It’s been well-documented that the Mercedes-Benz X-Class is based on the Nissan Navara D23, but just don’t think Benz simply whacked a three-pointed star on the Navara.
In creating the X-Class the Navara has been re-engineered from the ground up. Most notably the ladder frame has been strengthened, the front and rear tracks widened, the suspension retuned, the body widened, and a new interior added. Disc brakes replace drums at the rear, while other changes are aimed at improving NVH.
Why did Mercedes start with the Navara rather than build its own ute from the ground up? Well, once the decision was made that the company wanted a contender in the globally popular one-tonne ute class, it was a matter of expediency, given Mercedes already had a technology-sharing arrangement with the Renault-Nissan alliance and thus access to the Navara.
Our test vehicle is a mid-spec Progressive, but, as is the usual way with the luxury German carmakers, there’s a long list of options that bumps the list price from $59K to $71K.
The 2.3-litre bi-turbo diesel may be unchanged from the Navara, but Benz has done much to improve the NVH of what is a fairly noisy engine especially under full load.
The end result of Benz’s work is a new-found level of refinement more in tune with the Mercedes name, but the extra 200kg+ that’s been added with the wider body and strengthened chassis does take some edge off the still-good performance that’s helped by the relatively short overall gearing it shares with the Navara.
Where contemporary diesel 4x4s are usually geared taller in top gear than 60km/h/1000rpm – and even up to 70km/h/1000rpm – the X-Class is under 60km/h/1000rpm. For its part the seven-speed automatic is smooth, slick and generally agreeable.
Benz’s changes have also brought a feeling of refinement and quality to the ride and road feel of the X-Class that the Navara lacks. The X-Class feels notably solid and well ‘bolted together’ and is especially quiet on the road, while the ride, even unladen, is supple and compliant for a ute; although, it’s a bit underdamped at higher speeds on rough roads.
Confident handling and steering response, too, which is no doubt helped by the wider track and high-speed road tyres.
The high-speed (V-rated) road tyres don’t bode well for durability on rocky tracks, but fortunately we had no problems.
Aside from being a little low-slung, the X-Class worked well enough on the more gnarly tracks thanks largely to the compliant suspension and effective traction control. The gearbox’s sequential ‘manual’ mode works well off-road, and low-range in the basic part-time 4x4 provides a very useful low-range reduction.
Set-Piece Hill Climb
The X-Class managed to scale our set-piece hill climb, but it needed the driver-switched rear locker to do so – engaging the rear locker doesn’t cancel the traction control on the front wheels, which is a bonus. In other tests the Navara has struggled on the same hill, so Benz’s engineers have done some good work here. However, the deep ruts and holes of the climb did expose the X-Class’s modest ground clearance.
Cabin, Equipment and Safety
The cabin has a sophisticated, luxurious feel about it. If you want a ute that doesn’t feel like a ute when you’re sitting in it, this is it. Welcoming and comfortable front seats, too, while the extra cabin width (of X-Class over Navara) makes its presence especially felt in the rear.
All X-Class models are five-star ANCAP rated and have automatic emergency braking, seven airbags, lane-keeping assist, a reversing camera and four-wheel disc brakes. The Progressive (as tested) adds auto wipers, sat-nav, a seven-inch tablet-style screen, and adjustable load-rails on the sides of the tub among other features.
On top of that our test vehicle was optioned with the Comfort Pack (includes electric-adjust seats, faux leather and climate control), the ‘Command’ System (a multi-function control for media, sat-nav, etc., that requires familiarity to use properly) and a 360º camera. Other options on our test vehicle included the Style Pack (18s, side-steps, roof rails, LEDs, privacy glass and rear sliding rear window) and a sports bar.
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The X-Class claims a class leading GVM of 3250kg and GCM of 6130kg, so more than the Navara and Ranger. In a recent payload test the X-Class wasn’t a standout performer with a heavy load onboard and, while the tub cargo restraints are adjustable, the rails they move on are too high in the tub to be useful for securing low-sitting items. The tub has a 12-volt outlet and work light, while the tub liner fitted to our vehicle was an optional extra.
Fitting more robust tyres would be a first-up change, and moving to the popular 265/60 R18 size from the standard 255/60 R18s would fractionally improve ground clearance and open up a wider choice of off-road tyres. The modest 600mm wading depth (the air intake is under the bonnet lip) needs to be addressed for deeper water crossings.
Mercedes-Benz has done an excellent job re-engineering the Navara, but it needed to, as the Navara is far from the pointy end of its class. In fact, in every multi-ute comparison we’ve conducted with the D23 it has finished near the bottom. However, while the X-Class is far better, it’s also more expensive, especially when options are added to flesh-out the skinny standard equipment list.
Eight 4x4s, one winner on 4x4 of the Year 2019
2019 MERCEDES-BENZ X250D PROGRESSIVE SPECS:
Engine: 2.3-litre inline-4 bi-turbo diesel
Max power: 140kW at 3750rpm
Max torque: 450Nm at 1500-2500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
4x4 system: Dual-range part-time
Kerb weight: 2137kg
Towing capacity: 3500kg
Tyres: 255/60R18 112V
Fuel tank capacity: 73L
ADR fuel consumption claim: 7.9L/100km
On-test fuel consumption: 9.6L/100km
Base price: $57,800 (plus ORC)
As tested: $71,230 (plus ORC)