Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - X-Class - 250d Power Dual Cab Ute 4WD
Great steering and general dynamics, quiet and refined for a four-cylinder ute, attractive and comfortable cabin, big tray capacity, respectable payload, car-like dash design and tech
Room for improvement
Cabin beauty skin deep due to some awful build and plastic quality, underpowered, jiggly low-speed ride on big wheels, no steering reach adjustment, big turning circle
One-tonne payload not enough for Mercedes X-Class to meet the weight of expectation
19 Sep 2018
Costing $64,500 before on-roads, the range-topping – at least until V6 variants arrive – X250d Power variant with automatic transmission tested here is in the ballpark of a C220d wagon or GLC220d SUV, both of which are comfier, quicker, more luxurious and provide ample load-lugging capacity for most families.
Then again, we could say the same for the Ford Ranger Wildtrack or Volkswagen Amarok V6 Ultimate that are the big Benz’s real competitors and both incredibly accomplished rigs.
Mercedes has accomplished much with the X-Class, but after a week living with one we’d still rather spend $70K on a C-Class, GLC, Ranger or Amarok.
Offered solely as a dual-cab, Mercedes launched the four-cylinder X-Class with 13 variants, starting at $45,450 plus on-road costs for the black-bumpered X220d Pure 4x2 cab-chassis with six-speed manual transmission and topping out at $64,500 before on-roads for the four-wheel-drive automatic X250d Power variant tested here.
There are two levels of engine output from the 2.3-litre turbo-diesel, six-speed manual and seven-speed automatic transmissions, 4x2 and part-time 4x4 drivelines and three trim levels comprising Pure, Progressive and Power. Buyers of Pure and Progressive variants also get to choose between cab-chassis and tub configurations.
At the time of writing, Mercedes had just announced pricing for V6 diesel-powered X350d Progressive and Power variants at $73,270 and $79,415 respectively (plus on-roads).
From base spec up, the X-Class majors on its high level of standard safety features including active brake assist, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian protection and reverse collision mitigation, lane-departure warning, tyre pressure monitoring, seven airbags and a reversing camera (on variants with a tub).
In Power trim, there is a Comand Online multimedia system with eight speakers, DAB+ digital radio reception and satellite navigation, all-round parking sensors with 360-degree camera views, dual-zone climate control, automatic LED headlights and tail-lights, rain-sensing wipers, synthetic leather and microfibre upholstery, heated folding door mirrors, an auto-dimming interior mirror with in-built compass, electric front seat adjustment (including lumbar), climate control, a storage net in the front passenger footwell, and adjustable load-securing rails on the side of the load bed.
Cosmetically there are 18-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured bumpers with chrome highlights, ‘silver shadow’ cabin highlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, handbrake and gear selector, front footwell lighting, aluminium door sill panels, grained dashboard finish and carpet flooring.
Our test X-Class was fitted with the $2490 Style Pack comprising 19-inch alloys, rear privacy glass, an electric sliding rear window, side steps and roof rails. We also had the Winter Pack with front seat heating and heated washer nozzles.
Mercedes had also added black leather upholstery ($1750 and also available in brown), Rock Grey metallic paint ($950), a security alarm ($590), black roof lining ($400) and $170 worth of aluminium-look cabin trim.
Accessories fitted include the $1551 chrome sports bar – with Mercedes-Benz branding etched into it – and a plastic bed liner costing $899, also emblazoned with Benz branding.
With our X-Class kitted out with all this stuff, it’d cost $73,890 plus on-roads.
Other dealer-fit accessories developed for the X-Class include towbars, sports bars, side steps, underbody protection, canopies, soft and hard tonneau covers, storage boxes, load bed dividers, a tailgate damper, floor-mounted cargo rails and a sliding floor.
In keeping with its premium brand position, Mercedes has certainly glitzed up the X-Class cabin with elements familiar from its passenger car range – especially in the up-spec and optioned-up Power variant tested here.
These include the instrument cluster, big-screen multimedia system – including love-or-hate rotary controller – and air-conditioning vents. A single column stalk for indicators and wipers is present and correct too, as is the wand-like cruise control lever.
As a result, it was initially a little disconcerting to not have a column-mounted gear selector in our auto-equipped X-Class. And the climate control panel beside the conventionally located gear lever isn’t the same as you’d find in any other Mercedes.
Overall, the look is impressive. And we were delighted to find upholstered windowsill trims rather than the unyielding and uncomfortable hard plastic that is de rigeur in dual-cabs. Overall, material choice and texture is pretty good, especially the wonderful-to-hold steering wheel. It makes sense for the part of a vehicle you touch the most to feel expensive and Mercedes absolutely nailed that.
There are some glaring exceptions, though. Notably the thin, bendy black plastic around the air-con vents and the flimsy feel of the vents themselves. To forgive this, we have to remind ourselves this is a commercial vehicle.
