All of the fuss about the Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute has been devoted to flagship versions, mostly the $75K X350d with its potent diesel V6 and deluxe cabin treatment.
But in some ways, it’s actually the base X220d Pure grade with rear-wheel drive (RWD) that’s the most interesting, even if sales projections for this ‘price leader’ (a stretch, as you’ll see) are modest at best.
It’s no secret that the Mercedes-Benz engineers took a shortcut in developing the company’s first body-on-frame pick-up by spinning the X-Class off the Navara from its established joint-venture partner Nissan. It’s even made at Nissan’s Spanish plant.
But as we’ve written at length, the end product carries substantial differences – to the cabin treatment, suspension and sheet metal. Is it just us or is this the best-looking ute on the market? Its curves, slim windows and bold grille give it real presence.
Of course, the questions are: do the changes live up to the hallowed badge, and justify the price?
Pricing. We keep alluding to it. What is it? $46,500 before on-road costs, a hefty 28 per cent more than a (skinny-tyred and stripped-out) Navara RX dual-cab with the same drivetrain, or 15 per cent pricier than the top-selling Toyota HiLux Workmate Hi-Rider.
Naturally, the ute game is one of rampant discounting, especially if you have an ABN to throw about, but the fact of the matter is that this is the most expensive base RWD dual-cab ute in its class. Its only Euro-badged rival, the Volkswagen Amarok TDI420, is $6500 cheaper.
Let’s get that out of the way early, because to some people that isn’t the point. Maybe you’ve got a fleet of Mercedes Vito or Sprinter vans and can get a deal? Maybe you’ve got wealthy clients to whom the X-Class will appeal? Or perhaps you’re willing to forego some equipment in exchange for the pleasure of driving a ’Benz?
Get past all that and you’re left with a fundamentally good pick-up, albeit not one that moves many goalposts.
Under the bonnet you’ll find the Navara’s entry engine, a 2.3-litre four-cylinder single-turbo diesel making 120kW of peak power and 403Nm of maximum torque from 1500rpm. Here it’s matched to a six-speed manual gearbox.
Higher grades get the Nissan’s twin-turbo 2.3-litre with 140kW/450Nm, or the thumping Mercedes 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 190kW/550Nm. The HiLux and Ford Ranger entry grades have a similar approach with various engines on offer.
Our tester came with rear-wheel drive, and if you want the available 4x4 system with low-range gearing it’ll cost you a further $3900, taking the RRP to $50,400. The RWD system also cuts the braked-trailer tow rating from 3.5 tonnes to 3.2t.
Despite all that, it’s actually a reasonably good little unit, with better-than-average refinement and ample pulling power just off idle. It’ll run out of puff sooner when under strain, but for average commuting or hauling it’s a tractable enough unit for the job. There’s a power/torque arms race going on in the LCV space, but it’s just for bragging rights.
The manual gearbox has a great shift feel and lightish clutch, and brings the donk to life with its engaging nature. Its claimed fuel consumption is 7.6 litres of diesel on the combined cycle, and we got close to that averaging 8.1L/100km, which is excellent.
Now, all that said, the fact remains that the engine offers inferior outputs to most of its main rivals, including the 2.0-litre Amarok, and there’s no way to write this review without calling that fact out.
One thing the X-Class shares with the Nissan is coil-spring suspension with links at the rear, rather than the more common leaf springs, though Mercedes did some tweaking.
As with the Series 3 Navara update (of the Series 2 botched update), it has variable-rate coils that are soft when unladen, but stiffen when carrying weight to keep body sag minimal. The result is a compliant and quick-to-settle-over-bumps rear end when unladen, and a fairly assured beast of burden alike. It’s a well-sorted trade-off.
The payload in the tub (1581mm long, 1215mm between the arches and 475mm deep, with four tie-down loops fitted and adjustable load rails fitted as an option) is 1223kg, on account of the 1909kg kerb weight and 3200kg Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM).
The Gross Combination Mass (GCM) is a higher-than-average 6130kg, meaning you can be at max payload and still tow a 2930kg braked-trailer load legally – though you’d be making stately progress uphill doing this. Like most utes, there’s a trailer-assist system programmed into the stability control to stop your float/caravan weaving.
Also uncommon for the class is the fitment of ventilated disc brakes at all four corners, behind the fleet-special 16-inch steel wheels with road-biased tyres, which are turned by a hydraulic-assisted steering rack that’s a little less burdensome on the arms than Nissan’s tune.
The thing we like best about the X-Class is its refinement. Put simply, it’s the quietest, most insulated ute in its class, both in terms of driveline clatter/vibration suppression and tyre/wind roar suppression. There are louder luxury SUVs, frankly.
On that subject, even the biggest fanboy would struggle to call the cabin a luxury experience. There are coarse ‘Tunja’ cloth seats and vinyl floor covering, and few of the creature comforts found in many ‘lifestyle’ utes, some of which are the same price.
Standard fare does include a 7.0-inch tablet screen controlled by a rotary dial pinched from every Mercedes road car and SUV, so you can keep your grubby worksite mitts off the screen, plus a reversing camera, cruise control, Bluetooth and air conditioning.
Safety tech includes seven airbags, as well as autonomous emergency braking that stops the X-Class automatically at low speeds if you don’t spot the obstacle you’re about to drive into. This is still almost unheard of tech in the ute market, though it’s common elsewhere. It has a five-star ANCAP crash rating.
The layout is certainly interesting – that floating screen with dial, the slick steering wheel (the lack of telescopic column adjustment rankles), and the big digital trip computer with speedo are all nice. The build and material quality on our test car was also without obvious flaws, though a previous X-Class I drove had a few gremlins.
Like the Navara, the back seats are a little pokey by class standards, with short-based and unsupportive seats, and less leg room and head room than most competitors, despite there being room for two burly adults. The fitment of rear air vents and ISOFIX anchors is good.
In terms of after-sales care, you get a three-year warranty with a 200,000km term limit, compared to the five-year term offered by Ford, Holden, Mitsubishi, Mazda and Isuzu Ute.
Service intervals are a long 12 months or 20,000km between visits, with the first three currently priced at $585, $930 and $835. For context, a Navara with the same engine and intervals costs $554, $577 and $721 for its first three services, plus a $32 brake fluid replacement at the two-year/40,000km mark. Hmm.
So, the verdict. In the cold light of day, those after a basic double-cab workhorse are better off buying a Mitsubishi Triton or Navara RX and pocketing the extra cash, because while the X-Class is better, it’s not substantially so. And when you consider how competitively priced the Vito van is, you do question the badge equity a touch.
On the other hand, driving away in a Mercedes-Benz pick-up for under $50K, or a few grand more for the 4x4 before you haggle, in a market where people regularly buy $60K-plus Rangers and HiLuxes (stuffed with more equipment) won’t always be a hard sell.
Is the X220d Pure a better-than-average base ute? Oh, absolutely. Is it worth the dosh? No, not really. But since when were cars always logical? Your call.