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First drive: Mercedes-Benz X-Class ups the ante

X-men: Mercedes-Benz has released pricing for its hotly-anticipated X-Class ute, which will retail for between $45,450 and $64,500 for four-cylinder variants.

Pick-up refinement, ride and safety redefined with Mercedes-Benz X-Class


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23 Oct 2017


MERCEDES-BENZ’S X-Class is one of the most hotly anticipated, yet controversial new models in years with its entrance into the popular one-tonne utility segment and reliance on the Nissan Navara as a donor model – and our first drive proves it is indeed worthy of the three-pointed star badge.

Ever since the first concepts were shown a year ago ahead of the production model’s unveiling in July, the German prestige manufacturer has been at pains to assure journalists, the broader industry and the buying public that only the bare structure and four-cylinder powertrains from the Navara will carry through to an otherwise completely redesigned final product.

After driving the X-Class over several hundred kilometres in Chile last week, we can definitively state that the segment’s first truly premium offering is not only worthy of the luxury brand’s famous badge but will be a benchmark for all others to follow in key areas such as ride quality and cabin quietness.

Final pricing and specifications will be released before Christmas, but GoAuto understands that the positioning of its main rival – the Volkswagen Amarok, which is priced between $38,490 and $67,990 (plus on-roads costs) – provides a rough guide, even if a long list of luxury extras could push the X-Class flagship up to $80,000 and beyond.

As previously reported, the W470-series X-Class will launch next April with three specification grades (Pure, Progressive and Power), two dual-cab body styles (load-bed and cab-chassis) and a pair of Nissan-supplied Euro 5-compliant 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel powertrain choices.

The base X220d is a 120kW/403Nm single-turbo six-speed manual 4x2 rear-driver, while the X250d’s 140kW/450Nm twin-turbo comes in the same manual or with a seven-speed torque-converter automatic, in 4x2 and selectable four-wheel drive guise. The latter also includes a differential lock as standard.

In Euro-spec X250d 4x4 auto format, the X-Class can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 11.8 seconds, hit a top speed of 175km/h and achieve combined-cycle figures of 7.9 litres per 100km and 207g/km of CO2.

A V6 diesel 4x4 auto flagship is due around mid-2018, employing Daimler’s own 190kW/550Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel paired with a 7G-Tronic seven-speed torque-converter auto with 4Matic permanent AWD.

No petrol models are slated for right-hand-drive markets, so the 122kW X200 four-pot turbo opener aimed primarily at African and Middle Eastern markets remains out of bounds.

All RHD X-Classes will be sourced from Nissan Motor Iberica’s plant in Barcelona, Spain, which also produces the Nissan iteration for Europe (our Navaras hail from Thailand) as well as the upcoming and very closely related Renault Alaska pick-up.

Despite the X-Class looking like a Navara with a Mercedes nose simply grafted on, no body panels are shared between the two models.

With a shorter front overhang, extended tail and wider body, overall proportions have been altered, while a closer look at the details reveal a less pronounced upsweep in the back-door window line, a slightly stepped rear roof section in order to improve headroom, wider rear glass and fatter wheelarches.

Pictures alone don’t quite convey the level of change between the two vehicles.

Like its Nissan and Renault cousins, the X-Class employs body-on-chassis construction, with a steel ladder-type frame and coil springs at each end.

The front has double wishbones while the solid rear axle employs a multi-link suspension arrangement. Steering is via a modified hydraulic rack and pinion set-up, while braking has been boosted with four-wheel vented discs.

There is no regional or model-specific chassis tune differentiation, V6 excepted. Standard wheels are 17 inches, rising to 18-inch on the Power.

Nineteen-inch rims are optional.

While the Nissan, Mercedes and Renault utes all share a 3150mm wheelbase, other dimensions vary. The X-Class’ overall length, width and height comes in at 5340mm, 1920mm and 1819mm respectively, and front/rear tracks are 1632/1625mm.

The load-bed length is 1587mm, width 1560mm and height 475mm. A Euro pallet fits in, apparently.

Australian-bound versions will sit on the higher-riding ‘Off Road’ suspension that allows for 222mm ground clearance, 20mm above the standard European set-up.

The 4x4 variants include hill-descent braking, can climb 45-degree angles and cope with 49-degree tilt angles. Ramp break-over angle is 22 degrees, front angle approach is 30 degrees, rear is 25 degrees, maximum gradeability is 100 per cent and fording depth 600mm.

The four-cylinder diesel variants’ payload ranges from 998kg to 1092kg, while their maximum braked towing capacity is either 3200kg (4x2) or 3500kg (4x4), matching the equivalent Navaras.

Most of the components and tuning are unique to the Mercedes, with engineering work commencing in earnest during 2014.

Development took place mainly in Germany and Spain, with further shakedown testing in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Namibia since the beginning of last year. Work on the V6 has yet to be completed, hence the delay.