Less forgivable is that Mercedes seems to expect X-Class owners will wear cargo pants for every journey. Why else would there be so little interior storage? There is nowhere obvious to rest a phone, for example. And the one-and-a-half cup-holders are pathetically inadequate. Tradies, parents and everyone in between will surely be asking why storage front and rear is so limited.
Those familiar with the Mercedes way of thinking will quickly get to grips with the Comand Online multimedia setup of the X-Class Power. Although it lacks smartphone mirroring via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, it is a fully-featured system with crisp, modern graphics and the 360-degree camera display is by far the best of any ute on the market.
Likewise the large colour multi-function trip computer display between the instruments. It’s a shame, then, that the cruise control runs so easily away with itself on gradients (we found ourselves 17km/h over our selected speed at one point) and Mercedes’ excellent Distronic adaptive cruise control system is unavailable. Better is the lane departure warning that sends tremors through the steering wheel, although it makes no corrective inputs.
Once we’d located the weirdly angled starter button behind the steering wheel and got our X-Class in motion, we were pleased to find a level of noise and vibration suppression beyond what we’re used to in most utes. Unless driving into a headwind – which generated an annoying whistle around the driver’s window – progress was remarkably serene.
For perspective, hopping between the X-Class and a just-launched Hyundai Santa Fe SUV in top-spec Highlander trim, we found engine noise intrusion to be far worse in the seven-seat Hyundai.
We are trying hard to avoid the N-word – Navara – but the X-Class does benefit from being wider than its donor vehicle. Three abreast in the back is much more doable, for example, and we managed to verify Mercedes’ claim that a full-size Australian pallet will fit between the arches in its tub as it was the only vehicle capable of doing so when enlisted to join a fleet of dual-cabs transporting supplies to an event.
But transporting five big adults is a bit cramped in terms of kneeroom and headroom. Happily, those up front are comfortable, and the Power’s electrically adjustable seats offer plenty of flexibility for occupants tall and small. Our ideal driving position wasn’t quite achievable due to the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment, though.
Outboard rear bench positions have Isofix anchorages for families to fit child seats, but we were unconvinced by the potential longevity of seatbelt style webbing fabric used for the for child seat top tethers, even if they are more easily accessible than the solid metal type hidden behind the rear seat-back on most dual-cabs.
The supplied bed liner came away from its interface with the pallet unscathed, while the tub’s 12V power outlet and work lamp are undoubtedly useful additions. We reckon, though, to carry through that premium experience that a tailgate damper – a $495 dealer-fit accessory – should really be standard on this truck.
Also, while the adjustable tie-down rails along the sides of the tub are pretty handy and worked well for securing the high-stacked pallet we transported, the complete lack of tie-downs in the load floor make the X-Class difficult to live with when transporting smaller or low-slung objects.
Engine and transmission
Our X-Class was powered by a 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel engine producing 140kW of peak power at 3750 rpm and 450Nm of torque from 1500-2500 rpm. These outputs were distributed via a seven-speed torque converter automatic transmission to a part-time four-wheel-drive system with low-range transfer case, rear differential lock and electronic hill descent control.
Before adding any payload, the X-Class is around 250kg heavier than the Nissan with which it shares an engine and transmission. This makes it feel pretty sluggish in traffic or accelerating up even gentle hills, to the extent that one passenger – who drives an Isuzu D-Max as their company vehicle – described it as ‘gutless’.
It’s much better once up to speed, providing a seamless country road and motorway driving experience – especially given the sense of isolation from noise and vibration – that is quite in keeping with the badge on the bonnet. Similarly, calibration of the smooth and seamless automatic transmission was impressive.
Efficiency is excellent, too, as we averaged 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres during our 650km week with the X-Class. That’s better than the official 7.9L/100km combined cycle, but our work schedule did require a lot of motorway driving during our week with the dual-cab Benz.
Still, we can’t help but feel we will be missing out on the full Mercedes-Benz experience until the V6 X350d variants show up. At that point, we’ll feel much more confident loading up the tray, towing a trailer and overtaking B-doubles with an X-Class.
In addition, the familiar Nissan-sourced 4x4 system controls were a little temperamental when trying to disengage low-range. Gear-shifts were also rather jerky abrupt when using low-range, which eroded the classy sheen with which Mercedes has embellished this vehicle and made it a little harder to drive off-road with finesse. Again, the Benz-developed permanent 4x4 system of the V6 should address this.
Ride and handling
Apart from the premium look and feel of the X250d Power’s lovely steering wheel, the first thing we noticed was its light and buttery smooth action. It’s far, far better in this regard than the Navara. Thankfully.
This leads to something of a false sense of security, though, as it still requires a fair bit of arm-twirling during tight manoeuvres and the 13.4m turning circle gets pretty unwieldy (a HiLux is 11.8m, Ranger and Colorado are 12.7m and an Amarok is 12.95m). At least the fluidity of action can be enjoyed during all this hard work.
Our test had a bit of a jiggly edge to its ride that we blamed on its optional 19-inch alloy wheels, but at higher speeds this ceased to be an issue on all but the worst of road surfaces.
