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2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class first drive

By Justin Walker, 12 Apr 2018 Road Tests

2018 Mercedes Benz X Class drive review

The shake-up of the dual-cab market has begun, with the Australian launch of the X-Class.

MERCEDES-BENZ’S foray into the 4x4 dual-cab ute market has begun, with the Australian launch of the X-Class.

The workhorse Benz is available in three models – Pure, Progressive and Power – with a total of 13 variants (including some 2WD variants in the base-spec Pure) across this three-model spread.

There is a choice of two diesel powerplants: a single-turbocharger 2.3-litre four-cylinder (dubbed X220d and putting out 120kW and 403Nm), or a 140kW/450Nm bi-turbo 2.3-litre four cylinder, aka X250d.

The pricing for 4x4 models starts at $50,400 for the Pure X220d with six-speed manual, and tops out at $64,500 for the fully-loaded Power X250d with the seven-speed auto option ticked. All four-cylinder X-Class 4x4 utes are dual-range, part-time 4x4.

A CLASS OF ITS OWN

Since first announced the X-Class has copped a tonne of negative comments, owing to Mercedes-Benz leveraging its partnership with Nissan-Renault to use Nissan’s Navara as its base vehicle.

Yes, the X-Class utilises the Navara chassis, but does so while adding its own improvements, focused primarily on strengthening the chassis with additional bracing and cross-member tweaks. The X-Class track is bigger overall than Navara (5340mm long, 1920mm wide; 50mm wider than Navara) with the track measuring 70mm wider than the Navara’s.

The X-Class also runs ventilated disc brakes front and rear across the range, as opposed to the Navara’s front disc/rear drum setup. The Navara suspension system – IFS with double wishbones and coils up front/multi-link coil-spring live axle rear – is carried over, but Benz has added its own suspension ‘tune’ to the X-Class, including a thicker stabiliser bar at the rear to aid on-road handling. It has also tweaked the steering.

As a result of the increased girth, all sheetmetal is unique to X-Class. The load area can be optioned as either a cab-chassis style or more traditional ute tub. The ute tray is bigger; length is 1587mm and width is 1560mm, with 1215mm width between wheel arches, allowing an Aussie-spec pallet to fit. Payload ranges from 1016kg to 1037kg. Towing capacity is 3500g, with a ball-weight limit of 350kg.

WHAT YOU GET

Mercedes-Benz believes the dual-cab ute market is split into three types of buyers, and its three-tier model range reflects this.

For its $50,400 asking price, the Pure X220d six-speed manual (the X220d is only available with the manual gearbox) is reasonably well kitted-out with standard equipment, including 17-inch steel wheels, halogen headlights, rubber flooring, black fabric (manual-adjust) seats, rear-view camera, four 12V sockets, trailer wiring, an Audio 20 CD infotainment system with touchpad controller and seven-inch colour display, console-mounted air ducts for rear passengers, seven airbags, a tyre pressure monitor system, Active Brake Assist (with autonomous emergency braking – the only one in its class with this feature), ESP, ABS, rear diff-lock, five-star ANCAP safety rating, and Lane Keeping Assist.

You can option the bi-turbo diesel donk if you wish, which then allows you to tick the seven-speed auto gearbox option. Stump up an additional $1300 for the Pure Plus option pack and you gain Parktronic park assist and the adjustable load securing rail system.

The mid-tier Progressive starts at $53,950 for the X250d six-speed manual variant (with cab chassis tray; the cheapest ute-tub Progressive is $54,900) and tops out with the ute-tub auto X250d at $57,800.

On top of the Pure specs, this higher price snares buyers colour-coded front/rear bumpers, 17-inch alloys, heat-insulated windscreen, rain-sensing wipers, a Garmin MAP PILOT GPS system, carpeted floor, dash accents such as a black-grained instrument panel and vents galvanised in ‘silver shadow’, leather steering wheel, shifter and handbrake, rain-sensing wipers, and the same infotainment system as Pure but with a digital audio system backed with eight speakers.

The Comfort option pack (electric-adjust seats, climate control, and stowage net) is $2490. There’s also a Style option pack (LED headlights, electric opening rear window, side running boards, roof rails and 18-inch alloys) for $3750.

The top-end Power (only available with the ute-tub rear) kicks off at $61,600 for the six-speed manual X250d, with Benz asking $64,500 for the seven-speed self-shifter version.

The Power ups the ante on standard kit with 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, heated (yes, heated) side mirrors, heat-insulated glass on the front windscreen, leather-accented instrument panel, leather seats, COMMAND Online multimedia system, sat-nav and touchpad, electric-adjust front seats, Parktronic park assist, automatic climate control, adjustable load rails, auto-dimming interior mirror (with inbuilt compass), a 360-degree camera, and additional sound deadening.

The Style option for POWER includes 19-inch alloys, roof rails, tinted rear windows, and electric back window.

