X-PRESS DELIVERY | Ute Review MB X-Class

Warren Caves drives the highly anticipated X-Class 350d 4MATIC. Images by Torque it Up Photography and Daimler Europe

Mercedes-Benz chose the diverse landscapes and visually rich country of Slovenia for its press launch of the X-Class 350d 4MATIC, prior to it being released on sale in Australia. The beautiful scenery provided the perfect backdrop for Delivery magazine to take part in an organised drive programme designed to represent the multitude of driving scenarios to which purchasers might expect to subject their own X-Class.

Following on from the X-Class 250d range released into the Australian market in April of this year, the X-Class 350d V6 turbo diesel will enter the Australian market around December this year in direct competition with its closest rival, the Volkswagen Amarok V6. With similar power and torque figures and European design, Mercedes-Benz will have to work hard to attract new buyers to its latest power-up version of the X-Class.

Featuring the fully Mercedes developed, 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel engine migrated across from the E-Class model, and its accompanying 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed automatic transmission, this combination has catapulted the 350d 4MATIC to new levels of performance, both on and off-road, in the dual-cab pick-up market.

The power race is well and truly on to achieve best-in-class with power output from the new Benz at 190 kW and torque at an impressive 550 Nm, between 1400-3200 rpm.

These figures translate to 0-100 km/h in just 7.5 seconds, with speed topping out at 205 km/h, figures which are none too shabby for a vehicle tipping the scales in excess of 2100 kg.

Going with the bigger is better philosophy, VW Amarok has also recently matched the 190 kW figure of the 350d and out-gunned it in the torque stakes by achieving 580 Nm in its V6.

MB will have available a selection of accessories to complement the X-Class range. Tow packages, side steps, canopies, and roof racks are available, with a bullbar and nudge bar currently under development, specifically designed for the Australian market.

Mercedes-Benz off-road vehicle production up until now has been limited to Unimog and Zetros trucks and the G-wagon. All of which fulfil the off-road capabilities required of them, but without the polished, on-road manners of a passenger car.

This all changed with the release of the X-Class 220d and 250d in Australia earlier this year. These X-Class models feature the Nissan Navara sourced 2.3-litre, high-torque, common-rail turbo diesel, rated at 120 kW and 140 kW respectively. Reprogramming of the engine and driveline management systems were carried out by MB engineers to replicate the standard expected from a prestige Mercedes-Benz vehicle.

As the premium model in the X-Class line-up, the X-Class 350d 4MATIC will bring the Mercedes dual-cab ute into direct competition with its closest competitor, the V6 Diesel Volkswagen Amarok. At the same time, it will increase the degree of separation from its Nissan Navara heritage, adding the cache of the three-pointed star. At this new upper level of ability and street cred, the X-Class V6 heralds in a new era of urban workhorse, with first-rate off-road ability and levels of refinement not before seen in this segment of the market. What the Mercedes Benz X-Class project design team has created is a vehicle that, while based upon an existing design platform, bears very little by way of characteristics to its donor heritage.

The decision to base the X-Class upon the Nissan Navara was a move by which Mercedes-Benz and Nissan could share core componentry, with the modifying, fine-tuning and re-engineering to Mercedes-Benz standards effectively getting the fruit to market more quickly. In so doing, MB has created, particularly with the 350d, a vehicle vastly different from its Nissan sibling.

Overall vehicle width has increased by 70 mm, with the wheel track increasing by 50 mm – resulting in panels and windows not being interchangeable with original Nissan components.

Coil springs all-round, and a totally new multi-link rear suspension and revised dampers, have been designed to provide a level of ride and handling performance so far almost alien to this type of vehicle.

Particular attention was given to strengthening and reinforcement of the ladder frame chassis to reduce torsional twist in cornering, to enhance handling and add to its durability.

To cater for the extra performance and power, the four-wheel, ventilated disc brakes have been upgraded to larger diameters (32 cm for the front and 30.8cm on the rear) for good stopping distances and high thermal efficiency, in conjunction with a larger master cylinder and brake booster.

Quite simply, while you know you’re driving a dual-cab ute, as you saw that when you jumped in, the driving experience would be more likened to that of a refined passenger car.

Unlike the 220d and 250d launched earlier this year, the X 350d 4MATIC will only be available in two specification levels, being the Progressive and Power, leaving the base model Pure, for the four-cylinder versions only. Also, the six-speed manual transmission will not be available in the X 350d V6.

With an emphasis on safety, the Mercedes Benz X-Class 350d 4MATIC will not disappoint. Seven air bags, active brake assist, active lane keeping assist, trailer stability assist, traffic sign assist, hill start assist, reverse camera and 360-degree camera system are all standard features on the Power model and are an option on the Progressive.

With the drive programme centred on the aptly named “X-Lodge” about 20 minutes drive from Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, our Mercedes-Benz hosts were both courteous and friendly, albeit a little sombre in mood from the previous night’s loss by Germany to Mexico in the World Cup.

In order to capitalise on local knowledge, Mercedes-Benz organisers had mapped out a selection of five test drive routes and uploaded them into the vehicles navigation systems. The routes covered a variety of terrain from a small constructed off-road course to high speed, sealed and gravel mountain roads and motorway experiences.

