The hype surrounding the new Mercedes-Benz pickup truck has been incredible. It is only the second pickup truck to come from a European manufacturer, yet it seems to have generated very high levels of interest. The Mercedes star sitting proud at the front of a pickup truck might seem unexpected to some. Yet Mercedes are the only luxury-segment manufacturer to operate a commercial vehicle unit. The X-Class is a natural expansion, bridging the two separate arms.
The X-Class is the fourth model to join the Mercedes-Benz Van range. Mercedes-Benz have focused primarily on commercial customers as that is where the majority of orders will come from, however, they are also marketing it for the private market. The later is a growing segment, comprising of families demanding crew-cab pickups for the flexibility they offer. We had our first opportunity to experience the X Class in Chile this weekend.
Lets address the elephant in the room to begin with. Yes, the X-Class is based on the platform which underpins the Nissan Navara. No, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Mercedes-Benz and Renault-Nissan have long enjoyed a professional relationship when it comes to commercial vehicles. Mercedes-Benz also uses a Renault-Nissan platform for its current Citan range for example. That said, it is a clear indicator that it is unlikely to live up to the outstanding levels of quality and comfort we see from the current Mercedes-Benz passenger car range – it is something different.
That Renault-Nissan agreement gives Mercedes-Benz a ladder-frame chassis (which it shares with the Nissan Navara and the Renault Alaskan) and assorted suspension hardware to work with. As you would expect from a brand with premium expectations, the bodywork is almost entirely new with a distinctive front end and a functional side and rear profile. The chassis is lengthened in the X-Class and Tenneco dampers have been added. It should handle significantly better as a result.
So why a pickup truck? To get an answer to that question, you need to look further afield than Europe and the US. South America and Australia to be precise. Chile is the perfect case study in many ways. The terrain varies massively from region to region. Santiago is a bustling metropolis with well maintained road networks, yet just two hours of driving sees you out in the wilderness of the Andes, where only the toughest vehicles will survive. While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact percentage of new car sales pickup trucks account for, it is clear from walking around that it could be as high as one in four. These are the markets Mercedes expects the X-Class to dominate.
It is set to do battle with mid-size pickup stalwarts Toyota, Nissan and Ford, as well as the other European newcomer; Volkswagen’s Amorak. Mercedes-Benz have pitched their tent upmarket of all its competitors.
The design brief for the X-Class called for “Robustness, functionality, strength and off-road capabilities” in equal measure alongside “design, comfort, driving dynamics and safety”. The idea is that this unique blend will place the X-Class at the top of the tree in its segment.
Three trim levels are on offer. They reflect the broad audience the X-Class hopes to attract. ‘Pure’ is the basic trim level. The exterior and interior are functional. The exterior gets black plastic trim, the interior, cloth seat trim. The next step up, ‘Progressive’ adds exterior trim painted to match the exterior colour. ‘Power’ is the top of the line model with chromed underbody panelling. We drove the Power trim variant during our two-days with the X-Class,
The X-Class will be available with three engine variants from launch, all inline four-cylinder units. The diesel X 220 d produces 163 hp from its Renault-derived 2.3 litre turbocharged unit; the X 250 d is more potent, rated at 190 hp. A petrol alternative is also available, the X 200. It is the weaker of the three models, available in rear wheel drive only. It produces 165 hp and is geared towards markets such as Dubai and Morocco.
It is the X 250 d we spent our time with. It seems to do the job of powering the X-Class reasonably well. It is linked to a basic 7-speed automatic gearbox and the driver has the option of 2 wheel drive and 4 wheel drive – both high and low ratio. On-road, the power is more than enough for the rigours of day-to-day traffic. Off-road, there is enough torque to handle all but the most demanding obstacles with ease.
Mercedes also fit the X 250 d with a locking rear differential for maximum traction in extreme circumstances and a hill descent function. Mercedes set up an offroad course to demonstrate these features, our test car behaved impeccably. Steep inclines, deep water and muddy ruts proved no match for the traction generated by the X-Class. Equally impressive is the inherent stability. Sudden changes in direction at speeds of up to 60 km/h did not require any intervention from the stability control systems. Deeply impressive in a pickup the size of the X-Class.
To drive, the X Class feels very similar to an SUV. It is set up to feel that way so, in comparison to some of its competitors, you might notice that it is a little on the harsh side any surface that isn’t buttery smooth. Riding over the patchwork of roads in the Santiago area definitely highlighted this. Ultimately, this shouldn’t be seen as a criticism, it is simply the trade-off you have to accept for a sharper, stiffer ride on-road.
To the contrary, the on-road performance is actually pretty good. There is less body roll than in other pick-up’s. It handles corners without much drama. The only slight criticism we would level relates to the steering which feels well weighted but falls short of providing a turning circle appropriate for city driving.
We took a brief ride in a prototype V6 powered model during the weekend. When this launches, it will receive a better 7-speed gearbox with the option of dynamic control and an inter-axle differential lock. We suspect that this might prove to be the optimal setup.
Inside, Mercedes-Benz customers will find familiar surfaces. As you would expect, Mercedes have equipped the X-Class with many class leading features carried over from its highly successful road cars. The infotainment system is carried over from the current C-Class models. It isn’t the latest but the screen resolution and system navigation seems perfectly placed in the X-Class. Dials are familiar turbine design and the centre console is also in-keeping with the rest of the Mercedes-Benz family.
There are various options for enhanced comfort. Our test vehicle featured ARTICO man-made leather in black. Others have criticised Mercedes for retaining the low-level non-scratch plastics that feature heavily in rival models. In the X-Class, these seem to fit the ethos of the design, providing a versatile surface which will hopefully withstand all but the harshest treatment.
Our final thoughts on the X-Class? It is worthy of wearing the iconic star badge. Mercedes-Benz have also succeeded in making the most luxurious pickup truck on the market. If you’ve ordered one, you won’t be disappointed. That said, we suspect that you might want to hold out for the X 350 d for the ultimate pickup experience. By that time, more of the usual Mercedes-Benz passenger cars technology should be available.