Over the Navara, the X-Class’ frame and body feature additional bracing and reinforcement, while added sound deadening and better sealing treatments have been applied in areas such as the firewall and transmission tunnel.

The manual gearbox shifts to a cable mechanism, further reducing vibration and harshness. These and other such measures strive to achieve Mercedes’ goals of class-leading comfort, refinement and safety.

With the X-Class claimed to be “on a par” with the company’s V-Class vans, has Stuttgart succeeded?Externally, in ute-obsessed Chile, the X-Class proved to be a real head-turner, constantly eliciting big thumbs-up gestures.

Handsome, well-proportioned and surprisingly un-Nissan-like in the flesh, perhaps it was the showy grille that garnered the most attention. Yet the slim non-wraparound tail-lights are especially evocative, recalling mid-century Ford F100 trucks as if paying some retro lip-service to this oh-so-American genre.

As Mercedes is making such a big deal about elevating pick-ups to new heights, nothing less than a quantum interior leap over the Navara is in order, and the airy, expansive cabin does step up. And that is true whether you are using your eyes, ears or buttocks to judge.

The dash, for instance, ably walks the line between functionality and finesse.

All key Mercedes passenger-car reference points are present – from the contemporary on-brand instrument dials and steering wheel to the switchgear and touchpad-activated central display screen.

While the Pure is a tasteful confluence of austerity and monochromatic plastics, the up-spec Power’s (available) wood veneer, brushed aluminium, suede-like inserts and stitched vinyl dash and door cap coverings convey upmarket aspiration.

Add firm yet supportive front seats aiding a fine driving position, and you’re soon aware that this is the most car-like truck, bar none. Even the rear bench is spacious and accommodating – although folk over 185cm might find scalps scratching ceilings back there.

Another striking X-Class feature is the lack of obtrusive noise during our drive program in the anticipated volume-selling X250d Power 4x4 auto even under acceleration the Nissan diesel is subdued, the tyres aren’t droning and there isn’t much to be heard at speed from the pillars or mirrors.

On the South American concrete, gravel and dirt, all peppered potholes, cracks, craters and debris, the isolation was exemplary. Beyond Volkswagen Amarok refinement though? We’ll have to wait to see.

Cabin downsides were pleasingly in short supply. While the base Pure’s plastic-only wheel and vinyl floor coverings aren’t that much of a surprise if you’ve ever sat in a Mercedes Vito van, it’s the up-spec Power’s Nissan keyless remote fob and non-reach-adjustable steering column that raise eyebrows hardy as they seem, some of the lower-level plastics are very bourgeois and the floor-mounted shifter surround looks and feels cheap.

Such complaints, however, are quashed by the sheer suppleness of the X-Class’ ride, which proved revelatory on the 255/60R18 tyres as fitted. On- or off-road, the levels of compliance plus quietness is surely standard-setting.

When the current Navara was launched three years ago with four-coil suspension, we expected car-like comfort but instead were disappointed the X-Class not only delivers on the original promise, it exceeds some current Mercedes passenger-car efforts. Astounding.

Our initial 150km-plus stint as a front-seat passenger had us scrambling for (relative) superlatives, for no contender in this segment has displayed such composed softness.

It even made the newly-hushed 140kW Nissan-sourced four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel’s only-adequate performance more palatable, matching our expectations in terms of acceleration (sufficient) and overtaking power (a little leisurely – but that’s what the coming V6 alternative will address).

Mated to the willing seven-speed auto, the powertrain was more than up to the job, whether in the hilly areas by the Andes or around the sprawling Santiago capital, where it managed to zip in between rare gaps with ease.

Steering feel, or rather lack thereof, is where our positive feelings towards the X-Class came a little unstuck.

While the chassis is tuned to provide appreciably steady and planted roadholding, even at speeds that might seem incongruous for a pick-up, there isn’t enough helm weight or feedback coming through to the driver, eroding confidence somewhat.

Clearly most consumers of this type of vehicle won’t care, but the high benchmark set by the best-selling Ford Ranger remains unassailed by Mercedes, which is a bit of a shock considering the dynamic focus of most other Benzes.

Furthermore, at some speeds or when off-throttle cruising, some discernible vibration in 4x4 mode was detected, although one engineer reckons this will be rectified by the time production goes into full swing.

Mercedes has really come out swinging hard with its first ute since the Argentinian W114 220D pick-up of the early 1970s.

Unless the Germans become greedy with pricing, the X-Class – which is set to come equipped with an extremely high level of equipment across the range, particularly in terms of safety – will give the class-leading Ranger and Amarok a velvet-gloved beating.

Thanks to unheard of levels of comfort and refinement, the X-Class pick-up has the power to silence critics as surely as it quells bumps and noises.

Let’s see if this silk purse can impress as effortlessly in Australia. Roll on April 2018.

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