While Mercedes-Benz has a long history of heavy-duty commercial vehicles covering everything from compact vans to massive prime movers, the new X-Class ute represents a new segment for the brand.
With big sales aspirations in mind the X-Class will go toe-to-toe with pickups like the Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux, and Volkswagen Amarok. The company calls its new creation “the Mercedes among pickups” hinting at a premium push from the workhorse category.
The truth beneath the surface is a little more mainstream with engines and chassis provided by Nissan and shared with the Navara. Mercedes-Benz has left no stone unturned in its quest to deliver a genuinely-Benz look and feel to the interior and exterior, creating a more premium but just as work-ready ute.
Vehicle Style: Dual-cab ute
Price: $45,000 - $65,000 plus on-road costs (estimated)
Engine/trans: 120kW/403Nm 2.3-litre 4cyl turbo diesel, 140kW/450Nm 2.3-litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 6spd manual, 7spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.9l/100km
The Mercedes-Benz X-Class will officially arrive in Australia from April of 2018 with a three model range that starts with the workhorse Pure, moving up to the work-and-play Progressive and tops out with the luxed-up Power
The Pure will be fitted out with standard features including 17-inch steel wheels, black bumpers, vinyl floors, and a 7.0-inch infotainment system. On the safety front the Pure will include seven airbags, a reversing camera, and an auto braking system that uses a radar and a camera to monitor people and vehicles ahead.
The mid-grade Progressive includes standard body coloured bumpers, 17-inch alloy wheels, built-in satellite navigation, carpet floor covering, rain-sensing wipers and a more premium seat fabric.
For a more Mercedes-like experience the flagship Power brings chrome bumpers, leather-look seat trim, electrically adjusted front seats, dual-zone climate control, 360-degree camera, keyless entry and an upsized 8.4-inch version of Benz’s Comand infotainment system.
There are a few key items missing off the X-Class Power’s features list like radar cruise control which is available on the Ranger, nor tyre pressure monitors, as on the Amarok V6.
Smartphone connectivity through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also missing, despite being included on a variety of Mercedes’ passenger models.
The Power also gets additional sound deadening, making for an impressively hushed cabin; road and wind noise are approaching passenger car levels.
That refinement comes at the expense of weight. At some 2.3 tonnes the X-Class is not light, tipping the scales hundreds of kilos above key rivals, including the Navara it’s based on.
As part of the Daimler-designed overhaul the interior gets a major rework compared to the donor Navara. There’s a few minor parts carried over, but at a glance the X-Class looks 100 percent Benz-native.
The cabin is broad and accommodating, up front at least. Those in the rear have a seat base significantly higher than those up front, so taller people may find their heads grazing the roof.
Mercedes-Benz has brought some of its passenger car personalisation to the X-Class too, with choices like macchiato beige or black roof linings, woodgrain, aluminium or a textured matte black as the interior trim choices, and a whopping six seat trim options including two in genuine leather.
Mercedes-Benz insists that the high level of personalisation is what separates its ute from those of competitors.
Not everything lives up to the standard of Benz passenger cars though, like the leather-look upper section of the dash which lacks the usual tactility of a Mercedes-benz product, and is paired with very Nissan-esque lower plastics that are hard and scratchy.
As with so many other utes the X-Class lacks steering wheel reach adjustment (but can be adjusted for eight), and somewhat unusually, the key hasn’t been changed from its Nissan design - an odd omission for something owners will interact with so often.
Storage, too, is light-on in the cabin, with one regular and one shallow cup holder and another small binnacle catering for phones and other odds and ends. That might help premium aspirations, but Aussie tradies won’t appreciate the lack of places to stow tape measures, iced coffees, quote books, and the like.
ON THE ROAD
Mercedes-Benz will launch with two four-cylinder diesel engines carried over from the Nissan Navara including an X220d 2.3-litre diesel producing 120kW and 403Nm paired exclusively with a six-speed manual or a more powerful X250d version with 140kW and 450Nm available as a manual or seven-speed automatic.
With sequential turbos the X250d delivers a hearty shove from a standstill and builds pace to triple figures in a leisurely but progressive manner, the journey taking 11.8 seconds.
Later in 2018 the X-Class will add a 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 (of Mercedes’ own design) with class-leading outputs of 190kW and 550Nm. A brief ride in the passenger seat confirms it is a big step up in grunt, while also bringing paddle shifters on the wheel.
While the X-Class rides on a truck-like ladder frame chassis, elsewhere there’s passenger car thinking, from the four-wheel disc brakes (all but the Amarok V6 uses drums at the rear) and coil spring suspension for all variants (Navara also offers coils, but on dual-cab pickup variants only.
With a body that is 70mm wider than the Navara the X-Class has a broad footprint and unique suspension components, including taut but compliant springs and excellent shock absorbers.
The rear suspension, in particular, is a big step up on the Nissan, with excellent control over large bumps; it settles quickly in one clean movement, rather than the jiggling that inflicts many unladen utes.
At lower speeds the inherent firmness of the suspension is more obvious, although it’s comfortable enough and brushes off big potholes (there were plenty) and bumps.
The 18-inch Continental tyres on our car gripped beautifully but are more about on-road poise than rock hopping.
The global first drive of the X-Class took place on the often poor quality roads of Chile, but early indications suggest that Benz’s first pickup will be one of the better handling beasts in the ute segment.
That said, the very vague and over assisted steering is a lowlight of the package, where a more connected and weighty steering system would have been a better fit to the X-Class’ abilities.
Vehicles that took part in the launch program were also fitted with a lower suspension than will arrive in Australia, with a 202mm ride height compared to the 222mm clearance of Aussie-delivered vehicles.
With a payload of up to 1067kg one of the big considerations is how the X-Class copes with a load, something we didn’t test this time around. There is a big variation across the ute category; the Hilux does a brilliant job, while the Navara is lacklustre.
A basic off-road course showed it to be capable with easy selection of all-wheel drive (it can be done on the move) via a rotary dial.
With 222mm of ground clearance and the ability to wade through 600mm of water the X-Class’s key stats match it with the class average.
Making the move into the tough world of utes is a big gamble for Mercedes-Benz, and one perhaps made all the more difficult by the decision to incorporate a touch of premium instead of simply concentrating on building a pure workhorse.
Perhaps as a result of its more humble underpinnings (which extends to items like electrical architecture as well) the X-Class doesn’t revolutionise the class. There’s no doubt its a solid offering, and top-spec versions come well equipped but it still doesn't lead the category.
Ultimately the success of this newcomer will come down to the price, something Benz plans to announce within weeks. Without giving specifics, the company is prepared to admit the X-Class will be priced slightly above key rivals.Whatever success the X-Class enjoys, buyers that take the plunge will have a stylish ute with acceptable driving manners and class-leading (for now) safety.