The fact that Mercedes-Benz has taken the time and effort to join the ever-growing fray of 4WD utes available in Australia tells you how important and potentially lucrative this competitive segment is. It’s a landscape that is changing at breakneck speed, and moving away from those humble working origins into something more of a segment defined by lifestyle, prestige and an outdoorsy intent.
While these utes are getting bigger, heavier and more tech-laden these days, there is a definite trend towards smaller capacity, high-output diesel engines that tread the middle ground of low efficiency and emissions, while pushing out plenty of torque thanks to advanced injection and turbocharging technology. Almost all mid-sized utes have an engine capacity below three litres these days. The only exceptions are Isuzu’s understressed, low-output 4JJI 3.0-litre four-cylinder engine, and the V6 drivelines offered by Mercedes and Volkswagen.
Both utes come from German brands, but only one is built in the homeland (Mercedes is Spain, and this particular spec of the Amarok is produced in Hannover). They both have a single-turbo, 3.0-litre V6 that makes plenty of power and torque. They both have a full-time 4WD driveline, automatic transmission and locking rear differential. They're also both available at high pricepoints, with correspondingly long lists of inclusions.
What we have in this comparison is the newly minted Mercedes-Benz X350d in Progressive specification. We’ve wasted no time in lining it up against its direct competitor, Volkswagen’s Amarok V6 Ultimate 580.
With a list price of $73,270, the X350d Progressive sits below the $79,415 Power model. Based on the Navara (but reworked quite a lot), the X-Class X350d gets a Mercedes-derived drivetrain instead of the Nissan-sourced four-cylinder diesel used lower down the price range.
The Amarok we have here is the top of the tree for Volkswagen’s ute, with a sticker price of $72,790. In this spec, it claims ultimate bragging rights of having the brawniest donk this side of something bigger, modified or petrol-powered – 190kW comes through between 3250–4500rpm, while 580Nm of torque is available from 1400–3000rpm. The Amarok also has an ‘overboost’ function that tickles an extra 10kW from the motor for short periods, at the right speeds (over 50km/h) and in the right gear (fourth or fifth gear).
The Mercedes, in comparison, has only slight differences on paper – 190kW becomes available at 3400rpm, while 550Nm comes on tap between 1400–3200rpm. So, there is the same power, available without a rev range, while 30Nm less is available with a slightly wider band of revs.
The Amarok uses an eight-speed ZF gearbox behind the V6, which powers all four wheels without a transfer case. The ’Benz is full-time 4WD as well, using Mercedes's own 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox plus two-speed transfer case. Another subtle difference is the centre differential: the X-Class has a locking centre diff, while the Amarok uses a Torsen unit.
Although we haven’t tested the claims, Volkswagen’s 7.3sec 0–100km/h figure gives it a slight edge over the 7.5sec X-Class. Fuel consumption between the two utes is very similar. Mercedes lists 8.8 litres per hundred kilometres, while the Amarok has an 8.9L/100km figure listed.
A quick look under the bonnet of each vehicle tells you everything you need to know: there is precious little room for anything else under there, and the X-Class loses practicality points for the location of the air filter buried deep down next to the engine bay.
You’re not going to be pulling it out to check it very often, and you'll likely be paying a motza to get it changed come service time.
Mercedes’s X-Class is slightly longer (5340mm v 5254mm), with a longer wheelbase (3150mm v 3095mm). The Amarok, however, is only slightly taller (1834mm v 1819mm) and wider (1954mm v 1920mm). Neither vehicle is light, with 2285kg and 2244kg being the listed kerb weights, the X-Class being slightly chubbier.
A 3080kg GVM leaves the Amarok with a payload of 836kg. Along with 3500kg of towing capacity, the 6000kg GCM means your payload is reduced to 256kg when towing at full capacity, and a reduced towing capacity of 2920kg when fully laden.
The X-Class has a more generous GCM of 3250kg, giving it a higher payload of 965kg. It also has a towing capacity of 3500kg, but let’s dig into what the Gross Combined Mass (6180kg) leaves over.
When you’re towing at full tilt, there’s 570kg of payload left over. On the other side of the coin, 2930kg of towing capacity is left over when you’re at GVM.
Of course, this is all largely theoretical, and will depend on how each ute truly performs in the real world with a load and when towing. We’ll cover that off in future testing.
Both of these utes leave the competition for dead in terms of how they drive on-road. Both engines, which are pinched from their SUV and passenger vehicle ranges, have a lot more power, torque, responsiveness and refinement than any four- (or five-) cylinder diesel can muster all at once.
Permanent four-wheel drive means there aren’t any issues putting power down, and your straight-line performance is enviably quick and painless.
