Mercedes-Benz X-Class X350d V6 2019 review
It's just as well the new X-Class V6 has a bag full of grunt because it's got a hard slog in front of it.
Starting from the bottom of the sales ladder there’s plenty of blue sky for the Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute to enjoy, but the German brand will be gunning to take down its nearest foe Volkswagen before even sniffing at the segment leaders. To achieve that, it has to at least triple sales figures.
Enter the X-Class V6.
Tapping into its chief rival’s own niche, the X-Class is the only other diesel V6 dual-cab ute money can buy. In a sea of four-cylinder turbos with lack lustre power, the two Germans stand out for all the right reasons. And Mercedes also gains the benefit of having more control over how its Nissan Navara-based ute feels, replacing the Japanese driveline with its own mechanical package.
Problem is, Volkswagen is only making its old V6 truck cheaper. So why buy the Merc?
Essentially, the X-Class is no different than most utes – one-tonne payload, 3500kg towing, a tray out the back and five seats in the cabin. What many buyers are really (secretly) coming for is the three-pointed badge upfront.
However, with only the Navara-sourced four-cylinder engine on the market so far, sales are yet to scare VW. But that might all change with this Merc-built V6 unit that will tickle the fancy of power-hungry shoppers - if you can afford it.
This is not an apprentice-wage ute, and with a few options ticked the price approaches almost $90,000 before on-road costs.
Like the existing lineup, the x350d carries on with the same two model grades, Progressive and Power. Progressive – the base trim – is priced at $73,270 plus on-road costs. The Power takes the ticket up to $79,415.
Our test vehicle was fitted with extras (leather, Style pack, metallic paint, bedliner, style bars and a tow kit) that elevated pricing before on-road costs to $88,618.
By way of comparison, the simplest VW Amarok V6 Core 550 is priced at $52,590, and the most expensive Ultimate 580 comes in at $72,790 plus on-road costs.
Along with a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel engine and enough badging to let everyone at the traffic lights know what you’re packing, the base model Progressive is equipped with fabric trim interior, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control and a reversing camera.
The Power tops-up the features list with a neater aluminium dash, black roof liner, 19-inch alloys, body-coloured bumper parts, fog lamps, parking assist, adjustable load rails in the tray, tray light, leather-look trim, electric front seat adjustment and a 360-degree birdseye-view camera.
Safety technology in the X350d V6 duo surpasses that of most utes on sale right now, with the X250d’s lane-keeping assist upgraded to active lane keeping which pulses the steering wheel and applies braking to one side of the vehicle to mitigate an accident.
Both models also come standard with active brake assist, ESP trailer sway, tyre pressure monitoring and cruise control.
Options include leather seat trim ($1750), bedliner ($899), style bar ($1551) and metallic paint ($950). The standard 19-inch alloys on this test vehicle were also downsized as part of the Style pack that includes tinted windows, side steps, roof rails and black 18-inch alloys ($1900).
A range of further accessories are available, including storage and load tie downs for the tray, underbody protection, bumper bars and different alloy wheels.
The X-Class is covered by a three-year, 200,000km warranty.
Service intervals for the V6 are every 12 months or 20,000km, whichever comes first, and fixed price servicing over the first three years starts from $2555 in a basic package.
Underneath the plethora of three-pointed stars is the Japanese-designed, Spanish-built Nissan Navara D23 platform architecture. Though not the quintessential Mercedes-Benz car made in Germany it’s no bad thing either, given the current-generation Navara is into its third lifecycle update and a better ute because of it.
The question, therefore, is how much is that badge is worth – a complicated answer given the amount of German engineering sitting underneath some reworked sheet metal.
The engine is built by Mercedes and much of the structure has been modified, including a longer and wider track (5340mm long, 3150mm wheelbase and 2113mm wide). The coil-over rear suspension is also different and the V6 model gains a dual-synchromesh low-range transfer case taken from the latest G-Class that lets the X-Class V6 drop into low range on the fly.
Adding to its four-wheel-drive chops are a rear-locking differential and centre differential for full-time four-wheel-drive.
But there are nods to its Nissan origins elsewhere, particularly in the lower sections of the cabin that are not up to usual Mercedes-Benz quality. And the key fob, which is straight from the Nissan parts bin sans the badge.
What's the interior like?
The seats are retrimmed Navara pews, but they are comfortable and have (for a ute) some good adjustability via electric switchgear. The Steering column isn’t so freely moveable, missing out on any reach adjustment and having a limited tilt, but the overall seating position is high and snug, and the rear seat has comparatively generous legroom. As a family part-timer there’s enough room for kids with isoFix anchors on the outer cushions for child restraints.
