Our earlier first drive of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class dual-cab ute was restricted to the twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel X250d model, though we were given a ride in the V6 oil-burner that is not yet production-ready.
It’s the more fascinating of the X-Class’s engine options for a couple of reasons. Firstly, whereas the ute’s four-cylinder diesels are borrowed from the Nissan Navara (along with the underpinnings), the six-cylinder diesel is a Benz motor seen already in the likes of the Sprinter van and GLE SUV.
And, secondly, it gives the X-Class the performance to match up with the V6-powered version of the Volkswagen Amarok.
Mercedes has confirmed the V6 will produce 190kW and 550Nm in the X350d, giving it best-in-class power – 25kW more than the current Amarok diesel six, though torque is identical.
(The VW, however, has 180kW via overboost, while it has also pointed towards an uprated version of its 3.0-litre TDI engine with 190kW Amarok concepts – with “increased torque” – at September’s Frankfurt motor show.)
The Benz V6 produces 620Nm in the GLE, though the company has dialled down torque to help protect the ute’s more primitive suspension – it features a live rear axle, for example.
NOTE: Due to a limited selection of available images from the X350d's recent unveiling, we have 'padded out' the gallery for this review with shots from last year's drive event in Chile. Exterior and interior styling for the four- and six-cylinder models is largely identical. The black cars shown are of the V6 specifically.
Mercedes engineer Frank Schumacher lives up to his famous surname by giving us an enthusiastic ride in the X350d. In our short drive on a twisting, hilly closed road on the outskirts of Chile, it’s clear from the off that the V6 offers more grunt than the twin-turbo four.
While the X250d’s engine is refined and reasonably torquey (450Nm), you can often feel it struggling to generate convincing momentum in a vehicle that weighs more than 2.2 tonnes – a couple of hundred kilos or so heavier than the Navara with the same unit.
Schumacher switches the exclusive-to-X350d Dynamic Select multi-mode vehicle settings from default Comfort to Sport for our run, with the intention of sharpening throttle response and faster, later shifts. The X350d also allows for manual gear changes via paddle-shift levers.
The X350d gains a natural advantage off the line by featuring permanent all-wheel drive compared with the X250d’s selectable 4WD system that makes the vehicle rear-wheel drive until you turn a dial to select 4 High or 4 Low.
Its greater sense of speed is also felt on the move, where the V6’s extra pulling power feels more than the 100Nm gap to the X250d.
The X350d is expected to dive below eight seconds for the 0–100km/h sprint, taking the acceleration fight to the Amarok V6 that is quoted at 7.9 seconds. The X250d is quoted at a leisurely 11.9 seconds in auto form.
Over blind crests and along flowing, curving roads, the X350d feels grippy and composed in Schumacher’s hands, though the steering looks familiarly on the slow side from our drive of the X250d the previous day.
Schumacher doesn’t need to turn any dials when he takes us onto a brief dirt section, as the X350d’s 4MATIC system shuffles torque automatically between the front and rear axles as necessary. It also offers low-range gearing and a locking rear differential.
The V6 X-Class, which teams the engine with Benz’s 7G-tronic automatic transmission, won’t be available until mid-2018, arriving a couple of months or so after the ute’s April Australian launch.
Schumacher said the V6’s later arrival was a result of the company finalising the bigger engine’s installation.
Mercedes is still tuning the V6 for even less noise – the X-Class’s refinement is already one of its high points – while it’s also looking to improve stability and balance with the engine adding more weight over the nose compared to the four-cylinder.
It’s a crucial engine to get right. Mercedes-Benz Australia is predicting the range-topping X350d Power model will be the best-selling X-Class, despite a price tag that seems likely to exceed $70,000.
The local line-up will also feature an X350d in the mid-spec Progressive grade, though the base Pure trim will stick with the four-cylinders.
“We conducted comprehensive focus group testing in the early planning stages for the X-Class, and a V6 engine drew high interest and was clearly an attractive proposition for potential ute customers in Australia,” says Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia spokesperson Blake Vincent.
“The high-powered X350 V6 engine offers functional benefits to customers when towing or navigating steep terrain, but also provides emotional benefits due to the excellent driving experience and class-leading power.”
The passenger-seat experience suggests it will be a surprise if the X350d isn’t the clear pick of the X-Class models, with appeal not just in its extra performance, but also the fact it’s a Mercedes-built engine that helps rationalise what will be a benchmark cost for a dual-cab ute in Australia.