POWER DRESSING | UTE Review – Mercedes-Benz X-Class

The X-Class brings upper level ride and handling sophistication to the tradie –A first opinion by Warren Caves, Images by Torque it Up. 

When I arrived in the Sydney press garage to pick up my latest test drive vehicle, there were two models from the Mercedes -Benz stable ready and waiting for me, a Sprinter Van and an X-Class V6 Power. Now I’m not going to lie. The thought of quickly grabbing the X-Class and leaving the Sprinter for the Editor to take when he arrived later that day did cross my mind. However, common-sense prevailed and I erred on the side of maintaining my gainful employment and took the Sprinter as instructed.

As luck would have it, just a few days later the X-Class came my way for what would be my first test drive of the model in RHD orientation on home turf.

My initial impressions of the Mercedes-Benz X- 350d in Slovenia in early 2018 were of a vehicle that stood out from the crowd by comparison with its competitors. A vehicle with passenger car characteristics, wrapped up in a dual-cab ute shell. My opinion has not changed.

Mercedes-Benz chose to enter into a joint venture and share the basic hardware platform from the Nissan Navara in order to dip the company’s proverbial toe into the booming dual-cab ute market. This dramatically shortened development calendars, but at the same time created a marketing dilemma of public perception for those believing that the X-Class is just a rebadged Nissan Navara.

I have seen quite a bit of social media banter by the not so well informed that the X-Class is basically a re-birthed Nissan. I also suspect that the critics have perhaps never driven an X-Class. A close look at the two vehicles will reveal that this is certainly not the case. Granted, the X-Class has Navara DNA coursing through its veins but every aspect of the original vehicle was, during development, scrutinised to see where it could be improved and the proof is in the driving.

At the heart of the X-350d is the Mercedes-Benz developed 3-litre V6 diesel engine, derived from the E-Class range along with its accompanying 7G TRONIC automatic transmission. The V6 develops 190 kW of power at 3400 rpm and 550 Nm of torque at 3200 rpm to provide a spirited drive experience.

Picking up the X-350d from inner Sydney at late afternoon meant that the initial driving experience did not make much use of the power and performance available, due to heavy peak hour traffic. Instead, it provided the chance to immerse myself in the interior surroundings and relax (if that’s possible in Sydney peak hour traffic) in comfortable environs, well insulated from the hustle and bustle just outside the doors.

The stop/start nature of the traffic at hand seemed to result in a somewhat jerky sensation when moving forward short distances from a standstill. A quick scan of the central digital display revealed that the current transmission mode was set to Sport  (there are five modes of selection available – Eco, Comfort, Sport, Manual and 4X4). A flick of the switch located in the centre console and the Comfort setting was selected which vastly changed the vehicles reaction to short throttle inputs.

After more gridlock than I’d care to remember, the freeway home eventually opened up for a chance to evaluate the full potential of the vehicle. As expected, performance and acceleration from the V6 was up there with the best in its class. With a stated 0-100 km/h time of 7.9 seconds, I believe that this performance is more than is required of most buyers looking at this type of vehicle, although it’s fun to have on tap when needed. Unfortunately, time did not allow for a tow evaluation to fully gauge the benefits of the 550 Nm of torque available.

Power delivery to the ground of a 60/40 percent torque split via the permanent all-wheel drive system was impressive and this truly came into its own when given the chance to throw in some cornering at the same time. It’s at this point you come to appreciate the extra engineering that Mercedes has put into the chassis, driveline and suspension. I would go as far as to say that the high-speed cornering and roadholding dynamics of the X-350d are the best I have experienced in this class of vehicle.

The widening of the vehicle track by 50 mm over the Navara and the strengthening of the ladder-frame chassis to reduce torsional twist during cornering does not go unnoticed. The X-Class’ steering geometry, damper choice and low profile 19-inch wheel and tyre package combine with the multi-link coil spring rear suspension to provide a sense of surefootedness that could easily lull drivers into exceeding their capabilities. I had no trouble, easily negotiating secondary road corners at far in excess of the advisory speed limit posted on the signs, (up to the maximum general speed limit of course).

With added power and performance comes the need to slow down. The four-wheel disc brakes have been upgraded for the X-350d to feature 320 mm by 28 mm front rotors and 308 mm by 18 mm rears for improved stopping power and high thermal efficiency.

Within the cabin, the migration of existing Mercedes components from its luxury car models instils a feel more of a prestige car than a ute.

Five-star ANCAP safety is as you would expect from Europe’s premium brand with seven airbags, 360-degree camera system, lane-keeping assist and the full suite of electronic braking features, although notable omissions are the lack of adaptive-cruise control and blind-spot warning with side-mirror alerts.

The rotary dial in the centre console, along with the steering-wheel controls, provides fingertip operation of the main functions within the multi-media unit and the digital instrument display, which were both easily navigated once familiarised.

The leather seating provided a comfortable, supportive perch and the leather steering wheel emblazoned with the three-pointed star always adds refinement.

Where things start to disappoint is in the back seats. Leg room is inadequate for my 183 cm build. My knees were uncomfortably pressed into the rear of the front seat when it was left in the same position as when I drove the ute. Headroom was also limited. The back rests are too upright and I could not sit for long in the centre seat if there were three passengers in the rear. While there are rear air conditioning vents for the back-seat passengers, cup holders have been forgotten – only bottle holders are in the door pocket –  which are not convenient to access.

