Review: Merc’s Premium X-Class 250d 4×4 pick-up driven. Is it the best bakkie of them all?

The Mercedes-Benz X-Class is the latest member of the premium pick-up segment. It’s tempting to view this segment as a sideshow from the main event that is SUVs, electric cars and the struggle towards full autonomous driving yet, here is a niche that not only makes real life sense but it also manages to have gripping story lines.

For instance, if the entry of Mercedes into the pick-up sector isn’t the sumptuous dream of reality TV, then the speculations and eventuality that BMW will also give it go should make for truly riveting viewing. We know this because BMW has long standing MOU with Toyota which has already resulted in the sharing of know-how to build the new BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra – virtual twins underneath. It’s also not the first time that Mercedes-Benz enters LCV fray.

There exists an illustrious heritage of load luggers with a tri-star badge, local reference being the Mitsubishi/Mercedes-Benz pact which saw the latter company’s East London plant build Mitsubishi bakkies, from the Colt to the Triton long before they parted ways. To stretch it further, there also is the Mercedes Unimog – the spectacular off-road king that can be had in massive bakkie form. Either way, to the luxury pick-up party, the addition of a Mercedes option is quite the complement.

Has the long wait and the resultant product  been worth it? We’ve just had our first taste.

Ok, you aren’t going to find anything out of the ordinary. It’s just as high-riding, geared towards a modicum of laborious work and it carries 4 to five passengers. Since we are already on the inside, let’s outline more of this aspect. The efforts to bring the interior in-line with the rest of Mercedes product line is evidenced as it’s seen and felt. Every aspect of the cabin, from the instrumentation to even the central command section with the mouse-controller, is Mercedes corporate to a tee. It’s as normal as being inside one of the brands latest cars except of course, that it hasn’t gained the now trendy MBUX digital interface. So no Hey Mercedes as yet.

 

A deep level of quality workmanship and an aura of being inside a Mercedes is evident in scoops. The materials used aren’t S-Class levels but the company has succeeded in crafting that particular Mercedes touch. It features a fair level of luxury such as fully electric windows, a multi-function steering wheel; a slightly outdated digital interface for interaction within its Mercedes brain, dual zone climate control and the likes. Extended features on our test unit included cruise control, even though not radar enabled; an army of sensors and cameras for parking assistance and general viewing of immediate surroundings. But then you wouldn’t really expect it to not have. Its cabin is a delightful. hushed place to spend time in and the ergonomics enhance the experience rather than distract or create an annoying driving involvement.

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The X-Class certainly feels like a well-developed, cohesive and luxurious pick-up and this is also seen in the texture of the drive quality. The balance between comfort and control is well above even the Volkwagen Amarok – our leading choice in this segment before we drove the X-Class. Be it cruising or simply threading it past obstacles, the steering is perfectly weighted and calibrated for impressive agility and applied unison with everything else. Amazingly, in order to achieve that distinctive edge of luxury and ease of use, the view from bonnet surface, from the pilot seat, also looks lower than on any bakkie we’ve encountered. The forward view just isn’t distracted by pointless power bulges and this aids visibility  infinitely.  The only contentious aspect of the X-Class is its styling.

You either love or loathe it. I for one initially found it uninteresting until I saw it in the metal. The lack of gung-ho machismo as found in Ford’s Ranger; VW’s Amarok and even on its donor extraordinaire – Nissan’s Navara – next to them it looks tame. It’s actually a good looking pick-up with particular attention paid to nuanced detail for a pre-ordained look of luxury.

 

The negative narrative that arose due to its deep-seated connections to the Navara truly become baseless once you’ve stepped up and driven it. If there were tell-tale clues as to their comradeship then Mercedes has cleaned up all the evidence with a fine tooth-comb.

Mechanically they share much, like the 2.3-litre bi-turbo diesel motor, transmission and Nissan’s bizarre 5-link coil rear setup on the rear wheels of the Navara. The upside of the Mercedes version is tangible driving refinement on all surfaces, giving further credence to viewing the X-Class as a pure Mercedes-Benz.  Though badged X250 the shared four-cylinder engine specification remains unchanged. Both output 140kW@3750rpm and 450Nm@1500rpm through a seven-speed automatic transmission

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Due to some specific tweaking on the X-Class it’s about the most car-like of the passenger pick-ups we’ve tasted. This is thanks to parts attributable to the ride feel which is above the rest. It’s quite notable that amongst the substance of its rivals it will take journeys with ease and you arrive without a smidgeon of discomfort, such is the incredible work done to create a luxury pick-up.

Also, for Mercedes-Benz to look the Japanese way for a donor skeleton to create its own version of the niche speaks volumes to that region’s prowess of building workhorses. For a globally esteemed brand to choose the Nissan Navara among a host of alternatives is an enviable pat-on-the-back for Nissan because, the world’s most respected car brand is willing to place its head on the block in vouching for the Navara.

Does this then thrust the Navara as an equal and cheaper alternative? Well, it’s largely dependent on usage imagined. The X-Class is the one geared more towards silky driving and soft touches, the Nissan less so. However both share equal towing capacity and much except that the Navara boasts better approach and departure angles at 33.0 ° degrees and  27.9 ° for rears and a ramp angle of 20.4 ° compared to the Mercs 28.8 °, 23.8 ° departure,  and ramp angle of 20.4 °

Either way, the fineness (and the extra padding) of the X-Class is currently unbeatable and somewhat justifies the added premium in pricing. It’s brilliant bakkie.

SCORES

 

PERFORMANCE – in X250d guise the urge isn’t particularly sharp but quite enough for all intents and purposes of a daily driver, weekend tower or even bundu – basher. We can’t wait to sample the X350d with a more powerful V6 engine.

DESIGN – Curious looks but ultimately a handsome looking pick-up. Regal too. The extended length makes it a great family car while the load bin can pretty much accommodate typical Dad cargo. We are not too confident of its approach angles and the ramp over point for successful triumphs over level 5 off-road obstacles. Regardless, who would want to take such expensive machinery and beat it down with rocks, trees and mud?

ENGINE/TRANSMISSION: The pull of the 250d engine and the 7-speed unit co-habit peacefully and efficiently. Fuel consumption is also impressive and typical of the niche – we achieved an average of 8.5l/100km on a recent long trip which is close to the quoted 11.6l/100km

CABIN/SPACE – Cavernous, luxurious and tranquil. It’s a good space to be inside. It also has a banging stereo system which plays disc, USB, SD-card and Bluetooth streaming.

MODELS/PRICING: The war is worn in the pricing. A peer Navara 4×4 costs about 100K less so the X-Class is quite pricey. But then there is justification. For R723 000 you get a refined workhorse with many capabilities. If this isn’t satisfactory then remember that’s it’s a Mercedes-Benz and thus you pay extra for membership of that exclusive club.

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