X-PRESSING INTEREST |Stuart Martin spends a week with the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class 250d

Stuart Martin spends a week with the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class 250d

Anyone who remembers the badge-engineering exercises under the 1980s Button Plan might shudder at the thought of a re-engineered Nissan wearing a three-pointed star.

Fear not, there are not four horsemen on the horizon – Mercedes-Benz sees a need to enter the light-commercial ute segment, but going it alone isn’t financially viable. So the German brand has put its faith in sharing a platform with Nissan and Renault, no doubt attracted by the more modern multi-link coil-sprung rear end.

The big bull nose isn’t the only change to the dual-cab wearing a Benz badge – it now has disc brakes under the widened tray, not to mention the bulk of the dashboard and centre stack coming in for a Benz makeover.

For now, the top-spec model (until a V6 arrives later this year) is the X250d Power, which is a $64,500 proposition for the seven-speed auto, or it’s $61,600 for the six-speed manual.

Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, chrome trim bits, automatic LED headlights, man-made ‘leather’ trim, dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable front seats with lumbar support, interior ambient lighting, digital radio reception, plus wifi hotspot and satnav within the seven-inch screen that is perched atop the dash.

The infotainment system has eight speakers and is controlled by the touchpad and roller control that sits behind the gear selector – instead of operating as a touchscreen – with ancillary buttons either side. The system takes some time with which to become familiar, and the touchpad is prone to being swiped accidentally.

The top half of the dash looks fetching – the infotainment screen and clever round vents, as well as the trim materials surrounding them all go a long way to justifying the jump in price, but the in-cabin storage has suffered for the dashboard revamp.

The storage binnacles that dwell atop the dash (a useful spot for dash cams as it has a 12-volt outlet as well) and below the climate control in the Nissan have both disappeared – the latter wasn’t great for holding things in the Navara, but at least it was there. There are door pockets and a centre console, but the cupholder and minuscule storage spot behind the handbrake are too small.

Device charging and connection options include two USBs and a 12-volt outlet in the centre console, another 12-volt socket ahead of the selector, with the rear passengers getting another 12-volt near the vents. There’s also one in the rear tray.

The driver is well informed by clear instruments and a good centre display between the dials, with a digital speed readout. The only complaints would revolve around the centre screens, with some of the menus a little convoluted to reach with the steering-wheel controls, and there’s only tilt adjustment for the steering.

Rear occupants have vents and a 12-volt outlet, as well as under-seat storage, but there’s no centre armrest. The rear bench is high-set and well-cushioned, but seated behind my own 191cm-tall driving position, my knees were touching the front seat backrest and my head was touching the roof.

Our test vehicle was fitted with a Style Pack option, which adds ‘privacy’ rear window tint, the electric rear sliding window, side steps, roof rails and 19-inch alloy wheels with Bridgestone Dueler HP Sport 255/55 tyres for $2490. Also fitted was the Winter Pack option, adding heated front seats and heated windscreen washer jets for $590, and the rear tray was lined with a rear sports bar. All up, the starting price, as tested, was $70,850.

The safety list is above average and includes seven airbags, lane departure warning, tyre pressure monitoring, a 360-degree camera system, front and rear parking sensors, a rear diff lock, stability and traction control, and rear outboard ISOFIX child seat anchors.

Also on the list are power-adjustable heated mirrors (of a useful size), rain sensing wipers, lane keeping and trailer sway assist, an auto-dimming centre mirror and pedestrian-detecting auto-braking system, but sadly the cross-wind assist function is absent.

The rear-end revamp widened the rump and tray and also adds rear disc brakes, which are a noticeable improvement in stopping power.

Cabin quietness was the first noticeable difference above and beyond the Navara. The X-Class weighs more, and, no doubt, some of that is sound insulation materials, with the four-cylinder thrum when under load still there, but more distant.

Ride quality when unladen isn’t atrocious either – firm certainly, but it copes well with large bumps and deals well enough with smaller road imperfections.

Adding half a tonne of quarry rubble to the tray settles the tail down, without resorting to the bump stops – it still sinks a little under the weight, but Benz seem to have appropriate spring rates for the rear suspension.

Getting the materials out of the rear tray left remnants in the tailgate hinge, enough to stop it from closing, at least until fingers and a broom had cleared the gap.

Getting from A to B in a hurry on a winding country road is well within the Benz’s parameters. It still rolls and leans a bit, but the steering is more precise in terms of biting on turn-in.

The turning circle remains wide at 13.4 m, but turns lock-to-lock figure is listed at a manageable 3.43.

The test car wasn’t keen on self-cancelling its indicators on left-hand corners either, something perhaps inflicted by previous drivers.

The top-spec Power model uses the twin-turbo 2.3-litre, intercooled, common-rail, direct-injection, four-cylinder turbodiesel, offering 140 kW of power at 3750 rpm and peak torque of 450 Nm between 1500 and 2500 rpm, but it is being asked to lug an extra 200 kg over the donor vehicle. The engine mapping is not identical with that of the Nissan Navara application, with German engineers having reprogrammed the behaviour of the engine and driveline to more closely match Mercedes-Benz aspirations.

A fuel use claim of 7.9 litres per 100 km on the combined cycle from the 80-litre tank is not far off our 10.7 litres per 100 km on the trip computer.

The X250d Power weighs (as tested) 2287 kg, and it’s no shrinking violet, measuring 5340 mm long, 1920 mm wide, and 1819 mm tall, on a 3150 mm wheelbase.

The payload is listed at a more than useful 1016 kg, and braked towing is 3500 kg, with a GVM of 3250 kg and GCM of 6130 kg.

The addition of rear discs to the braking system does give the brake pedal a reassuring feel when the payload is being exercised. The tray is similar in size to the Navara, with the exception of the 1215 mm width between the widened wheelarches (enough for a standard 1165 mm Australian pallet).

The X-Class has kept Nissan’s adjustable hook load restraint system and gets a light and 12-volt outlet in the tray.

Servicing is required every 12 months or 20,000 km and asks about $500 more from the hip pocket, but the Benz service plans are extra. The German brand does throw an extra 100,000 km at the warranty, taking it to three years or 200,000 km with roadside assistance.

There’s much to like about the X-Class – the upgraded brakes, extra safety gear and better suspension tune, some aspects of the interior upgrade and the refinement – but it’s a solid asking price without the beefy V6.

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