PROGRESSIVE PROCESS | UTE REVIEW-Mercedes’ X-Class continues to appeal to the top end of town

Mercedes’ X-Class continues to appeal to the top end of town – Words by Stuart Martin

Beneath the bonnet of the big Benz-badged ute finally sits a venerable V6, although more than a few wishful thinkers (the author included) half-joke about whether we’ll ever see a hotter AMG-tuned version.

Hope springs eternal that they might one day shoehorn a twin-turbo V8 into the engine bay; but for now we’ll have to make do with the V6 turbo-diesel as the ‘performance’ variant.

The Mercedes-Benz X 350 d tips the scales at 2166 kg in $73,270 Progressive guise when powered by the V6, which offers up 190 kW at 3400 rpm, a figure on par with the Amarok 580 until overboost is summoned. Peak torque of 550 Nm is produced between 1400 and 3200 rpm, down 30Nm on the Amarok 580 but spread across a wider rev range.

The 3.0-litre turbo-diesel brings with it a seven-speed auto and constant 4WD, active lane keeping, the drive mode system (which alters transmission attitude) and gearshift paddles on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. It all sits on front double wishbones and coil springs, with the multi-link rear end − with variable-rate coil springs − under the tray. Continental 60-series rubber is wrapped around the 18-inch alloy wheels.

The dash is predominantly Benz-inspired and sourced.  The infotainment system displays through a seven-inch screen atop the dash, which includes circular retro-styled vents.

There’s plenty of metallic trim in the cabin to break up the dark theme, but it can get hot to the touch on a sunny day − the gear selector being one area where that’s not ideal.

Most of the systems are directed by a rotary controller and touchpad, with Bluetooth and USB (two) inputs, as well as DAB digital radio with eight speakers and a decent external aerial to keep DAB reception a little longer than its main rival. The audio system can also be controlled via the steering wheel’s multi-function controls, which are still a little convoluted to use.

Rear room is tighter than average and rear vision isn’t class-leading either, plus the lack of substantial in-cabin storage remains an issue. There are decent door pockets and a small glovebox, as well as a small centre console, but next to no oddment storage in the centre stack.

The features list also includes keyless entry/ignition, lower-spec Garmin sat-nav, fabric seat trim, dual-zone climate control (with rear vents), a carpeted floor, four 12-volt outlets, fog lights, dusk-sensing (but only halogen) headlights, an LED light for the rear tray, and power-folding heated exterior mirrors.

It’s in the area of safety where the Benz makes some ground on the Amarok. Parking sensors are on the options list, but there’s a clear standard reversing camera, seven airbags (the usual six plus a driver’s knee ‘bag), automatic emergency braking and active lane keeping systems. There are also daytime running lights, stability control with trailer sway function, tyre pressure monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control (with braking function) and an auto-dimming centre mirror.

The test vehicle had been fitted with the optional Style Pack – which adds rear privacy glass, the electric rear window, side steps, roof rails, LED headlights and partial LED tail lights – for $3350. Metallic black paint adds $950, there’s an $899 bed-liner, $1551 worth of black ‘roll’ bar and the full towing kit with electric trailer brake controller, adding $2063. All of which adds up to an $82,083 asking price as tested, before it’s put on the road.

The Mercedes-Benz ute is covered by a three year/200,000 km factory warranty with roadside assistance for the same duration as the warranty, which is down by two years on its main rival. Service intervals are based on 12 month or 20,000 km periods, a similar timeframe to the V6 Amarok but offering an improved distance of 5000 km more than VW.

The X-Class lays claim to a payload of 1034 kg (198 kg more than the Amarok 580) within the Gross Combined Mass of 6180 kg (a 180 kg improvement on the VW). The GVW is listed as 3250 kg, with a kerb weight of 2166 kg and a comparable listed braked towing capacity of 3500 kg.

Measuring 1581 mm long, 1560 mm wide and 475 mm deep, there’s 1215 mm between the wheel arches in the tray. It is 26 mm longer but not as deep (33 mm) or as wide (by 60 mm) as the Amarok’s tray, while both vehicles lay claim to fitting a standard Australian pallet (1165 mm) between the rear wheels.

The rear tray has the adjustable load rail system on the tray sides (in lieu of the lower spec model’s conventional floor-mounted loops), but a personal preference would be to keep the floor tie-down points as well.

Out on the road, the first thing immediately apparent is the quietness. All engine, wind and road noise are well subdued, disturbed only if the V6 is working at full tilt.

The abundant performance levels on offer make it unnecessary to push the engine hard, though, although the travel of the accelerator pedal is typically long, something of a breed trait.

There is some slight hesitation before things get seriously underway, but this can be circumvented by putting the Drive Mode into Sport shortly after hitting the ignition button.

Ride quality is good and is calmer than a leaf-sprung set-up, but gets a little wriggly over a wrinkled piece of road.

A small load gives the rear suspension something else to factor in to the ride-and-handling standards and it improves markedly when compared to a completely unladen tray. A more serious load on the towball doesn’t dump the rear end as much as the early incarnations of the Nissan on which the underpinnings of the Benz are based.

The steering (still tilt-adjustable only) is on the light, dull side when it comes to road feel, and the 12.8-metre turning circle doesn’t make light work of tight manoeuvres in the local car park.

The steering demeanour does appear to be more content when leaning towards terrain tackled when the dual range transfer case (which is a slow worker) is in low, and the rear diff lock has been engaged.

Where the X-Class scores is in its capability to clamber over challenging terrain, as well as covering unsealed roads at an indecent pace, with 60 per cent rear drive and 40 per cent remaining up front as the norm.

The X-Class isn’t quite as sharp as the Amarok off the mark, where the output deficit at full throttle shows, but it’s no slouch, either.

The Benz is a little slower for the sprint to 100 km/h − 7.9 versus the Amarok’s 7.3 seconds, but neither are slow, given they’re two-tonne-plus dual-cab 4×4 utes. The big Benz runs four-wheel ventilated discs which are welcome given the V6’s considerable grunt.

The big Merc pips its arch rival by 0.1 of a litre per 100 km on the ADR combined cycle, wearing an official ADR laboratory-derived combined cycle figure of 8.8 L/100 km. Our first stint in the X 350 d finished with 13 L/100 km and a 31 km/h average speed showing on the trip computer.

The road test was completed in two parts, as the X-Class went back to the dealership after popping up a couple or warning lights – one for low battery voltage and the second a PreSafe warning reportedly triggered by the battery; neither reappeared during our second run.

There’s little doubt the X-Class is a better package with the V6 nestled under its bonnet, offering the outputs needed for easy towing and quieter unladen progress. The safety and prestige of the three-pointed star does come at a price, however.

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