Between the front occupants are two cupholders, an average-sized centre console bin and a USB charging port that also acts as the gateway for connecting to the infotainment system, though it doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Instead, it uses basic USB and Bluetooth connectivity and a control pad on the centre console for navigating the menus. While an older unit than the current crop of new Mercedes gear it still feels slick enough compared to what’s available elsewhere. But some of the touchpoints surrounding it are a little cheap and uninspiring considering the price-point - a bogey of this premium-positioned dual-cab’s origins.
It sits up high but with side step rails and grab handles to hold onto it’s not hard to pull up and into both the front and rear seats, and the tailgate opens and closes with an easy light touch.
The cabin has good headspace, but the X-Class does not get the option for a sunroof like the Navara. In the back, the tray measures a large 1587mm long and 1560mm wide.
What's it like to drive?
The heart of the machine is a ripper, with thumping torque available from down low in the rev range. The 3.0-litre V6 turbo produces the full 550Nm from 1400-3200rpm but it’s not until over 2000rpm that the ute really begins to shuffle along quickly and feels every bit as quick as it claims.
There are five driving modes available – comfort, eco, sport, manual and offroad – and it’s certainly in the sport setting that it feels lively, while tending to be a touch hesitant to fly off from a standing start in normal and eco modes. Manual mode is simply an override for using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to control the seven-speed automatic transmission, which is always solid and quick to engage the corresponding gear.
Despite sounding chattery outside it’s pretty quiet inside the cabin, and roars along pleasantly when giving it the herbs.
Feeding on diesel, the X-Class keeps a healthy drinking habit with a claimed fuel consumption rating of 8.8L/100km on the government combined cycle.
Even if it might be built like a mongrel, the X-Class is one of the more sophisticated utes to drive. It doesn’t have the plush ride of the also coil-sprung (and highly modified) Ford Ranger Raptor, but it does have some poise and stability on the road that surpasses the limits of its donor car. And it mixes all this with solid work attributes.
Namely, it’s the steering that feels better, with resolved front-end accuracy and turn-in that’s sharp but not rigid. And the control on mid-corner bumps is firm yet limber enough to prevent skipping that plagues some of the more agricultural feeling contenders.
The overall ride is firm though and the 18-inch tyres on our test vehicle, in place of the standard Power model’s 19-inch items, helped to ease stiffer vibrations over corrugations and bumps. It seems less pliable than our first taste overseas of the same model where the X-Class sits 20mm lower on a different suspension tune. The trade-off to the occasionally wooden ride is top-notch trade-ready payload and towing capacity with 222mm ground clearance, and the V6 engine underneath deals with heavy loads unperturbed.
It’s also confident off-road and the G-Class-sourced transfer case is rock solid, built to last an apocalypse and out-run the competition by slotting into low range on the move.
The all-wheel-drive system dubbed ‘4Matic’ is permanently engaged in daily driving and will distribute 40 to 60 per cent of torque to the rear wheels depending on grip. In four-high it increases the torque-split to between 30 and 70 per cent, and in four-low is locked down 50-50 between the axles.
Scrambling up some dry off-road tracks in the Australian summer the X350d felt at ease on inclines and was easy going along some heavily rutted tracks that pushed articulation to the point where the traction control system had to work to get grip onto the correct wheel. For those ready to put bush pinstriping down the sides of a Mercedes at its limit, the approach and departure angles are 30 and 35 degrees respectively, ramp breakover 22 degrees, and the maximum rated water forwarding depth measures 600mm.
Back in suburbia, the engine is flexible with more than enough grunt, but it feels its size with a bigger turning-circle than usual, though the 360-degree camera is a handy safety feature that makes parking easy.
What's the first impression?
Buying for the badge, the four-cylinder X-Class wasn’t a hit. So maybe this time with a bit more Mercedes and muscle under the bonnet it will sing to the buyer’s demands. But at this price point there are other options if you want to stand out, namely the athletic Ford Ranger Raptor and V8-powered Ram 1500, and the old but muscular Volkswagen Amarok.
Considering the improvements made in this V6 alone over the four-cylinder model, it now feels like one of the more civilised dual-cabs on the market, even if it’s not the ultimate Mercedes-Benz ute just yet.
Alex Rae is Drive’s Melbourne based reporter with over 10 years’ experience in the automotive industry as a photographer and journalist. Having studied both engineering and the arts, Alex understands what makes things tick while appreciating that sometimes it’s all about form over matter…