Threading the X-Class along some twisty back-roads reveals the reason for the firmness. It feels uncommonly controlled, balanced and fluid in this environment, although we wonder how much this is down to the highway-biased Bridgestone tyres that have an ironclad grip on bitumen but would be utterly compromised on slippery off-road terrain. Is it as good as an Amarok in this regard? We’d have to test them back-to-back.
The X-Class didn’t feel quite so imperious as an Amarok or Ranger off-road – mostly as it felt a bit overwhelmed by its own weight – but its suspension setup both provided ample articulation for larger obstacles and remained impressively settled at higher speeds. This would be even better on 18- or even 17-inch wheels with higher-profile tyres.
Steering remained pretty much uncorrupted on corrugated gravel roads, the rear end faithfully tracking the front on rough corners and the suspension rarely giving the impression of packing down when faced with sustained pummelling.
At higher speeds on bitumen, the steering weight beefs up and tighter turns tend to get the driver’s arms a bit crossed-up, but the feel through the wheel is incredibly natural for a 4x4 ute and its relatively slow rack does make more sense on looser surfaces where constant small corrections are required. Above 80km/h the steering is beautifully matched by the brake pedal action, which is otherwise a bit inconsistent and strangely heavy when travelling more slowly.
Overall, the X-Class is one of the most confidence-inspiring dual-cabs to hustle along, while being one of the most comfortable as well. Considering it can also take a tonne in the tray, tow more than three tonnes and head deep into the bush, that’s an almost miraculous feat of engineering. If only the engine was adequate for all these tasks.
Safety and servicing
In February 2018, ANCAP awarded the X-Class range a five-star safety rating, scoring 90 per cent for adult occupant protection and 87 per cent for child occupant protection. Pedestrian protection and safety assist were 80 per cent and 72 per cent respectively.
With the X-Class, Mercedes-Benz is the first brand in Australia to specify autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane departure warning as standard range-wide.
It also includes forward collision warning, cruise control with speed limiter, hill-start assist, trailer sway control, tyre pressure monitoring and a reversing camera. Other safety equipment comprises seven airbags (dual front, side and curtain plus driver knee), anti-lock braking, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, and the usual stability and traction control systems.
All X-Class variants come with a three-year/200,000km warranty with complimentary roadside assistance for the duration.
Service intervals are every 12 months of 20,000km, whichever comes first. Three years of capped-price servicing is optionally available through Mercedes-Benz’s dealer network.
As there seems to be no limit to what Aussies will pay for a dual-cab 4x4 ute, given the number of top-spec models we see out and about sporting tens of thousands worth of dealer-fit or aftermarket accessories, the Mercedes-Benz X-Class is certain to find heaps of buyers.
But it’s a bit of a mixed bag and has some incredibly accomplished competition to contend with. It’s also arguably limited by the Nissan on which it’s based, as the Navara is far from class-leading by many objective and subjective measures.
Meaningful improvements and points of difference are the cabin and tub breadth, on-board safety and in-dash technology, cabin design and exceptional ride/handling balance. Perhaps it is asking too much for Mercedes to erase all evidence of Nissan componentry in the X-Class, but its presence is nevertheless disappointing.
This applies most of all to the underdone drivetrain.
Of course, this will be addressed when the V6-powered X350d launches in December with its all-Benz engine, transmission and full-time four-wheel-drive technologies. Then again, we now know exactly how handsomely Mercedes will charge for the privilege.
As we said in the Overview, the X-Class suffers from the sheer weight of expectation that has been building since it was announced.
It doesn’t quite live up to the hype but it’s a pretty good effort. As it stands, the four-cylinder X-Class is slightly lacking in X-factor.
Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate V6 ($68,490 plus on-road costs)
Ultimate by name, ultimate by nature. From behind the wheel it is hard to believe this is not some kind of upmarket SUV but where the X-Class trumps the all-conquering Amarok is safety with its seven airbags and autonomous emergency braking. The Amarok doesn’t have curtain airbags in the back and there’s no AEB on the horizon either. Like the Benz it can take a palette in the tub and it can seat three abreast comfortably too, but it’s similarly lacking in legroom with five tall folk onboard.
Ford Ranger Wildtrack automatic ($61,790 plus on-road costs)
Australians can be proud of this homegrown hero, even if it is made in Thailand. Ride, refinement and road manners, are all close to class-leading, it has amazing off-road ability the some of the segment’s best driver-assistance. Venerable five-cylinder engine out-grunts the X-Class, although the Ford can feel a bit big and unwieldy on the road. About to get even better with the PXIII facelift that will bring its safety spec up to X-Class levels, a new four-cylinder engine and 10-speed automatic transmission.
Holden Colorado SportsCat by HSV automatic ($62,990 plus on-road costs)
HSV devotees might find the SportsCat a little lame by comparison to its road-going hot-rods of old but there is a meaningful level of sheen added to the already respectable Colorado on which it’s based. But we stand by our belief that the Colorado it at its best in LTZ trim.
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