USB sockets, LED lights front and rear, 360-degree camera and a digital information screen in the instrument cluster, among more. It's £34,100 without VAT and £40,920 with it, so it's not cheap - in fact, price-wise this four-pot Merc is the same cash as a top-spec Amarok V6.

Nevertheless, the X-Class looks wonderful. With its trademark Mercedes face and C-shaped LED rear clusters, it's a distinctive thing and the only hint of Navara (or, indeed, Renault Alaskan, a pick-up not yet confirmed for the UK) you might spot in the aesthetic department is the kick-up of the window line towards the rear of the cab. Otherwise, the X-Class cuts its own design path and is immediately the class looker. It's a pity the yellow metallic paint in the pictures is not actually available on the X-Class as yet, in any market, but the company says it is 'looking at bringing it in' at some point in the near future. From the outside, the X-Class convinces as a truly premium truck.

Inside is less successful in terms of finishing. It's by no means a bad cabin, but the Navara links are more obvious, such as the extremely low-mounted heating controls and the so-so door cards, and indeed the pebble-shaped ignition key, which is identical to that of the Nissan save for the Mercedes logo. There's also an automatic shift lever that looks more akin to something you'd find in a Sprinter van than in a C-Class, although that's perfectly acceptable. However, the X-Class' worst feature is the cheap, brittle plastic that swathes the transmission tunnel and middle of the fascia, which houses a strangely stunted-looking little panel of infotainment shortcut buttons.

We fully understand why this plastic has to be so durable - the cabin of base models will take a pummelling and it's not financially savvy to do a one-off, soft-touch piece of trim just for the Power spec - but it doesn't feel in any way Mercedes-Benz, and it makes the dash feel less special than those found in the Amarok, Ranger and the Navara itself.

The X 250 d does make up for it somewhat by employing the lovely scalloped trim higher up the dash, the sumptuous, padded leather atop that, the gorgeous Mercedes steering wheel and the classy instrument cluster behind it, and also by being simply huge inside, with plenty of room in the back for adults. Yet if you're paying extra over the opposition for having a Mercedes' badge, we think this cabin might leave you feeling a little underwhelmed.

How does it drive?

Mercedes says it has taken the best bits of the Navara and improved upon them, and as the Nissan is a good truck in the first place, that's hugely promising. Sadly, the Navara's weak point is its noisy, agricultural 2.3-litre engine, which - while brawny and powerful - is unrefined, even accepting the generally lower refinement standards of this CV-derived market segment.

Nevertheless, Mercedes' engineers have worked wonders on noise suppression. You will hear the four-pot rattling away at cold idle, you will notice some vibrations through the brake pedal when you're sitting stationary in traffic and you will think the motor's soundtrack becomes coarse when you rev it beyond 3,000rpm, but for most of the rest of the time it feels smooth, provides plenty of acceleration (especially when teamed to the silky seven-speed auto - it's mechanically identical to the Navara's box, but Mercedes has tweaked its software to great effect) and is suitably hushed. Where the X 250 d really lands some devastating blows on its chief opposition is in terms of the suppression of tyre roar and wind noise, because it's quieter than anything else of this ilk. At a 70mph cruise, the Mercedes feels a significant cut above the pick-up pack.

Brilliantly, it preserves the fantastic ride of the Navara's multilink suspension, once again set-up according to Mercedes' own parameters that allow it to take 1,067kg in its load bed and lug a 3,500kg trailer behind it. Because the X-Class has a ladder-frame construction, we're not talking SUV levels of comfort here; there's a faintly-perceptible shudder present at all times which speaks of its rugged underpinnings. But you won't beat this ride quality in a flatbed-toting truck and coupled with the low levels of interior noise intrusion, it makes the Mercedes feel like precisely what it is: premium. It's considerably nicer to travel in than a Navara, good though that car is.

The handling is also superb, with masses of grip from both axles and impressive body control for a tall, heavy vehicle like this. The brakes need a firm prod but they are discs all round, a feature that the X-Class shares only with the Amarok in this class. The steering is the star though, because while it is admittedly slow, it is nicely weighted, informative and consistent. It allows you to build real confidence in what the Mercedes pick-up is doing and how it will respond to a rapid series of high-speed corners. Even as an X 250 d, it's the best truck to drive in the class already.

Off-road, the Mercedes has impressive approach, departure and breakover angles (30, 25 and 49.8 degrees maximum respectively), the ability to ford 600mm of water and ground clearance of at least 202mm. The X-Class also boasts a full low-range four-wheel-drive system and optional diff lock on the rear axle, making it supremely talented in the rough stuff. We sampled it on modestly tough, if overtly dry and dusty off-road courses, and it felt completely in its element and capable of going long distances into the wilderness. The steering also came into its own, making placing the Mercedes accurately on rough surfaces a doddle.

However, there's a postscript to this. We, like others, are surprised that the V6 model isn't available from launch. But Mercedes made sure a prototype version of the 258hp/550Nm X 350 d was available at our test event, for fast passenger rides and a brief session of off-roading. Merc says it has adapted the suspension settings on the X 350 d to make it sportier to drive, and the V6 gets Mercedes' own 7G-Tronic transmission, as well as the highly useful ability to shift to '4Lo' on the fly at speeds of up to 25mph.

Even though we were only in the passenger seat, it's the X 350 d that is everything you'd expect a Mercedes pick-up to be. It feels like a sports SUV, rather than a truck, and it goes like rabid fury for something weighing 2.2 tonnes. So, although it will be very pricey, it's already looking like this 3.0-litre version of the X-Class will waltz its way to the top of the segment when it arrives next year. Can't wait.

Verdict

The easy denouncement of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class is to say 'it's just a rebadged Nissan Navara that costs even more money'. But that would be wholly missing the point. The fact is that Mercedes has worked hard at improving the overall refinement of the base package considerably, to the point that even the 2.3-litre engine sounds perfectly acceptable in this application. It has class-leading noise suppression, ride quality and handling, and it's also a damned fine-looking big truck.

It's a shame that the interior wasn't given quite as much development as the chassis, and it's also the most expensive pick-up of its type in the UK, but already the X 250 d feels like it's up there with the Volkswagen Amarok V6 TDI as the most cosseting and rewarding vehicles of its type... and the X 350 d that's on the way in mid-2018 feels like it's going to be a genuinely special, game-changing moment in the one-tonne truck sphere.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

5 5 5 5 5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 31 Oct 2017









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2017 Mercedes-Benz X-Class drive. Image by Mercedes.2017 Mercedes-Benz X-Class drive. Image by Mercedes.2017 Mercedes-Benz X-Class drive. Image by Mercedes.2017 Mercedes-Benz X-Class drive. Image by Mercedes.2017 Mercedes-Benz X-Class drive. Image by Mercedes.

2017 Mercedes-Benz X-Class drive. Image by Mercedes.2017 Mercedes-Benz X-Class drive. Image by Mercedes.2017 Mercedes-Benz X-Class drive. Image by Mercedes.2017 Mercedes-Benz X-Class drive. Image by Mercedes.2017 Mercedes-Benz X-Class drive. Image by Mercedes.








 

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