In direct comparison, the Amarok is the nicer drive overall. Although the coil-sprung rear end of the X-Class is really nicely sorted, the Amarok is still very hard to critique. It’s a better overall driveline as well, with peak torque and power being more easily accessible in wider rev bands. This is helped by an extra ratio in the gearbox as well.
The Amarok's gearbox doesn't quick-shift in a quest for higher revs as often as the X-Class, leaving it feeling more responsive, more powerful and more smooth in comparison. However, once they are on the move, there isn’t a huge difference between the two.
Although we haven’t tested these vehicles off-road, the Mercedes does offer up some nice features for those keen to do so. A low-range transfer case, along with locking centre differential, is traditional mechanical goodness that is still hard to go past these days – and two things that the Amarok does not have.
The 18-inch wheels beat 20-inch wheels off-road every day as well, which is alone the biggest limiting factor of this high-specced Amarok off-road. It’s nice to see the X-class has a 17-inch alloy wheel option as well, which opens you up to stacks of sizes and availability around the country.
The interiors of both of these vehicles are probably where things differentiate the most. The Volkswagen’s interior has long been praised for its nice layout, solid feel and general usability. Material snobs will find lots of hard plastics on the dashboard and door cards, however nothing looks cheap or offensive to the eye.
The steering wheel and gearstick all feel very nice, and the infotainment unit feels slick and is easy to use, although it is a little on the small side. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are integrated, which the X-Class is sorely lacking. On the whole, it's a very agreeable place to spend time.
At first glance, the X-Class has an impressive interior. A big, scalloped dashboard is intersected by flashy-looking circular air vents and a prominent infotainment screen popping out in the middle. Mercedes’s COMAND system is easy to use without being a touchscreen, but is let down by not having smartphone mirroring.
Start having a good prod around the place, and you’ll notice some of the plastics don’t feel as good as they look. Keep looking, and real Mercedes snobs might find the handful of buttons and controls lifted practically straight out of a lower-priced Navara a bit rough. The key fob is a big faux pas, in my books.
There’s also quite a lack of storage in the X-Class cabin, especially for basic stuff like a wallet and smartphone. The Amarok has a small rubber-floored vestibule under the air-conditioning controls, which makes a huge difference to the practicality.
Safety is one area where the X-Class wipes the floor with the Amarok, and is probably a no bueno deal-breaker for many buyers. Most disappointingly, the Amarok is still lacking airbags for passengers in the second row.
It’s also lacking the AEB, lane-departure warning and 360-degree camera that the X-Class has available. If safety is a high priority for you, or you’ll often have more than one passenger, this is a very important point to consider.
In terms of additional equipment included for your money, stepping up from the standard cloth interior will cost you a touch over $2000 when compared to the Nappa leather ‘ergoComfort’ seats in the Amarok, which are excellent.
The additional cameras for 360-degree parking are an extra $1750 as well, which isn’t offered by the Amarok at all. As the ‘Ultimate’ name suggests, the Amarok has all of the options ticked. All a prospective buyer needs to do is choose a colour.
It's worth noting that both of these vehicles come with tyre pressure monitoring systems, which is a handy inclusion for when you're spending a lot of time mowing down kays, especially loaded up and towing.
Neither of these vehicles will be cheap to service or maintain, especially if you start using them as tow rigs or regular off-roaders. The Amarok has 12-month/15,000km servicing intervals, while the X-Class has 12-month/20,000 kays listed between servicing.
The Mercedes X-Class gets a warranty of three years or 200,000km, whichever comes first. This is bested by Volkswagen's five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty offering.
When it’s all boiled down, you can’t argue with the better value proposition that the Amarok offers as a more premium, more powerful option in the 4x4 ute segment.
That unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is a big call for a commercial vehicle, makes the value proposition even better. The X-Class does offer a very similar package to the Amarok, which no longer has a diesel V6 exclusively.
However, the constant thorn in the Amarok’s side cannot be discounted cheaply: it’s simply not as safe as other 4x4 utes available. Considering these are often used as primary family vehicles, it’s hard to outright recommend the Amarok with safety in mind.
Because of that overarching requirement of safety that a family has, the X-Class does start to stack up as a good alternative. It has the airbags that the Amarok is lacking, as well as some of the more advanced active safety technology.
The main problem with the X-Class is twofold: the high entry price, especially with a couple of options added on, and the tinge of Navara that still floats around.
If you’re happy to live with the Nissan as a not-so-distant cousin, and able to afford it, you are getting a 4WD ute that’s powerful, refined, relatively practical and quite safe. Just be prepared for all of the jabs about that Japanese connection.