MERCEDES-BENZ’S X-Class ute started life as a Nissan Navara. If that seems odd you need to understand that Mercedes wished to capitalise on the booming ute market, not just in Australia but globally, and turned to strategic partner Renault-Nissan for its Navara D23 so as to fast-track a design.
Perhaps not everyone within the vast Mercedes-Benz organisation thought that was a better idea than building a clean-sheet-design ute, but either way expediency won the day.
The X-Class is however far from a rebadged Navara. Strengthening the ladder frame, re-working the suspension, increasing the track, widening the body and adding a whole new interior is just the start of the detailed re-engineering that Mercedes applied to Navara to create the X-Class. And that’s just the four-cylinder model, which appeared in last year’s 4X4OTY.
In the case of the X350d you see here, Mercedes also threw out the Navara’s entire four-cylinder drivetrain and slotted in its own 3.0-litre V6 diesel, seven-speed automatic and full-time dual-range 4x4 system to complete what is a top-to-bottom transformation.
The X-Class’s 3.0-litre V6 diesel claims an impressive 190kW and lives up to that power promise with plenty of top-end zip, all helped with the relatively close ratios of the seven-speed automatic and not overly tall final-drive gearing. It has a strong midrange too but the X350d still feels a little soft off idle and at low speeds, a feeling exacerbated by the heavy, long-travel throttle.
The gearbox also doesn’t have a ‘sport’ mode to help overcome – or at least mask – the slightly doughy bottom-end power delivery, but there are steering wheel-mounted paddles if you wish to use the gearbox’s ‘manual’ mode. For less urgent driving the engine remains effortless, smooth, quiet and refined, as you would expect of something wearing a Mercedes badge.
On the road, the chassis also feels solid and substantial and gives a sense of refinement far removed from the Nissan Navara.
If the Navara feels like a whole lot of bits and pieces bolted together, then the X-Class feels like it’s been carved out of a solid block of metal.
On most roads and at most speeds the suspension also provides a comfortable ride despite the relatively low-profile tyres. There’s good control too, although things head south at higher speeds on bumpier roads where the X350d starts to lose its otherwise good composure.
Full-time 4x4 via the ‘4H Auto’ setting in the transfer case is however a notable advantage for touring in mixed conditions and brings both safety and convenience that part-time 4x4 can’t provide.
Going on its standard tyres – high-performance 255/55R19s – you would expect the X350d to be the least capable trail vehicle in this lot. More to the point you would expect low-profile tyres to not stand a chance of survival on some of the rocky trails we traversed, but luck was on our side and perhaps helped by the not-too-extreme ‘H’ (210km/h) speed rating, given higher speed ratings bring thinner and more vulnerable sidewalls.
Tyre concerns aside, the X350d works well enough off road without being a standout performer either from the way the gearbox works in low range – the paddle shifters help – or in terms of the modest ground clearance. The suspension also bangs and crashes on rougher trails, the ride quality obviously not helped by the low-profile tyres.
Set-Piece Hill Climb
There were lots of wheel lifting on our gnarly set-piece hill climb from a platform not noted for long wheel travel and despite the best efforts of the seamless electronic traction control, the X350d wouldn’t get up the hill without engaging the rear locker.
In fact it stopped short of any of the other six contenders although much of that blame can be directed towards the road-oriented closed-tread tyres. The side-steps also took a beating on the climb…
Cabin, Equipment and Safety
The X350d is beautifully finished and detailed inside and, Land Rover Discovery aside, feels several levels above the rest here in general presentation. Still – for the price – it should and some of the equipment in our test vehicle, like the heated leather seats, are optional, and not standard equipment.
For their part the front seats are very comfortable but like the Navara there’s still no reach adjustment for the steering wheel. Lack of stowage for items such as phones and wallets is also annoying and, while the equipment list is extensive, there’s no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. The single stalk for the wipers and indicators takes some getting used to, as does the interface for the embedded satnav and entertainment systems.
The extensive list of safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and no fewer than seven airbags, all of which help the X350d achieve a five-star ANCAP rating. Tyre pressure monitoring is also a nice touch especially given the potentially damage-prone low-profile tyres.
The X5350d has high payload and tow ratings thanks to GVM (3250kg) and GCM (6180kg) figures that better the popular utes like the Ford Ranger. In practice, however, we have previously found that the Merc’s chassis isn’t great at carrying or towing heavy loads, even if the punchy V6 is up to the task. A work light above the rear tub and adjustable tie-down points are both welcome touches.
The X350d has a solid front recovery point but none at the rear, while the engine air-intake at mid-grille height means water crossings need to be approached with caution.
The X350d feels solid, presents beautifully and goes hard but doesn’t come across as value at $90K.
MERCEDES-BENZ X350d SPECS:
Engine: 3-litre V6 turbo diesel
Max Power: 190kW at 3400rpm
Max Torque: 550Nm at 1400-3200rpm
Gearbox: 7-speed automatic
4x4 System: Dual-range full-time 4x4
Kerb Weight: 2190kg
Towing Capacity: 3500kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 80 litres
ADR Fuel Claim: 8.8L/100km
Test Fuel Use: 12.5L/100km
Effective Range: 590km
Base Price: $79,415 (plus ORC)
As-Tested: $90,745 (plus ORC)
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This is Mercedes-Benz’s best shot at making a decent ute out of Nissan’s lukewarm D23 Navara, but a ground-up Mercedes-Benz design would surely be better. Judge Ged Bulmer summed it up best when he said: “X-Class finally gets the engine it deserves, but even the muscular turbo-diesel V6 and strong safety story isn’t enough to haul back the price penalty imposed by the three-pointed star on its grille.”