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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - X-Class - X350d

First drive: V6 Benz X-Class to be most popular

X-factor: Mercedes-Benz’s V6-powered X-Class will touch down in Australia in December, with a roughly $10,000 price premium over the four-cylinder.

Top-spec Mercedes X-Class to outsell four-pot, bring new buyers to brand

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Mercedes-Benz logo29 Jun 2018

MERCEDES-BENZ management says its new turbo-diesel V6-powered X-Class pick-up will outsell its four-cylinder sibling globally and in Australia, while attracting a new type of buyer to the three-pointed star brand.
 
Due to touch down in Australia in December to take on the Volkswagen Amarok V6, the X350d joins the rest of the 2.3-litre four-cylinder range that went on sale in April.
 
Speaking to GoAuto at the international launch of the X350d in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Mercedes-Benz Vans head of marketing Marion Friese said the V6 was expected to be the most popular variant both in Europe and power-hungry Australia.
 
“For Australia we see the people are very power-driven, very engine-driven, they like their vehicles fast and powerful, we see it not only with the X-Class but with all our other models ranges,” she said.
 
“We see a higher share of V6 in Europe and also in Australia, and then there are other markets where we expect the share is lower, but Australia will be one of our highest.”
 
Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia PR and corporate communications manager Blake Vincent added that the V6 will most likely be the better seller, however the difference should be small.
 
“We expect that more volume will probably be in the V6, but we will have a pretty even mix between the V6 and four-cylinder, but we think the V6 will end up being the higher seller, just judging by the interest we’ve had now and anecdotal evidence from the dealers,” he said.
 
“Australians love a V6 engine, so there’s historically been an interest in more higher-powered engines, higher torque, so it fits well with our market, so we think it’s going to be pretty popular.”
 
Mr Vincent said the more premium feel of the X-Class compared with its rivals could help it appeal to SUV owners, while existing pick-up owners looking for added refinement could also find their way into the Mercedes ute.
 
“We think there’s opportunity for SUV buyers to switch into the X-Class, because it does add that level of refinement and the safety features, the technology, the design will be attractive for SUV buyers to switch in,” he said.
 
“(Poaching SUV buyers) is one of the areas we think there’s an opportunity for volume there to bring into X-Class, (however) we still feel that existing ute owners is the biggest opportunity, but there’s definitely the SUV crossing over that we think with the change in vehicle is a big volume potential.”
 
Mr Vincent said Mercedes-Benz Vans conducted research on the type of buyer the company could attract with the X-Class, with a couple of potential conquest demographics identified.
 
“Some of the key customer types we identified were small business owners, building contractors, land-owners, farmers, adventurous individuals who are using their vehicle for recreational purposes, definitely professionals and the other one is families, and we’ve specced the vehicle accordingly for that … so they’re the main customer sets that we’ve identified,” he said.
 
Dr Friese added that she saw the X-Class as being used predominantly for private use and dual-purpose use.
 
While dual-cab is the only body style currently offered, she said that if there was sufficient demand for other styles such as a single-cab, then the brand would look at introducing it.
 
Australian pricing for the V6 is due to be released in about a month and customers can expect a price premium of about $10,000 over the equivalent X250d.
 
Compared with the four-pot 2.3-litre turbo-diesel X220d/X250d, power has jumped by 50kW/100Nm, with peak outputs measuring 190kW at 3400rpm and 550Nm from 1400 to 3200rpm.
 
While four-cylinder variants use a Nissan-sourced six-speed manual and seven-speed automatic transmission, the 7G-Tronic Plus unit in the X350d is Benz’s own. The V6 is not offered with a manual gearbox, but automatic versions have steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
 
The X350d also gains the 4Matic full-time four-wheel-drive system, joining the Volkswagen Amarok as the only one-tonne ute to employ permanent all-paw traction. Torque split is fixed at 40:60 front/rear.
 
For off-roading, the X350d comes with centre and rear differential locks, as well as low-range gearing and hill descent control.
 
Unique to the X350d is the Dynamic Select feature, which allows drivers to choose from five different drive modes, consisting of comfort, eco, sport, manual and off-road.
 
Dynamic Select only alters engine response and the transmission’s shift points, and does not change suspension stiffness like in other vehicles with a similar feature.
 
Fuel economy is rated at 9.0 litres per 100km on the official cycle, while CO2 emissions are 137 grams per km. Completing the zero to 100km/h sprint takes 7.5 seconds, compared to 11.8s in the X250d.
 