The black roll-top tray cover, while easy to operate and convenient for securing items, had already suffered surface finish degradation to a point where it offered a chalky appearance. At a fitted price from the options list of $6227 (including the sports bars) I would be concerned from a consumer perspective. Perhaps the lid needs some special treatment to keep its lustre, but a general wash did nothing to improve its appearance.

While the X-350d undoubtably has a lot to offer, some pertinent questions would have to be: Will this type of superior handling performance be lost on the average buyer? Is that what they are looking for in a dual cab ute and if so, are they prepared to pay a premium for it and finally, does  the prestige associated with driving a Mercedes- Benz have the magnetism to sway purchase decisions?

 A Benz in Blacktown

It’s the top of the line model for the X-Class range but does it stand out from the crowd?  A second opinion by Chris Mullett – Images by Torque it Up.

Delivery Magazine has been involved with Mercedes-Benz from the onset of its development with the X-Class, meeting with engineers and designers working on the project and being privileged to share the challenges and the benefits of the final two years of research and engineering prior to its launch.

This insight into how Mercedes-Benz took an already capable ute design and introduced its own engineering philosophy and development into producing the X-Class has been invaluable, especially when reading reports by inexperienced, and in many cases blatantly ignorant, web writers and bloggers that call themselves “Motoring Experts”.

In simplistic terms the X350d is the best-handling standard-production ute currently available in the market.

The Mercedes engineers took the Navara chassis, strengthened it to improve torsional stiffness and then worked on the suspension by widening the track, shifting to all-wheel disc brakes and adopting a multi-link rear suspension with variable-rate coil springs to replace the conventional leaf springs. The engineers then added the typical Benz electronic controls of active brake assist, a rear differential lock and selectable damper settings that give the driver the choice of Comfort, Sport, Manual, Eco or Off Road suspension tuning.

The result gives X-Class a level of handling and ride comfort that is unmatched by any other ute. It remains supple but positive to driver input without the harshness or the stiffness of the Ford Ranger or its lookalikes. If the driver wants to potter about and stay well within the limits of the vehicle’s handling, it takes that role with ease. Similarly, if drivers want to push the car, they will soon find that the limits are mainly determined by their own ability, not those of the vehicle.

Having sorted the suspension and ride and handling standards for the double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, Mercedes-Benz engineers then added the 3.0-litre V6 turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine. This is linked to the 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed automatic transmission and introduced permanent all-wheel-drive through the 4MATIC drivetrain.

With its single turbocharger featuring variable geometry to profile the boost performance, the 3.0-litre V6 diesel produces 190 kW at 3400 rpm with peak torque of 550 Nm rated from 1400 rpm through to 3200 rpm.

The steering remains hydraulically power assisted with rack and pinion, rather than advancing to the now common electric power assistance.

The combination of permanent all-wheel-drive with the electronic control systems that monitor traction, tyre pressure and handling bring attributes more in line with a competition rally car, rather than a tradie’s one-tonne carrying ute. If you want to push the vehicle to add to the enjoyment of actually driving, rather than steering something around a corner while listening to a podcast, then the X-Class is the vehicle for you.

Delivery Magazine is frankly not particularly interested in off-road performance in relation to climbing the highest mountain, scampering over the largest rocks and fording deep rivers. There are plenty of specialised 4WD publications that handle the “man against the environment” challenge admirably. Our forte is advising our readership what to buy and how it will provide them with a combination of efficiency, safety, comfort and ability, and whether it is fit for purpose.

Given that these criteria define the purchase decision, another consideration comes in to play when manufacturers offer marketing features that are more for appearance than practical benefit for general driving. A classic example here is the determination to provide 18-inch or 19-inch wheel and tyre combinations for road-going vehicles.

The lower the aspect ratio of the tyre and the larger the wheel results in a harder ride and a greater likelihood of puncturing a tyre and damaging the rim. It may look aesthetically more pleasing, but off the road it will prove to be a disaster while on the road it will prove to be unnecessarily uncomfortable. Admittedly, in the case of the X-Class, the tyre aspect ratio specs are running at 255/60R18 or 255/55/R19 and not sinking to silliness with 35-40 aspect ratios where the only place they will demonstrate their superiority will be on a racetrack.

From a safety perspective the seven airbags are a good place to start, together with active brake assist (where increased braking effort shortens stopping distances) and active lane-keeping assist that mitigates lane wandering. Anti-lock braking, hill-start assist, and tyre-pressure monitoring are all handy to have, but there are a couple of surprising omissions as mentioned previously by Warren Caves such as the lack of adaptive-cruise control and blind-spot assistance.

The front and rear parking sensors are supplemented by 360-degree camera vision, all of which contributes to not actually having any excuse if you scratch something in the car park. These systems all work very well when off road, but as mentioned, why take an $80,000-plus vehicle off the road when you can get out of the car and walk through the bush without the risk of hitting anything?

The front seating is spectacularly comfortable and supportive, whereas for the rear there’s limited legroom. Also worthy of mention is the sound system, which is equally spectacular, bringing high definition sound support to my USB stick of 1100 country and western songs.

So, who buys the X-Class? Delivery Magazine would suggest this is the ute for the worker that wants the versatility of being able to carry a load with the sophistication, ride and handling of a prestige car. Above all, the driver should be someone that actually enjoys their time behind the wheel. That combination makes the X-Class an excellent method of recompensing your hard work and dedication with some performance-based pleasantries.

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