Johannesburg - Mercedes didn’t invent the luxury double cab segment. The gentrification of workhorses has been taking place for some time, which has led to ever more refined load-luggers that are equipped with many of the mod cons of executive cars and SUVs.
But Benz did want to raise the stakes and build the Mercedes-Benz of bakkies, aka the classiest bakkie in town - until, possibly, someone like Rolls-Royce or Bentley comes along one day and does it even better (never say never).
The X-Class is marketed as tough on the outside and stylish on the inside, and to a large extent that’s true, but the question is whether this luxury one-tonner is stylish enough to command such premium prices. The Mercedes X250D Power derivative on test here retails for an eish-inducing R824 205, which is around 200 grand more than a similarly powered Hilux, Ranger or Amarok - and still around 30 grand pricier than the much more powerful 3-litre V6 Amarok.
The X-Class is sold with a six-year/100 000km maintenance plan.
That the X-Class is heavily based on the Nissan Navara and Renault Alaskan is well known (and been relentlessly mocked on social media), and it’s one of several global product-sharing ventures between Daimler and Renault-Nissan.
The ladder-frame chassis, suspension, and much of the bodywork is the Navara’s, and so too the four cylinder 2.3-litre engine powering the Mercedes X250d - a more powerful Mercedes-made V6 diesel will be made available in the X-Class later.
But there is nevertheless a lot of Daimler DNA in this vehicle. Outside, the nose and tail have been through Stuttgart’s styling salon to make this bakkie more Benz-like in appearance and the result is convincing. The front view, with that large three-pointed star and satin-finished grille bars, radiates elegant aggression in a Schwarzenegger-in-a-tuxedo kind of way.
The interior also gets a Mercedes manicure, but it’s a mixed bag. Touch points like the door armrests are softly padded, and the stitched leather and brushed aluminium all have a made-by-Mercedes feel. The smart looking ‘jet turbine’ air vents, and the suede-leather seats also give off a luxury vibe, while the high-tech instrument panel and infotainment system are standard Benz fare.
But the cheap-looking hard plastic used on the bottom part of the dashboard, and in the console between the front seats, is distinctly low-rent and spoils the overall effect like a cockroach in a salad.
As a family 4x4 the X-Class generally makes the grade with its roominess and practicality. In a ‘stadium seating’ arrangement the high-mounted bench seat allows rear passengers to see over the heads of the front occupants, which is nice. However, rear leg- and head-room are just average for a double cab.
Standard spec is a little sparse for the price. There are electrically adjustable and heated front seats, cruise control, high-performance LED headlights, climate control, keyless operation, and high-end infotainment. But you have to pay extra for features like navigation and a reversing camera.
Some of Merc’s modern driver assist features are also available in the X-class, but something was awry with them in our test vehicle; there were error messages for both the Pre-Safe and Lane-Keeping Assist systems.
The X-Class is initially available in a pair of X250d models: the two-wheel drive Progressive, and the four-wheel drive Power which is on test here.
Under the hood, as mentioned, is Nissan’s 2.3-litre four cylinder turbodiesel which makes a fairly punchy 140kW and 450Nm. This puts it in similar power territory as the range-topping Ranger/Hilux models but it gets KO’d by the 165kW/550Nm Amarok 3.0 V6. The upcoming 190kW/550Nm X-Class 3.0 turbodiesel will outpunch them all but that Merc’s pricetag is expected to tickle the R1-million price range.
The X250d is reasonably lively without being a real powerhouse. It has an easy-cruising nature and decent overtaking punch, but there’s no Sport mode in the seven-speed automatic gearbox to hurry up the gearchanges.
Off-the-line acceleration is fairly average for the class. For reference, the bakkies we’ve tested at Gauteng altitude have achieved the following 0-100km/h times: VW Amarok V6 (8.2 seconds), Ford Ranger 3.2 (11.7 seconds), Mercedes X250d (12.1 seconds), and Toyota Hilux 2.8 (12.5 seconds).
The engine also has a fairly loud whine which impedes on the Merc’s otherwise refined experience. Fuel consumption is decent at 9 litres per 100km, and not too far off the factory-claimed 7.9 litres.
As a workhorse the X-Class does the business by offering a full one ton capacity, and it’s able to tow a braked trailer weighing up to 3500kg. There are a number of canopies and covers optionally available, including the smart-looking R28 827 hard cover fitted to our test vehicle.
Under the funky clothes is a double cab with the necessary durability, including a ladder frame chassis. With the solid-axle rear suspension paired with coils instead of the traditional leaf springs, the ride is better than the average bakkie and this Benz impressively smooths out bumps on rough gravel.
Overall the driving characteristics are more SUV-like and the X-Class isn’t afflicted with the typical shaky ride of a bakkie when there’s no load in the back. It corners reasonably well too and doesn’t have excessive body roll. The steering is quite vague, but that’s appropriate for a bakkie.
It’s a very proficient offroader with a generous 222mm ground clearance and lots of traction, and the ease with which it tackled our rugged 4x4 course suggests this X-Class will make a great adventure vehicle.
It goes from rear- to four-wheel drive on the move at the twirl of a knob, while there’s also a low range gear and two diff locks for the tougher trails, as well as hill descent control.
The optional Parking Package with 360° camera, which projects the front, rear and top views onto the infotainment screen, is handy for avoiding obstacles when parking or offroading.
There are some good aspects to the X-Class, like the offroad ability and the ride quality and most of the interior trimmings. But for me there’s not enough here to justify the price difference to other double cabs.
While this isn’t quite a Navara in drag as propounded by all the social media jibes - it’s still not quite Mercedes enough to justify that price.
I’d rather buy a 3-litre VW Amarok: more muscle, a quieter engine, and a saving of 33 grand.