Two equipment levels will be offered on the X350d – Progressive and Power – which will mirror the specification of the four-cylinder versions. The entry-level Pure will be four-cylinder-only. 
 
Progressive versions gain 18-inch six-spoke alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, leather-lined steering wheel and parking brake, fabric seats, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, eight-speaker sound system and halogen headlamps.
 
The Power – which is tipped to be the most popular in V6 guise – adds chrome-plated underbody protection, a chrome-plated rear bumper, 19-inch alloys, LED headlights, matte black pixel and microfibre dashboard trim, microfibre/artificial leather seat upholstery and electrically adjustable seats.
 
Standard safety equipment includes autonomous emergency braking, active lane keep assist, 360-degree camera, front and rear parking sensors, trailer stabilisation, tyre pressure monitor and seven airbags.
 
Braked towing capacity is rated at 3500kg, while payload is 965kg.
 
A range of accessories are available including sports bars, towbars, canopies, bedliner and a load-securing rail system. Mr Vincent said the accessories range has been popular with customers, with the majority of owners optioning at least one accessory.
 
Mercedes is also developing a bullbar and nudge bar at the behest of Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia, however Mr Vincent could not give concrete timing as to when they will arrive.
 
GoAuto tested the abilities of the top-spec X-Class over varied surfaces and routes outside Ljubljana, Slovenia, and we think Benz is right in its prediction that the majority of its customers will opt for the V6 powerplant.
 
While Mercedes did well to improve the responsiveness of the 2.3-litre Nissan engine, it still feels slightly underwhelming in terms of power delivery, particularly compared with some of its four-pot rivals.
 
Not so the V6. With peak torque available from 1400rpm, the 3.0-litre Mercedes mill gives the driver a swift shove forward which is not achievable in its four-cylinder competitors.
 
The engine performs effortlessly on the road, and works well with the snappy seven-speed auto.
 
The auto in the X350d is lightning quick by ute standards, shifting on call and doing so without any great lurches from the plentiful torque. The sophisticated transmission is also a great match for the idle-stop system, kicking into action as soon as our foot lifted from the brake.
 
There’s a bit of turbo lag present low in the rev range, which, when turning at a T-intersection, resulted in jarringly slow acceleration followed by a wallop of torque mid-turn, which caught us off guard more than once.
 
Benz’s full-time four-wheel-drive system is a winner, allowing for greater grip on-road and better peace of mind in compromising surfaces such as heavy rain or snow.
 
Like the four-cylinder X-Class, the X350d has segment-leading levels of interior refinement, with minimal noise coming from the engine bay and overall noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels that rival that of some passenger cars.
 
As for cabin materials and luxury feature synonymous with Mercedes-Benz, the X-Class is not clearly better than its top-spec rivals in this regard, which may disappoint some potential buyers.
 
The seats and steering wheel in top-spec trim are classy, but the dashboard trim, switchgear and centre console are on par with the likes of Toyota, Ford and Nissan.
 
Being a suspension engineer on a luxury pick-up must be one tough gig. You have to balance ride quality with payload and towing capacity and ensure it has car-like driving characteristics.
 
The X350d has a 3500kg towing capacity as Benz has identified that many buyers will use it to tow caravans and horse floats, but if they knocked 500kg off that figure it might have made for a slightly softer suspension tune.
 
Despite being equipped with a multi-link coil-sprung rear axle, the ride quality is not clearly distinguishable from leaf-sprung rivals, and we feel softening the suspension would let the ride quality shine and add to the premium feel of the vehicle, setting it further apart from its competitors.
 
Steering feel is about par for a one-tonne ute, feeling a tad vague and slow around corners, and requiring considerable input lock-to-lock. A sharper steering set-up would also make the X-Class feel more luxurious. Volkswagen’s impressive Amarok V6 is currently the segment leader when it comes to steering.
 
A brief stint off-road showed the X-Class to be equally capable in the dirt, with the off-road Dynamic Select mode helping to keep a steady throttle input over rough, bouncy terrain, while the low-range gearing and rear diff lock keeps you out of sticky situations.
 
Given the potency of the V6 powertrain, we can see why Mercedes believes the X350d will be its best-selling X-Class variant. Combined with the Mercedes transmission, full-time all-wheel drive and passenger car-like refinement, it is a compelling package.
 
We just wish the ride and steering was calibrated to be more like the rest of the Mercedes range, which would have given it a greater point of difference against the rest of the pick-up segment.
 
Nevertheless, when it arrives locally in December we wouldn’t be surprised to see the X350d become the vehicle of choice for well-heeled tradies and adventure lovers.

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