The chosen test drive circuit left the lodge, continuing through narrow, semi-rural village type roads prior to motorway work, where full advantage was taken of the 350d’s V6 engine by rapidly accelerating to the 130 km/h speed limit. Plenty of power was readily available upon request; in fact, it was a bit too keen to keep going.

Immediately noticeable in the car were the plush surroundings, the leather appointed seats, comfortable and supportive with ample adjustment, leather steering wheel, titanium-look dash face panel, the sleek dial control in the centre console and the infotainment system screen. It was clear from the outset that this was no ordinary farm ute.

At highway speeds, NVH levels (noise, vibration and harshness) were fantastic, as you would expect from the German manufacturer. The 7G-TRONIC PLUS transmission swapped cogs intuitively and without hesitation to maintain optimal engine speed for the selected transmission mode.

With the tachometer hovering around the 1750-1800 rpm mark at 110 km/h, and 2200 at 130km/h, the low-revving nature of the gearing and torque bands, in conjunction with the eco stop/start feature, could realise the claimed fuel economy figures of 9.0 litres/100 km combined cycle use.

The 7G-TRONIC PLUS transmission delivers fulltime all-wheel-drive, with a torque distributions bias of 60 percent to the rear axle and 40 percent to the front. This power split is claimed by Mercedes-Benz to provide ultimate traction during acceleration and sure-footed ability.

The Dynamic select system comprises five different drive modes to choose from, depending on your driving style or current terrain. Drivers can select from Comfort, Eco, Sport, Manual and Off-road. The manual mode enables gear changes from the steering-wheel-mounted paddle levers.

A centre locking differential is also fitted giving 100 percent locking to the transfer case. An optional rear differential lock was listed in the spec sheet; however, Delivery Magazine can confirm that for the Australian market this will be standard fare in the X 350d 4MATIC.

The chosen drive mode alters transmission shift points, engine electronic parameters, and throttle response sensitivity.

Initially, I had the driving mode set to comfort, with adequate performance levels for everyday driving. Upon exiting the motorway and moving onto quieter rural environs, I selected the sport mode and immediately noticed the earlier downshifting in relation to minimal throttle pressure, instigating a more spirited experience.

Pushing hard into corners at speed, the handling from the multi-link coil spring suspension was exceptional, with very little turn-in or push from the rear. Now, I’m not comparing this vehicle to a sports car, rather comparing it to various other dual cab-utes I have driven, and the difference is markedly noticeable. Body roll was minimal and accelerating out of corners was grippy and smooth.

With the road surface changing to gravel through a mountain forest, I left the Dynamic select system in Sport mode and drove like I was late for a date with a hot blonde. Even with the loose surface, braking into and accelerating out of corners was predictable and controlled. The axle hop normally induced by leaf spring suspensions was nowhere to be seen, with only a little confusion at one point by the traction control system when acceleration exceeded the coefficient of friction with the road surface.

The combination of the coil springs and four-wheel disc braking caters to this type of driving well, although it remains to be seen if the load-carrying capacity of the coil springs stack up against leaf springs under heavy load, or whether the aftermarket spring and airbag manufacturers are going to invest in aid options. In our view, at this end of the dual-cab ute market, and at the price point the X 350d might achieve, it’s unlikely that load carrying will be a major prerequisite of sale.

A small constructed off-road course was available for evaluation of the X 350d’s off-road capabilities.

The first obstacle was a short steep downhill grade at which point the DSR (downhill speed regulation) control was put to the test. When selected via a dash-mounted switch, this function limits the maximum speed the vehicle will achieve, with the fixed settings of 8.0 km/h for high range and 4.0 km/h in low range.

This section was followed by a sharp right turn, and then up a loose rocky hill to a three-point-turn on a hillside, with the reverse camera proving a handy addition for this manoeuvre, followed by a return using the same track and a later ascent of the steep hill section.

This type of terrain provided the perfect opportunity to evaluate the 360-degree camera system that monitors the ground surface on either side and in front of the vehicle, allowing clear vision of the track your wheels are about to traverse. I’m immediately reminded of a time leading a group of five vehicles across the Simpson Desert, regularly becoming bogged after stopping just before the top of a sand dune, as all that was visible in the windscreen was sky – and this new camera system would have saved me a lot of digging.

The 350d performed well on the off-road track, although it was not particularly rough. The final section consisted of some offset gravel moguls constructed to highlight suspension travel, which was handled with ease although some scraping of the side steps occurred.

Towing mass and weights place the X 350d in the same category that seems to be the standard these days, with up to 3500 kg braked towing capacity and around 1000 kg payload. While refined and stylish, the X 350d is more than capable of work duties. It remains to be seen if buyers of this vehicle will actually do that, or will it be resigned to urban taxi duties and the occasional Bunnings purchase.

Mercedes Benz has put together a really strong package, setting a benchmark of class for other manufacturers to aspire to, if they dare. With the dual-cab pickup market accounting for a large percentage of total vehicle sales, MB has been wise to get in on the action. The question is, will consumers be willing to fork out the extra dollars for a high-class version of the dual-cab ute?

The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding, and, with the Amarok Ultimate sitting around the $70k mark, it will be interesting to see how sharp Mercedes pricing will be by comparison.

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