IT’S no secret Mercedes-Benz’s new X-Class is based on Nissan’s Navara, but don’t think for one minute it’s a Navara carrying a ‘Three-Pointed Star’, as the X-Class has been re-engineered from the ground up. And you’d expect nothing less from a car company that prides itself on engineering excellence.
GALLERY: 2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class
Were Benz’s engineers happy to design a dual-cab ute without a clean sheet? Probably not, but with pressure to come up with a market-ready product as soon as possible using the Navara as a starting point saved two or three years of development time. Mercedes-Benz has a technology-sharing agreement with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, so the Navara was readily available.
In creating this X-Class, Benz’s engineers took a Navara and removed the body and the powertrain from the chassis. Then the ladder frame was strengthened with extra cross bracing and reinforcement, the track widened via longer wishbones up front (+62mm) and a longer rear axle (+55mm). Disc brakes were fitted to the rear and linked to high-end safety kit including autonomous braking.
New springs, dampers and swaybars were added, as was a revised steering system for less turns lock-to-lock. Then the Navara’s powertrain, remapped no doubt, was reinstalled. In the meantime, Benz designed and built a wider body that was then fitted on the re-engineered chassis. This is not badge-engineering, this is re-engineering.
WHAT YOU GET
ALL three X-Class grades – Pure, Progressive and Power – have seven airbags, Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane-Keeping Assist, a reversing camera, tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment and four-wheel disc brakes.
Read more: X-Class pricing announced
The as-tested Progressive adds 17-inch alloys, auto wipers, sat-nav, seven-inch touchscreen, tyre-pressure monitoring and adjustable load rails on the sides of the tub. The top-spec Power then adds leather, keyless entry and start, 18s, and LED headlights and tail-lights, among a host of other features.
POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE
THE X-Class Renault-sourced 2.3-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo engine shares the same 140kW/450Nm numbers with the Navara and comes close to matching it in performance, despite being 160kg to 180kg heavier depending on the specific spec level.
The extra weight comes from the frame strengthening, the wider body, equipment variations and extra sound deadening. That means in this company, Amarok aside, the X-Class is one of the stronger performers.
The extra sound deadening is especially significant as the X-Class is much quieter than the Navara and, in fact, is one of the quietest utes here alongside the Amarok and Hilux. Refinement was obviously a design objective that Benz placed high on the priority list.
ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING
THE same can be said for the chassis, as the X-Class offers what is the most comfortable ride here, combined with very little road or suspension noise. The X-Class also feels very solid and tight – far more so than most of the utes here and a world away from the Navara.
The X-Class not only offers a relatively supple ride, it handles with a confidence that eludes all but the Amarok (and possibly the Ranger) in this company. The wider track (wider than all but the Amarok) would no doubt help here, as would the increased torsional rigidity and suspension tune.
LIKE the Navara, the X-Class has a rear locker and engaging it keeps the electronic traction control active on the front axle, which is good news. Like the Navara, the X-Class scaled our steep set-piece climb with the rear locker engaged, but did so with considerable difficulty and couldn’t make the climb without it.
The X-Class did a little better than the Navara, and its suspension feels a little softer and more supple, which is a bonus off-road. The fact the X-Class sits a bit lower than the already low Navara is a negative, though. Off-road the X-Class isn’t up with the front runners here, but it’s also not the worst.
Interestingly, the X-Class claims a deeper fording depth (600mm) than the Navara’s 450mm, even though the engine air-intake arrangement looks the same.
THE extent of the re-engineering involved in turning the Navara into the X-Class can be seen in the 340kg increase in Gross Vehicle Mass and the 220kg increase Gross Combined Mass. That puts the X-Class’s GVM at 3250kg and GCM at 6130kg, which means it betters all of the utes here (Ranger and BT-50, the previous class champions, included).
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In turn this means good payload numbers (even if the X-Class is relatively heavy) and a class benchmark 3500kg towing capacity.
With our test 900kg payload the X-Class didn’t live up to the expectation of those numbers and its chassis felt the least composed of the nine utes. It was reasonable enough to drive, but it simply felt the weight the most in terms of steering confidence and general stability, even if it’s not far behind the Navara and Triton in chassis load performance.
More positively, the flexible engine and short-geared seven-speed auto meant a much better performance from the powertrain with the big load onboard.
A work light and 12-volt outlet in the tub are positives and, as per the Navara, there are high-mounted adjustable tie-downs.
CABIN AND SAFETY
THE X-Class’s cabin presentation is much more upmarket passenger car than ‘working-Joe’ ute, and it stands out from all here thanks to features like the high-tech centre-console touchpad and rotary-dial control for the nav, entertainment, phone and media.
The ‘tablet-style’ touchscreen also adds to the passenger-car feel. Tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment is also a nice touch and one that’s lacking in nearly half the utes here.
The X-Class’s cabin is wider than the Navara but it still isn’t a notably big cabin, while the rear ‘stadium’ seating isn’t ideal for taller adults as it compromises rear headroom.
All models have five-star ANCAP safety and advanced safety equipment, notably autonomous braking, a feature unique in this class.
THE X-Class comes in three equipment levels: Pure, Progressive and Power, where the Pure is very much a work-spec ute. The range includes cab-chassis variants, a lower-spec (single-turbo) 120kW engine and the option of a manual gearbox. There’s even a 4x2 model.
Follow the 2018 Mega ute test
Right from launch Benz offered some factory accessories, but it will take a while for aftermarket accessories to come on-stream, and even then that will depend on how well the X-Class sells. A thinner spread of dealers in country areas compared to big-volume car companies is another practicality consideration.
Mercedes-Benz X250d Specs
Engine: 2.3-litre 4-cyl bi-turbo-diesel
Power: 140kW at 3750rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 1500-2500rpm
Gearbox: 7-speed auto
4X4 system: Dual-range part-time
Crawl ratio: 44.6:1
Construction: Separate chassis
Front suspension: Independent/coil springs
Rear suspension: Live axle/leaf springs
Kerb weight: 2137kg
Towing capacity: 3500kg
Towball Download: 350kg
Fuel tank size: 73 litres
ADR fuel claim: 7.9L/100km
Test fuel use: 10.4L/100km
Touring range: 621km*
*Based on test fuel use, claimed fuel capacity and a 50km ‘safety’ margin
Acceleration and Braking
Departure angle: 25˚
Rampover angle: 22˚
Approach angle: 30˚
Wading depth: 600mm
Ground clearance: 222mm
Mercedes-Benz X250d Prices**
**Prices do not include on-road costs