The Mercedes-Benz X-Class is now available locally, and the premium dual-cab segment is set for a shake-up. Comparisons await, but how does it feel from first impressions?
The 2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class has finally arrived in Australia, and there’s more to dissect than simply whether it is more premium than the Nissan Navara on which it is based. In fact, such is the German manufacturer’s premium aspirations in a segment not really known for them, a comparison with the Navara might not even be relevant at all.
For now, though, without the V6 engine to experience, a comparison with the most expensive Volkswagen Amarok isn’t that obvious either. That one will have to wait. One thing is for sure, though, the starting price of the X-Class makes it the most expensive of the – non-V6 – dual-cab offerings.
Read our pricing and specification guide here.
There’s been all sorts of conjecture about the X-Class as far back as when it was first announced. It's going to be too expensive. It’s just a Navara. Who wants a Mercedes-Benz dual-cab? Who needs a premium dual-cab? The list of negatives we’ve seen and heard goes on and on.
The reality, at least the way I see it, doesn’t have anything to do with any of those questions. Rather, the X-Class will live and die by one simple question. Is it Mercedes-Benz enough?
We’ll get to that in a second, but let me first address the questions I noted above. It’s not too expensive – at least compared to the competition. The argument about whether dual-cabs in general are too expensive is something we won’t have here, but the X-Class will compare to the competition. Buyers are already paying $61,000 before on-road costs for a Ford Ranger, and well above that for a V6 Amarok of course. The most expensive four-cylinder X-Class will start from $64,500 before on-road costs, so it’s not out of reach of a Ranger buyer.
It isn’t just a Navara. Not at all. And that’s not marketing or PR spin either. This dual-cab has been comprehensively re-engineered from the vehicle on which it is based. The steering, suspension, NVH, insulation and refinement, ride quality and braking systems are all different. Not to mention the sheetmetal, cabin layout and materials, and the safety systems in place. There’s a Navara chassis under there, sure, and – in the case of the four-cylinder we’ve tested here – a Nissan engine and gearbox as well, but there’s been a lot of engineering work undertaken beneath the skin.
Plenty of people want a Mercedes-Benz dual-cab. The company has already logged nearly 10,000 expressions of interest – a lot from rural areas too – dealers are being swamped with inquiries, and the fervour around the vehicle has been strong every time we run a story at CarAdvice. Further, you don’t think that every family who has a Mercedes-Benz or AMG product as a family car and currently owns a dual-cab with another badge won’t want one of these? I do.
The premium dual-cab thing is an interesting one. Volkswagen has made a mockery of the argument that people don’t want them, with the most expensive Amarok. Since launch, and more recently with the V6 engine, the Amarok has been the most premium and it’s been walking out of dealer showrooms – without second-row airbags and a high starting price. ASV has been selling more Ram 2500 and 3500s than it can convert at well over $100K too, illustrating that there is, in fact, a healthy appetite for a premium dual-cab regardless of the badge up front.
So, is the X-Class ‘Mercedes-Benz enough’? Let’s attempt to find out.
The styling is tougher than I expected in the flesh, but still gentle enough that it won’t just appeal to blokes either. I reckon there’ll be strong female interest in the X-Class as it filters into the market. More and more ladies are driving these vehicles too, so that’s an important factor. It certainly looks different enough – especially up front – to stand out from the rest of the dual-cab pack. We spent most of our time in the top-spec Power grade at launch, and on appearance, it is primed to go in hard at the top end of the lifestyle dual-cab segment.
The cabin is where Mercedes-Benz will be hoping the X-Class can deliver a hefty tick to the question I posed above. And it does – mostly. The gauges, switchgear, infotainment screen and controls, steering wheel and general insulation, all feel very Mercedes-Benz. Having spent a week in the V6 Amarok recently, it’s fair to say that the claims Mercedes-Benz has made about insulation, refinement and NVH might very well be bang on the money. The X-Class is quiet and refined at any speed, over any surfaces. At highway speed, the cabin is near silent.
There are still instances where it isn’t quite as Mercedes-Benz as we hoped. Some of the lower dash and cabin plastics aren’t especially premium, there’s no clever smartphone storage or console design, and some of the trim surfaces – like the beautiful to look at matte silver in our test example – had already started to show marks and light scratching. The seats themselves are comfortable but not outright brilliant, and I’d like to be able to get the driver’s significantly lower in the cabin. Further, the steering wheel was adjustable for tilt, but not reach. Our top-spec tester didn’t have a drop-down armrest in the second row either, and the second-row backrest is still pretty upright.
The overall appearance of the cabin – that is, what it looks like when you open the door and cast an eye over it – is unmistakably Mercedes-Benz though. That’s half the battle won, and the X-Class is close everywhere else, but could do with a few extra touches of refinement.
Mercedes-Benz places emphasis on the ride, handling and braking of the X-Class – and with good reason. It’s got ventilated rear discs (most still have drums), a wider track than the Navara, revised suspension and a faster steering rack as well.
That translates to excellent on-road manners. It can still skip a little over particularly bad corrugations or potholed surfaces at speed when unladen, but it’s better than we expected, and more surefooted while doing it too. The steering does indeed feel sharper, more direct and less dopey than dual-cabs traditionally offer, and you can honk along in the X-Class if you really want to. I’m tipping your passengers won’t want you to, but you might be inclined when you’re riding solo.
The general balance, comfort and poise in 2WD on wet coarse chip is excellent. The brakes are a highlight, but the way the X-Class rolls along and irons out most surfaces is a cut above what buyers will be expecting. Is it perfect? No. But that’s par for the course with a coil-spring rear end that has had to be tuned to cope with the payload rating the segment demands. The shame of it is that most buyers never load them up – not at the high end anyway – but it’s a ‘fit for purpose’ deal that manufacturers have to work with whether they like it or not.
What might surprise you is how competent the X-Class is off-road. Plenty of rain in Hobart had turned our off-road course into a veritable quagmire before we even turned a wheel in anger, and with road tyres, at road pressures, the X-Class was excellent.
4WD high-range is ideal for most normal off-road conditions, while low-range works well and the rear diff lock is a handy addition to the kit bag. Ground clearance is an issue in an outright sense, but the X-Class will go anywhere you need it to in safety.
Hill descent control is a good safety inclusion for off-roaders not confident in their own skill set, and the general experience off-road is one of competence and safety. Few owners will ever take their high-end X-Class off-road, but as you’ll see us often writing at CarAdvice, they will want to know they can.
So is the X-Class Mercedes-Benz enough? I reckon it is for buyers, but I also think there’s a few per cent left that could be squeezed out of it. While the V6 (Mercedes-Benz engine and gearbox, not to mention the only dual-cab in the segment that will offer full-time 4WD and low-range) will be the golden child in the range, the four-cylinder is still an impressive entrant into a well-entrenched segment.
If you’re shopping at the top end of the market, you need to add the X-Class to the consideration list now. Time will tell, but I think it’s going to be a sales success.
NOTE: We've added a handful of overseas left-hand-drive interior shots to compensate for the small number provided for the local specification. We'll update the gallery when we have more imagery.