2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class Review – Quick Drive
David Meredith’s 2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class Review with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: Mercedes-Benz has joined the ute brigade with its re-worked version of the Nissan Navara; pricing will be the deciding factor.
2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class
Price Not stated Warranty Not stated Safety Not tested Engine 2.2-litre four-cylinder; Power 120kW at 3750rpm (X 220 d); 140kW at 3750rpm (X 250 d) Torque 403Nm at 1500-2500rpm (X 220 d); 450Nm at 1500-2500rpm (X 250 d) Transmission six-speed manual; seven-speed automatic Drive rear-wheel drive; selectable all-wheel drive with low-range Dimensions 5340mm (L); 1920mm (W); 1819mm (H) Ground Clearance 202mm (extra 20mm higher suspension package as a cost option) Angles 29-degrees (A); 24-degrees (D); 20.4-degrees (BO) Wading Depth 600mm Turning Circle 13.4m Weight 2161-2169kg Payload 1031-1039kg Fuel Tank 73L/10L (reserve) Thirst 7.4L-7.9L/100km (combined)
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NEXT APRIL, SALEPEOPLE in Mercedes-Benz dealerships across the country are going to have to expand their skill set and sales patter to incorporate a ute.
Instead of extolling luxurious appointments, the stimulation of performance, and the reward of status, they’ll need to understand payload, towing capacity, ground clearance and other commercial vehicle attributes generally alien to their historic customer base.
The Mercedes-Benz X-Class double-cab utes will impose new challenges as well as new opportunities on the dealer network, and after driving various models it’s fair to say the product is looking like standing up to any test thrown at it.
What is the Mercedes-Benz X-Class?
First versions to hit our shores will be the four-cylinder diesel versions, with two power ratings. The V6 headline model – the V6 diesel currently doing service in the GLC SUV – will arrive a few months later, after Benz engineers have settled on the engine mapping best suited to its new role.
Just a few years ago the prospect of Mercedes-Benz building and selling a ute seemed as remote as Lamborghini or Ferrari planning an SUV. However the potential for volume sales in the global ute market clearly persuaded the Benz accountants it was worth the effort. But even then they took a fast-track approach.
Instead of developing a ute from the ground up, they executed a commercial arrangement with Nissan and used the Navara as a base. That move got them on the market within two years instead of five.
Navara’s chassis, floor pan and bulkheads are common, as are the two diesel engines and the 7-speed auto transmission. The transfer case, which helps with X-Class’s athleticism, is made to Mercedes-Benz specifications by an external supplier. None of the engineers would identify the source, but when I suggested China, one coyly murmured “It would be cheaper if it was.”
But from there the development took a distinct Mercedes-Benz turn.
Firstly, the Benz image required a much wider stance than the Navara offered. Making a ute that could be mistaken as a premium SUV needed muscular wheel arches that were full of wheel. Additionally, the on-road stability needed to be optimised so that the ute could handle with more flair than pure function.
The solution was Benz front and rear axles with 70mm wider track, relocated suspension arms and reinforced chassis mounting points to handle the additional torque stresses. Damper rates were adjusted accordingly.
Exterior styling needed a big effort, as potential buyers would likely want hints of a Nissan to be minimised. Mercedes-Benz sent its chief designer to Japan to be briefed on the Navara project and to evaluate the body construction for ‘suitable’ modification. He recognised early in the piece that Nissan had decades of experience with utes that Stuttgart couldn’t match. For example, the concept vehicle blended the cab and ute body. But Nissan convinced him that wouldn’t work because of the vast difference in purpose of the two components of the vehicle.
Clearly the roles the tray was destined to play in life were far distant from the prim, proper and perfumed payload of more traditional Mercedes-Benz vehicles. So it was necessary to develop the passenger-emphasis of the cab separate to the utility emphasis of the tray.
Ultimately he returned to Germany with a different view to that intended. Essentially he told his people to start from the ground up as far as exterior surfaces were concerned. The chassis rails and skeleton were fixed, but everything else was in their hands. The key objective was to deliver a ute with the proportion, styling and stance that echoed more of the Mercedes-Benz SUV line-up rather than its actual parent.
And provided you only slide the front half of the ute out of the garage, the result is that most people will recognise a Mercedes-Benz SUV of some kind, and only get a surprise when the pick-up tray comes out in the open.
A lot of time was spent explaining the ‘special’ design of the tray to us at the release. But it still looks just like a ute body.
Load securing fittings are included on the tray floor, but it’s likely that initially very few X-Class Mercs will be running with heavy loads or towing trailers most of the time. Early buyers will likely be those who still get their TVs delivered by someone else, and would rarely drive to the nursery for a half-tonne of lawn fertiliser.
During the evaluation process the product planners used market data from sales operations almost exclusively outside Germany. Australia played a key role as it has one of the largest populations of utes per 1000 people of anywhere in the world.
South Africa and more particularly South America are both huge markets for utes and their input also helped develop the styling and feature wish list.
The first production of X-Class has begun in Spain, and the Nissan-sourced 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesel is available in two outputs – 120kW and 403Nm of torque for the X 220 d, and 140kW and 450Nm for the X 250 d.
What’s it like on the road?
Both engines deliver strong torque smoothly with very little diesel clatter. I drove the 6-speed manual version extensively. It’s a Mercedes-Benz gearbox and curiously the spring loading was set up for right-hand drive, but after getting used to that I was impressed with the ratio split and ease of operation. A light clutch helped.
The 7-speed auto was from Nissan and would be the choice for anything other than a price sensitive working ute purchase. There’s always the right gear and off-road maneouvering was a cinch when combined with lock-up and hill descent technology.
On road performance is impressive due to the wider track and refined spring/damper rates. It’s an improvement on the competition but doesn’t better the V6 Amarok yet.
Three versions of spec make up the range, Pure, Progressive and Power. The Pure is devoid of any exterior trim, and with distinctly bargain basement steel rims will hardly turn an eyeball in a sea of competitors.
The Progressive adds the basic features that middle range double cab ute buyers expect, with a dash of Benz safety gizmos.
The Power spec throws all that the German engineers can muster at the X-Class and will likely bump the price up to the top of the shopping list. It also has more sound deadening as it was distinctly quieter than the rest.
Nearly a day and a half in the X-Class left me ready for more. No other dual cab ute that I have driven, with the exception of the aforementioned Amarok, can manage that. When you add to the driveability the 1-tonne payload, plus 3.5-tonne towing capacity, X-Class could be a dream come true for a cashed up grey-nomad.
On the broken village roads weaving through the Chilean hills and valleys surrounding Santiago, the X-Class revealed car-like poise and comfort. Rough roads didn’t spark the jump, bang and crash of most light commercials, but the front suspension was obviously designed for more comfort than the back.
The sum of all that work comes together in a double cab ute package that seems more than able to match features, performance, road feel and handling with the rest of the field.
So, what do we think?
Ultimately, price will determine whether the X-Class idles along as an additional indulgence for existing Benz customers, or rises to become a serious contender in the working ute market.