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Given the substantial sales growth of dual-cab pick-ups in recent years, it should surprise no-one that ever more manufacturers are wading into the segment for a cut of the action.
The fact that Mercedes has used the familiar NP300/D23 Navara as its starting point, rather than going for a clean-sheet design, suggests this first X-Class is a toe in new waters, much like the first ML-Class SUV of the 1990s was (hat tip to Kez Casey for that parallel).
This is especially true when you remember Mercedes-Benz has a very well-credentialed commercial vehicle operation that makes the leading Vito and Sprinter vans.
Whatever the origins of the X-Class, it’s clear that Mercedes has something no other ute maker can match – brand cachet. A sizeable proportion of Ford Rangers, Toyota Hiluxes and Volkswagen Amaroks sold in Australia are the flagship, $50K-plus versions.
It’s clear that for many people, splashing out on a pick-up priced in line with a luxury car is no big deal. So, a pick-up with a luxury car badge starts to make a lot of sense.
The version we’re test-driving here is the middle-of-the-range X-Class Progressive variant, sitting between the base Pure and luxo Power specs. It’s priced at $57,800 before on-road costs with the optional automatic transmission.
On the face of things, this actually isn’t that beyond the pale considering the RRPs of top-selling rivals, the HiLux SR5 ($56,440) and Ranger XLT ($57,690), plus the Navara ST-X ($54,490). Of course, discounts in this segment are rampant…
Now, while the X-Class is clearly based on the Navara, it’s not quite a simple re-badging. There are some differences that set it apart from the Nissan. The question is whether they justify the price hike.
For starters, it’s 50mm wider in the body and 70mm wider in the track, and has received some chassis strengthening to accommodate the V6 diesel engine that’s coming later in the year – reinforced cross members and thicker all-round coil springs the main examples.
Mercedes-Benz has also fitted new dampers and different Continental all-round tyres, and has clearly gone to other great lengths to reduce the intrusion of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) into the cabin.
It’s this quietude that you notice most of all driving the X-Class compared with the Nissan, or frankly any competitor. It’s extremely good at silencing road and wind noise, as well as suppressing diesel engine clatter and vibration through the firewall and steering column.
It also seems to ride a little better than the Navara or HiLux over choppy corrugated gravel, isolating occupants well, particularly at higher speeds, and rounding out sharp hits.
At the same time, it doesn’t have the signature long-legged, loping ride character of the Australia-tuned Ranger or underrated Holden Colorado, either, despite the fancy all-round coils that should theoretically calm down the back of the car when unladen.
The hydraulic-assisted steering isn’t as low-resistance as the pair just mentioned, which have motor-driven electric systems, but many will like the extra weight and road feel, if not the 13.4m turning circle.
Mercedes has fitted a very fetching steering wheel that makes it far less laborious to steer. The Navara’s teardrop-shaped wheel inner has a sensitive horn. If you can drive for a day without honking accidentally, you’re better than I…
One of the benefits of that rejigged suspension is the X-Class's outstanding maximum payload of 1016kg (though our tester, with its heavy optional extras, was cut to 961kg). Like the Series 3 Navara, 650kg in the tray was handled with ease, and little sag.
The Benz also has a big tub, with the key measure being its 1215mm between the arches. Second-in-class to the Amarok in this regard. We squeezed a standard pallet into the tray, though the tub-liner made it a tight fit. You’d need to be a gun forkie…
Like most pick-ups, the X-Class is a part-time 4x4, defaulting to RWD but offering shift-on-the-fly 4H or proper low-range-geared 4L set-ups.
Wading depth is 600mm, approach angle is 30 degrees, departure is 25 degrees and clearance at the lowest point is 222mm unladen – 6mm less than the Navara’s, scarcely consequential. There’s also a standard rear diff lock and hill-descent control.
Under the bonnet, things are a little more familiar. The 190kW/550Nm V6 diesel will set the X-Class apart, but for now the sole engine choice is Nissan-Renault’s 2.3-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel donk making a middling 140kW of peak power and 450Nm of peak torque between 1500–2500rpm.
It’s a refined, smooth and generally efficient (7.9L/100km on the combined cycle, 80L tank) unit, matched to an intuitive seven-speed automatic ’box. That said, Mercedes’s changes have added about 150kg of extra kerb mass over the Navara, so actual performance is middle-of-the-road.
It’s still rated to tow a 3.5t trailer with braking, though like any dual-cab in the class, we’d suggest only maxing it out on rare occasions.
So far, then, we’ve determined the X-Class to be a capable, very refined and acceptably powerful ute, albeit offering nothing earth-shattering. Next, we’ll look at things on a surface level.
Mercedes claims to have changed every single piece of exterior sheetmetal except for the door handles, though the hard points and glass have clearly determined that the styling has to sit within small parameters, because the look is very ‘Navara’ anyway.
Where the properly laudable changes have taken place is inside the cabin. It looks simply fantastic, with the exception of some unfortunately cheap-feeling plastics scattered about.
The floating tablet screen, rotary dial to control multimedia (keeping one’s grubby hands off the glass), designer wheel, digital trip computer, and fancy-looking vents all make its appearance a cut above most – perhaps all – competitors.
There’s also the commendable focus on safety. As well as airbags for all outer occupants in both seat rows, you also get a lane-departure warning system and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) – it’s the only ute in the class with this latter system.
There are some downsides, though. Like the frankly shoddy plastic fit and finish around the (only rake-adjustable) steering column on one test car, or the poorly fitted glovebox on another, or the unfinished-looking roof-lining in the rear. Teething problems?
Then there’s the value-for-money equation, which we touched on earlier. Because while that $57,800 RRP seems reasonable, that’s not what our test car costs. The ‘as-tested’ price, according to MB Australia’s own spreadsheet, is actually $71,630. Gulp. That’s on account of the optional extras.
First, the tub-liner and sports bar cost $2450 combined, after GST. Then there’s the Parking Pack that adds the 360-degree camera display and auto parking software ($1750), and the Comfort Pack that adds electric front seats in faux leather/suede, a storage net in the passenger footwell and auto climate control ($2490).
Plus, there’s the Style Pack that adds LED headlights, rear privacy glass, the electric rear window – standard on the Navara – side steps, roof rails and 18-inch wheels (not 17s as standard), for an extra $3750. And also the COMAND Online system, bringing a more advanced sat-nav system than the base Garmin software, plus a wireless hotspot, inbuilt flash drive and DVD player ($2990). Finally, black roof-lining costs $400.
At this point you’re dropping more on a four-cylinder, mid-range X-Class with options than the fully loaded, top-of-the range Amarok V6 TDI 550 Ultimate ($68,490). To do that would be a frankly challenging decision to justify.
Finally, just like the Navara, the back seat space is at the lower end of the segment. If you’re regularly carrying big blokes in the back seats, then perhaps consider a Ranger or Colorado (if you dare stoop to something with a commoner’s badge).
From an ownership perspective, you can buy a ServiceCare Plan for $1850 covering three scheduled services, saving you $500 over the term. The individual visit costs of $585, $930 and $835 are high for the class (Navara’s costs are $547, $571 and $714). Intervals are 12 months/20,000km.
So that's a look at the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, one of the most hyped launches this year. For some, the three-pointed star badge will be irresistible. We also commend the Benz's refinement, cabin design and safety equipment.
But until the V6 arrives, its engine's outputs trail the Amarok TDI 550, not to mention the Ranger and Colorado. Moreover, once you start ticking options boxes, the value-for-money equation goes south. Our test car's $70K RRP is $10K too high, minimum. Keep that in mind.