Is the Mercedes-Benz X350d the king of the mainstream dual-cab pickup market, or just an overpriced exercise in badge engineering? That’s the question many of you have no doubt asked yourselves, and by extension us.
While the four cylinder is already available in Australia, the fact it shares a drivetrain with the Nissan Navara on which all variants of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class are ultimately based means, for some, it’s not a ‘real’ Mercedes-Benz. That concept is a slippery one today, but still matters.
The X350d promises to be a little different, however, because it brings to the table further chassis work, more luxury and tech, and most importantly of all, Daimler’s own V6 diesel engine and permanent four-wheel drive system. With an even higher price tag, of course.
A decade ago such a thing may have been preposterous. But today we live in a world where the Volkswagen Amarok V6 costs north of $70k on the road, and where the Ford Ranger Raptor and HSV Colorado SportsCat are seen as genuine ‘halo’ products.
Tangentially, the reason Mercedes-Benz tapped Nissan for help was twofold: it worked with the Renault-Nissan Alliance on the Citan van and Smart Car, and has little pickup experience of its own – the 1970s W-Series-based ‘La Pickup’ from Argentina excepted.
Mercedes-Benz Vans may churn out world-beating Sprinters and Vitos with lauded German efficiency, but the ute market is a strange beast. Call it a toe in the water, if you will. MB staff won’t, but lines are there to be read between.
The X350d will arrive in Australia during the fourth quarter of this year, with two versions called Progressive and Power on offer – mechanically the same, but the latter loaded up with even more glamour and luxury. Naturally, it’s expected to be the better-seller.
The engine walks all over the 140kW/450Nm twin-turbo 2.3-litre four. And for those wondering, it’s not the Renault unit used in the old D40 Navara ST550, though it coincidentally shares the same peak torque output. It’s MB’s very own 3.0-litre V6 diesel, which has seen service in the Sprinter and GLE, producing 190kW of peak power at 3400rpm, and 550Nm of max. torque between 1400 and 3200rpm.
Trick tech includes a variable geometry turbo and MB’s Nanoslide cylinder liner coating, developed for F1. Tenuous link, we admit.
Mercedes claims combined-cycle fuel consumption of 8.3L/100km on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 237g/km. Perhaps of more interest to Australian buyers is the 0-100km/h sprint time of just 7.5 seconds, and tow rating of 3.5 tonnes (braked).
It’s matched as standard with the 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed auto used in Mercedes premium vans, with manual override controlled by steering wheel paddle shifters. A start/stop system is also integrated, which remains uncommon in the segment.
There are also Comfort, Eco, Sport, Manual and Offroad modes that change shift points and throttle calibration.
Engine outputs are sent to the road by a 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive system with a fixed 40 per cent front, 60 per cent rear axle torque split. This is augmented by a 4H off-road mode, a 4L low-range reduction gear and a rear diff lock.
Right off the bat the engine feels like a suitable step up. The extra weight the X-Class carries over the Navara, a byproduct of chassis strengthening and sound deadening, means the 2.3 four-cylinder version feels less than snappy, but the X350d is a different beast.
Particularly in throttle-response-sharpening Sport mode, it jumps off the line without drama thanks to its four paws. This lack of drama is heightened by the superb NVH reduction. A clattery and vibrating engine this is not, which enhances the luxury vibe.
Having torque fed to the front on the road, or gravel, without clicking over into off-road-focused 4H, is something only the VW Amarok and Mitsubishi Triton have offered to date, and it adds a layer of surety and grip, especially when the tray is empty.
While the X-Class started life as a Navara, the changes are claimed to be wholesale. We asked one deadpan engineer what parts are shared and were told the door handles, steering column and wheel screws. Every part was analysed, he said.
Compared to the four-cylinder, the X350d gets additional chassis strengthening/cross-members, plus thicker all-round coil springs and different dampers within its double-wishbone/multi-link suspension setup at the front/rear axles. Also, all-round disc brakes.
The payload is a class-standard 965kg, but the unladen ride is more notable. It’s pretty settled, rounds off corrugations quite well, and is most of all super quiet. At the same time, sharp hits are transmitted through the wheel and seat more than the long-legged Ranger.
The steering system uses hydraulic assistance, a carryover from the Navara. As such it’s a little ponderous at low speeds, needing large inputs and strong forearms. On the flipside, it lightens up at speed, and its vagueness off centre is good off-road. But we can’t help but comment the steering on its new Sprinter van is better… (See our quick-drive review.)
Many X350d buyers will never venture beyond the odd trail, especially if the big side steps and bold 19-inch alloy wheels are fitted. But still, it can ford 600mm of water, has 202mm clearance, has a 50-degree tilt angle and hammers easily enough up a 45-degree gradient.
What about the interior, or mobile office? To its credit, Mercedes-Benz Vans has worked hard to differentiate the X-Class from its donor car.
There are different instruments with a digital speedo, behind a tactile MB steering wheel with simple controls and a cruise control stalk on the column, a floating tablet screen controlled by a rotary dial and shortcut buttons, and flashy circular air vents.
Trims such as the brushed aluminium and leather padding scattered about add a premium edge, though there’s still a surplus of cheap, hard plastics throughout, and gripes like creaky door grip covers and lack of telescopic steering column adjustment. That hurts the ergonomics.
All versions with the V6 get keyless entry and button start, climate control, eight speakers, and sat-nav, while higher grades get electric-adjust leather/suede seats, LED headlights, superior Comand navigation with live traffic updates and a crisp 360 degree camera.
Additional safety tech beyond the camera and seven airbags (four-cylinder has a five-star ANCAP score, too) includes standard AEB, traffic sign recognition and active lane-keeping assist. However, there’s no active cruise control or blind-spot monitoring, and we think MB should be the market leader in safety tech.
Furthermore, after driving the brand new Sprinter van with MBUX infotainment - smartphone crispness and swiping, LTE connection, cloud updates and conversational voice control - the X-Class tech feels a little underdone in this regard.
Just like the Navara, back-seat space is acceptable for two adults, but not quite as capacious as a Ranger or Colorado. You get rear vents, ISOFIX anchors and a sliding back window, but no rear USBs or cup holders. You also get rear airbags, unlike the Amarok.
We’re not yet across local ownership costs, but it’ll likely cost more to run that the four-cylinder one, which is $1850 for three visits (Navara is $1832). Intervals will be 12 months/20,000km, and the warranty last three years.
The final piece of the puzzle is price. MB is keeping pretty hushed on that front, but we’re expecting a premium over the four-pot of at least $10,000, pointing to an opening price of around $75k.
The opening price in Germany is 47,490 euros, currently $74,613 Australian. If a sparkie comes over and quotes you a job from his or her X350d, you know they’re doing alright… The Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate TDI 550 is $68,490, for context.
On first impressions then, the X350d feels more like a ‘proper’ Benz than the four-cylinder version, and does more to justify the cost of those three-pointed star badges (two at the front, one at the rear, one in the tub, one on each side step and each wheel, and one each on the steering wheel and gear shifter, in case you forget what you’ve purchased).
There’s obvious demand for high-end pickups of this type. If you’re going to lash out on a Benz ute, you may as well buy the top of the tree.
CHECK OUT: What's different about the X-Class?
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