Santiago, Chile - After a shock announcement in 2015 that it would build a luxury double-cab, followed by two years’ worth of follow-up announcements, concept reveals and frustrating passenger-ride events, Mercedes has finally let media drive its new X-Class pickup.
The big question on everyone’s lips ahead of this week’s test drive in South America, was if the bakkie comes infused with enough German DNA to differentiate it from its Nissan-based underpinnings, or if it drives like the dolled-up Navara it essentially is. The answer, as it turns out, is a tricky one.
There’s no doubting the effort put into the cabin, where the look and feel is unmistakably Mercedes-Benz in flavour.
It’s all very C-Class inside, and except for some butcher styling accents in the X-shaped vents, a broader dash fascia and an old-school mechanical gear lever protruding from the centre console, most of the furnishings look straight out of Merc’s passenger car catalogue.
Customisation plays a big part in elevating the X-Class above its most direct Hilux, Ranger and Amarok competitors, and unlike those bakkies this one comes with a wide selection of six upholstery options, two headliners (beige or black) and three dashboard themes (woodgrain, flat black or aluminium).
If the Navara didn’t exist you’d be hard pressed to know the X comes from Japanese stock, so well disguised is the interior.
That said, it’s easy to spot some unashamedly Nissan-supplied switchgear scattered around.
The four-wheel drive selector dial, seat heating controls and 12v power sockets stand out quite clearly against Merc’s fancy console-mounted Comand touch controller, polished aluminium surfaces and tablet-like infotainment dash-topper.
Countless changes have been made under the skin too, and at the media event we were repeatedly reminded of alterations made to the Navara platform to better suit Merc’s needs.
The chassis has been strengthened in strategic places, suspension and body mountings are adapted, the hydraulic steering rack has a (slightly) quicker ratio and the Nissan’s rear drums are replaced with disc brakes.
Haul out the tape measure and you’ll also find the X’s front and rear tracks are 62 and 55mm wider than the Navara’s respectively.
So, does all this make a difference in the way it drives?
A bit, but not really.
If anything, Merc’s attempt to make the X-Class a more dynamic handler has hurt rather than helped.
Or at least it has for those who intend on venturing out of suburbia.
The Navara’s claim-to-fame coil spring (instead of leaf) back suspension still plays a starring role here, and it soaks up bigger bumps quite nicely, but the firmer springs and Mercedes-specific damper settings give the X-Class a nervous ride over anything less than pristine road surfaces.
It would certainly be the more fun bakkie to throw around on a twisty mountain pass, but on rough roads or gravel the jittery ride can be bothersome, to the point it was almost uncomfortable over our 400km Chilean journey.
Thankfully a very well insulated cabin redeems the poor ride quality to an extent.
It’s also interesting to note that Europe’s standard specification 202mm ground clearance, and higher-riding 222mm optional raised suspension have been swapped around for the South African and Australian markets.
We’ll get the higher version in standard trim with the no-cost lower ride available optionally.
For those planning to put the X to work, it gets a 1067kg payload and maximum 3.5 ton (depending on engine) towing capacity.
Of the four engine choices which will come online before the end of next year, our test drive was limited to the very same 2.3-litre bi-turbodiesel as you’ll get in a Navara with the same 140kW/450Nm outputs.
Mercedes says it’s retuned the mapping to give the engine a different power delivery “feel”, but I can’t say I felt the difference.
Even the seven-speed auto gearbox performed pretty much identically.
Power in this model is adequate, but as with the Navara, it’ll get a serious hiding from SA’s meanest double-cabs like the 3.2 Ranger and new 3.0 V6 Amarok.
Merc’s bakkie is a decent cruiser, and its somewhat clattery engine note settles down after pulloff, but it’s a bit huffy and puffy when asked for overtaking moves. It’s a peaky engine, and though the oomph is there, it’s sometimes hard to access what’s on offer thanks to its dull throttle response and hunty gearbox.
Mercedes-Benz South Africa can’t yet confirm which engines will make it our way next year, but it’s safe to assume we’ll get the full range given we’re a core market for X-Class.
This means a base X200 with a naturally aspirated 122kW/238Nm Renault/Nissan alliance-sourced naturally aspirated 2.4 petrol, a 120kW/403Nm X200d with a single turbo version of the Nissan 2.3 diesel, and the aforementioned biturbodiesel known as the X250d.
All will come with choices of seven-speed auto or six-speed manual gearboxes, and rear- or four-wheel drivetrains.
V6 power coming later
Later in the year a range-topping X350d will land with Merc’s own 3-litre turbodiesel pushing 190kW and 550Nm, and putting those flagship Fords and VWs to the test in terms of sheer grunt. This one comes with full-time four-wheel drive, and Merc’s 7G-Tronic autobox which is not the same seven-speeder as in lower derivatives.
Three spec levels will include base Pure, mid-level Progressive and top-of-the-line Power trim lines.
Pure means 17” steel wheels with unpainted black bumpers, cloth seats, plastic flooring and a smaller 17.8cm colour multimedia display.
Progressive adds alloy wheels, carpets, painted bumpers, a bigger 21.3cm screen, leather steering wheel and handbrake, and some extra chrome bits. The Power gets man-made leather, navigation, LED lights, and dual-zone climate control among others.
Expect plenty of optional extras including surround view cameras, electric sliding back windows, parking sensors, canopies, roll bars, side steps, hard and soft bed covers, tow bars, diff locks and wheel designs up to 19”.
We’ll have to wait until closer to the X-Class’s April launch for prices.