UNTIL the arrival of the X-Class this year, the 4x4 ute segment was a mostly classless zone; a safe space free of badge-cred posturing. Owners displayed their affluence via a higher model grade, or perhaps some flash aftermarket equipment.
Now, with Mercedes’ three-pointed star sitting Frisbee-sized on the bluff snout of the Spanish-built X-Class, all that has changed, and on a construction site, at least, it threatens to be as divisive as a baked cheese tart whipped out amongst the pies at morning smoko.
Yet on plenty of levels the X-Class feels well overdue, given the mostly average standard of dynamics, presentation and safety that’s pervaded this class. The moment you open the door, the Mercedes aims to seduce with its classy, leather-bound wheel, 7.0-inch multimedia screen, and the bling-ish ventilation outlets lifted from the previous-gen A-Class. Front seats (both electrically adjustable in this Progressive spec) are more deeply bolstered than those in the Navara.
Speaking of which, a closer look reveals the HVAC unit is lifted from the Nissan, creating a mismatch, and, by the time you realise there’s less storage space, it’s easy to question if there’s a style-over-substance issue here. Yet the consensus among the test team, even before driving, was, yes, the $57,800 tag did feel like $3300 well spent over the dowdy Nissan.
Even the rear seat, while no more spacious when three up, is among the more comfortable of the bunch. There are rear air vents, a 12-volt socket, map pockets, and an opening centre rear window. The X-Class is also a better thing to crash in than the rest of the field: it’s the only one which lands five stars under current test and evaluation criteria, thanks in part to AEB.
Read next: 2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class first drive
Fire up the 2.3-litre twin-turbo four pot (with the same outputs as its Navara counterpart) and it’s instantly clear that better installation gives it a clear NVH advantage over the Nissan. It idles with a more distant tick-over, and remains more muted under gentle acceleration around town. Those positive characteristics don’t desert the X-Class when you whip it harder. In terms of perceived smoothness, quietness and general ability to get on with the job unobtrusively, this engine installation is behind only the Amarok. The transmission, too, shows deft calibration. But it’s far from the strongest powertrain.
The Amarok, Ranger and Colorado all feel appreciably more grunty, as borne out by the acceleration numbers. At 10 seconds from 0-100km/h, the Merc is very much a mid-fielder, trounced by the VW and really only usefully ahead of the Mazda and the cellar-dweller Hilux. Perhaps more relevant, though, is its 80-120km/h performance, which, at 7.1sec, is closer to the pointy end of the field, presumably due in part to its seven ratios.
Like the Navara, the Merc has a technically superior coil-sprung rear end, but we struggled to find clear evidence of its benefits compared with the better leaf-sprung models here. Yes, there is a general sheen of dynamic superiority above the Nissan, but driven with vigour on a bumpy back road, there’s still evidence of the dreaded lateral wobbles. At least the ride is on the more supple side for this class.
Yet the test team agreed that the local tuning of both Colorado and Ranger put them ahead of the X-Class for ride/handling. The Merc’s steering, too, lacks the crisp incisiveness of the Ranger. In its favour, the Merc does hang on well when hustled, thanks to the Conti Sport Contact 6 rubber, and its ESC calibration doesn’t intrude too early. Further, it and the Amarok are the only rigs in the group with rear disc brakes, which the Merc put to good use by delivering the shortest stopping distance from 100km/h (39.2m).
In the end, the X-Class left us with a bit of a dichotomy. On one level, Merc’s engineers have done a super-impressive job, given their starting point was the lacklustre Navara. But more pointedly, X-Class’s premium pricing doesn’t deliver clear superiority against the class best. But if buyers can see value in the equipment and refinement, then there’ll be no scoffing from us. Not with our baked cheese tarts in hand.
Engine 2298cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TTD
Power 140kW @ 3750rpm
Torque 450Nm @ 1500-2500rpm
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 5340/1920/1819/3150mm
Weight 2137kg Tray capacity 1113kg
Braked towing capacity 3500kg
Unbraked towing capacity 750kg
Ground clearance 228mm
Tyres Continental Sport Contact 6 255/60R18 108H
Test fuel average 10.4L/100km
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