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LOOK AT ME

The X-Class styling is sleek, for what is a ‘workhorse’. The big Benz grille and badge up front offers an aggressive look, but not overly so, and it blends well into the front guards. The rest of the vehicle’s panels offer very good fit and finish.

The steel wheels are a let-down on the Pure, especially at the asking price, while the upper two models, with their colour-coded bumpers, look more impressive. The 17- and 18-inch alloys on the two upper-spec vehicles are well finished, and the wider stance of the X-Class adds a sense of purpose to the vehicle’s appearance.

The interior is even more impressive; the doors shut with a solid sound and the cabin (especially in the POWER) exudes that sense of luxury Benz is hoping helps differentiate the X-Class from others in its class.

Step inside the Power cabin and you can (sort of) start to justify the pricing, with a vast amount of leather and high-grade finishes surrounding you. Across the range, all essential instrumentation is easy to read and switchgear is close to hand. The steering wheel is, not unexpectedly, only tilt adjustable.

ON-ROAD

The Australian launch of the X-Class took place just out of Hobart, Tasmania, with a lengthy on-road loop comprising a mix of freeway, secondary and narrow (sometimes single-lane) country roads.

The re-working of the rear coil springs, along with fitment of MB-specific dampers plus the thicker rear stabiliser bar, all contribute to flat cornering (for a 4x4 dual-cab) and a firm but controlled ride. Yes, you still know you’re riding in an unladen dual-cab ute when driving over potholes and lumps in the road, but the feedback from these impacts is relatively benign, with the X-Class rarely thrown off-line.

The steering is, as Benz claims, direct, but it still has a slightly vague and light feel on-centre. It does, however, respond well to driver input when you turn the tiller more aggressively into tighter corners. That fat stabiliser bar out back certainly seems to have an effect on the rear-end’s response to road conditions; even in very tight corners approached at a decent speed, the X-Class sits flat, with little body-roll evident.

The bi-turbo X250d is the preferred powerplant and offers decent performance, with the seven-speed auto’s ratios well matched; overtaking is a brisk affair with not too much noticeable lag.

It’s when the engine is revving hard that you notice the excellent work Benz has done in terms of NVH levels in-cabin (in the Power variant). Engine and tyre noise is well muted, and it’s not a stretch to rate the Power interior as one of the quietest in the dual-cab market.

OFF-ROAD

The off-road test route was quite short but, allowing for rain and the tracks’ mud and clay surfaces, proved a decent workout. All X-Class models come with road-biased tyres which quickly filled with mud during the test route, but this didn’t affect the vehicles’ capabilities.

Hill descent control works very well on slippery descents, with its 5km/h lowest-speed setting keeping the vehicle to a suitable pace on steep hills. The standard rear diff lock is easily activated and adds tractive capability when needed, while the 360-degree camera – something this tester considered a bit of a gimmick initially – came in quite handy on a couple of short pinch climbs where the X-Class bonnet obscured forward vision of the upcoming track.

There was nowhere to really test the limits of wheel articulation (Benz claims rear wheel travel is unaffected by the thicker stabiliser bar) and ground clearance, but what was there to negotiate, the X-Class did so with minimal fuss.

Of course, most off-roaders won’t be going out bush with an unladen vehicle, so Benz had two test vehicles with 650kg of load in the rear trays available to drive.

The test course for this was a short, dirt road, so it is difficult to offer opinion on the vehicle’s load-lugging capacity. Having said that, the (very) short laden drive did give the impression that the variable-rate rear coils and dampers could cope with a decent weight, but more extensive testing is needed before a final opinion.

Speaking of off-road touring; the X-Class is launching with a number of accessories (backed by a factory warranty, of course). Towbars, three canopy types, bed liners (hard and soft cover), roll-cover, sidestep bar and steps, storage box, load-bed divider, tailgate water and dust kit, cargo area sliding floor, underbody protection, and electric trailer brake controller are available now.

THE END STORY

There’s no doubt the X-Class is up against it somewhat in regards to market perception. The fact that Benz has done a complete re-engineer on the Navara base vehicle will still be difficult for some buyers to comprehend, as will the heftier pricing range.

However, if you do look at the vehicle itself and dismiss the Navara comments, adding in the many unique features – four wheel disc brakes, revised suspension, wider track, wider body, fit and finish, spec levels, etc. – you will serve this latest entrant into the dual-cab 4x4 ute market more justice. And it deserves that.

2018 MERCEDES-BENZ X-CLASS X250D SPECS:
Engine:
2298cc I4 diesel, 16-valve DOHC
Power: 140kW @ 3750 rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1500-2500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic transmission with dual range, part-time 4x4
Suspension: IFS with double wishbones and coil springs (front); multi-link live axle, coil springs (rear)
Brakes: four wheel ventilated disc brakes
Steering: hydraulic rack and pinion power steering
Wheels: 17-, 18- or (optional) 19-inch
Price: from $50,400 to $64,500