Light Commercial Test - X is all Class

Monday, July 9, 2018

Mercedes-Benz launched its new X-Class one-ton ute with an extended city and rural road drive, and a brief hilly farm jaunt to demo its off-road skills.

This ute comes via an arrangement with Nissan that sees Navara as its base, thus saving considerably on development time. But could the German brand transform a mass-market platform into something that fits its brand values?

The short answer is yes; indeed it was sometimes easy to forget while driving that this was a ute – it felt ‘Mercedes’, and it doesn’t do utes, surely? Even a ute’s typically jiggly unladen ride – a personal bugbear – had been smoothed out to an impressive degree.

There was a range of examples at the launch, many fitted with a dizzying array of available options, all designed to fit the ‘aspirational’ brief.

Buyers will have 13 variants to choose from, encompassing two turbo 4-cylinder engines sourced from Nissan – a 2.3-litre X220d with a single turbo delivering 120kW, and the 140kW X250d.

The former comes in rear drive or all-wheel drive versions; the 250d as an engageable all-wheel drive only. Both come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, while a 7-speed auto is an X250d option.

Engine and transmission chosen, now pick your grade. Mercedes pitches the Pure for everyday ‘robust ’ use, Progressive as offering high-quality feel and comfort, and the Power variant for ‘urban lifestyles’.

The X-Class uses coil spring suspension both front and rear for comfort on road, and the setup worked admirably on our admittedly fairly basic off-road course. Better still, our hilly paddock, farm track and gravel road route, which included some side angles and sharp blind descents, revealed no downside to the wider track and longer wheelbase, and the X-Class engageable 4MATIC all-wheel drive system with its low range gearing and standard diff lock on the rear more than coped with everything we encountered; given its Navara base, we would expect it to blitz terrain far more rugged.


Photos: Interior is familiar MercedesBenz. Clean lines and elegant.

All are instantly recognisable as Mercs from the front; indeed it takes the side view to spot this isn’t just another SUV. And the cabin is just as familiar in its layout, the shape of the vents and controls and the quality of the materials, not to mention the choices of trim available. You can even pick between roof lining colours. A $1400 Plus Package available on all models adds the Parking Assist system, and adjustable load-securing rails for the tray bed.

As for safety, you expect a luxury brand to be well specced, and X-Class is no different. Emergency Braking and Lane Keep Assist are both standard, while the Pure and Progressive get a reversing camera (except in the cab chassis), and the Power a 360-degree camera – as useful when parking as picking one’s way between rocks and logs or awkward gate approaches – that ’s optional on the Progressive. Spec certainly increases up the range, but even the Pure feels like a Merc inside, though those 17-inch wheels are steel, and the upholstery is cloth, with a practical plastic floor covering, plus, like all wellside variants, there are four load-securing rings in the tray bed, each rated at 150daN (dekanewton). We’re guessing the most popular option will be the tub liner, at $825 fitted, plus GST.

Upgrade to the Progressive for 17-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a heat-insulating windscreen, rain-sensing wipers, satnav, floor carpets, a chromatic rear-view mirror with compass, plus trim changes. Buyers can choose from three option packages too, including a $2650 Comfort pack with electric front seat adjustment and lumbar support, auto dual zone climate control, a front passenger stowage net, and seats clad in Artico man-made ‘leather’ and microfibre. The Style pack changes the front and rear lights, adds an electronically opening rear window, window tints, running boards, roof rails and 18-inch alloys, while the Parking pack adds Parking Assist and that 360-degree camera.

As for the Power, naturally a top-spec Mercedes gets everything but the kitchen sink, with lashings of chrome among the trim upgrades, LED head and tail lamps, lashings of man-made leather with contrast topstitching, an online multimedia system with satnav and touch pad, electric front seats with lumbar support, an 8-speed digital audio system – the others get CDs – PARKTRONIC, Keyless Go and auto climate control among the features. And especially appropriate as a cold snap hits New Zealand as we go to press, any X-Class Pure or Progressive buyer can check the box for a Winter Package, including front seat heaters and heated washer nozzles, at $650. Other packs include Parking (PARKTRONIC auto park and the 360-degree camera) at $1890, Style – including LED lights, roof rails, 18-inch alloys and running boards – at $4150 for the Progressive, or $2650 for the Power, plus a wide number of individual options, from metallic paint and anti-theft protection, to badge deletion, leather seat trim, and wood cabin embellishment; not all of them available for every grade. Not surprisingly, the X-Class will not be the cheapest ute on the block. The base cab chassis Pure, rear-drive, opens the lineup at $53,300, with the top-spec Power wellside X250d and 7-speed auto heading the line-up at $69,000. Niggles? Very few at the launch bar insufficient cabin storage space for your bits and bobs, and the fact that, like Navara, the steering wheel adjusts only for rake and not for reach, a bugbear for both the shortest and tallest attendees at the event. Always try before you buy!

In conclusion, the X-Class genuinely is more than just a Navara in drag. Quite apart from the fact no single body panel is shared and that its body and track are wider, it is more comfortable and composed on the road – VW ’s Amarok may give it a run for its road manners money, but is unlikely to beat the Merc in the rough: and naturally it follows that anyone expecting truly car-like performance and feel will be disappointed, even though the cabin uses enough design cues to feel pure Mercedes, while also being robust enough to handle the everyday workload.

We await a full road test on familiar roads, but those already feeling the need for more grunt must wait for the MercedesBenz V6 diesel due by year-end, with a promised 190kW and 550Nm – as already used by the brand’s G-Class and E-Class. That will get all-wheel drive and a 7-speed Tronic Plus auto as standard, plus Dynamic Select and auto stop-start, with price still to be announced.

The X-Class is sold by Mercedes’ commercial arm in New Zealand, so you’ll find it in 11 of the brand’s 26 dealers, unless feedback suggests all showrooms need it on the premises. As for supply, given we are one of just four markets that include Australia, South Africa, and South America, we’re promised that if you want one, there is one with your name on it.