Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate 580 vs Mercedes-Benz X350d Power
Toby Hagon heads into the Outback to see whether the Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate 580 can out-grunt the new Mercedes-Benz X350d Power.
By ute standards the Volkswagen Amarok and Mercedes-Benz X-Class are relative minnows in the gentrifying market segment that now accounts for one in six new-vehicle sales.
Each has been on the scene less than a decade – and the X-Class only since 2018 – and each has to compete with the longevity and reputation of the likes of the Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara and, more recently, Ford Ranger.
Between the German duo they account for only about 6 percent of the segment that the Ranger and Hilux dominate (by the way, neither is produced in Germany; the Mercedes-Benz comes out of a Nissan factory in Spain and the Volkswagen is sourced from Argentina).
But, crucially, the Amarok and X-Class play in the premium end of the 4×4 market, which is the end that has been accounting for the big chunk of growth.
They’re also the only two to offer the option of a V6 engine, something that plays to the performance side of a developing market. Which prompted this test: armed with the new Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate 580 and the Mercedes-Benz X350d Power we headed to the outback for some big kilometres under big skies.
It’s the ultimate tough truck test for two big power load lugging newcomers.
What about value?
Entry to either the X-Class V6 is not cheap, starting at $73,270+ORC for the Progressive. Even for that substantial ask it’s not spectacularly well equipped. Sure, there’s smart key entry with push button start, sat-nav, rain-sensing wipers and digital radio, but there’s little of the fruit typically lavished on utes at this end of the market. Things like side steps and a sports bar; you can have them, but you’ll be paying extra.
Fortunately the Mercedes-Benz is at the pointy end when it comes to safety, with auto emergency braking (AEB) part of the deal. But to get seats that look like leather (they’re actually fake leather, the real stuff costs extra!) you need to step up to the top-of-the-range Power, which adds 19-inch wheels, a 360-degree reversing camera and electric front seats. That’s a bit rich considering the $79,415+ORC sticker price.
It also gives an early victory to the Volkswagen, which at $71,990+ORC undercuts the X350d Power by about 10 percent. For that you get real leather, 20-inch alloys, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, sat-nav, electric seats and side steps with LEDs underneath to illuminate the ground.
But, like the Merc, there are oversights with the Amarok. There’s no smart key functionality, for example, so you’ll have to dig it out of your pocket or bag each time. Plus rear airbags are missing, a rare safety oversight for a car regularly used for family duties.
The Amarok can also be had with far less standard kit, pulling the V6 price back to $51,990+ORC. Admittedly that means you have to make do with a less powerful version of the V6 engine, but its outputs still put it above the rest of the competition.
Throw in a five-year warranty and there are points won back for the VW.
What’s the interior and practicality like?
The interiors of these two are as opposite as you can get. In summary, the X350d has the looks but lacks the substance of the Amarok.
Whereas the Amarok has a plethora of storage binnacles and cubby holes, the X-Class is seriously limited, making it difficult to find somewhere to store a phone. There’s also no reach adjustment to the steering wheel.
But the X-Class has more class to its finishes, the circular metallic air vents surround an elegant touch. In contrast, the Amarok is feeling tired, its 2011 design starting to show its age; it’s practical, but the plastics and finishes lack the tactility you’d expect in something costing this much.
The X also wins back points with rear air vents (the Amarok gets no ventilation directly to the rear).
While both have snug seats, the Amarok’s more prominent side support make long distances more inviting.
As for carrying loads – a big part of a ute’s credentials – each has its pros and cons.
The payload of the Benz is 1010kg, well up on the 836kg of the Volkswagen, although with each you have to subtract the weight of occupants and luggage from that figure. So, even though it’s technically a “one-tonner” the X-Class can’t legally carry a tonne in its tray, unless you can find a driver who weighs less than 10kg…
The X350d has a slightly narrower tray (its body is 34mm narrower than the Amarok’s) but its load area is 26mm longer.
While we didn’t test these two vehicles with big loads in the back, we’ve done it before with a four-cylinder X250d and an Amarok V6. Short story was the Amarok did a better job of suspending the load and dealing with bumps.
There’s also thoughtfulness elsewhere, each with an LED light to illuminate the tray and each with decent tie-down points. But it’s the X’s sliding rail system that allows better placement for securing loads.
What are the controls and infotainment like?
Getting comfortable in the driver’s seat is easier in the Amarok, in part because of the better front seats but also because of adjustability to the seating position. It’s simply a better fit for most shapes and has more of a car-like composure.
The Amarok’s 6.3-inch colour screen is also touch operated, combining with the main menu buttons surrounding it to make for easy selection of menus.
While its instrument cluster is basic it delivers the key information succinctly and in a no-fuss manner. Touches such as the alloy pedals also spice up the otherwise grey cabin.
On first blush the X350d looks more upmarket, in part because of those metallic flashes throughout the cabin and extra attention paid to things such as the stitching on the instrument cowling. Those instruments also have a thoroughly Benz flavour, right down to the digital display splitting the familiar analogue speedo and tacho.
But the layout of major controls isn’t as logical, the ventilation controls placed way down on the centre stack. Plus, while the colour infotainment screen is larger, at 7.0 inches, it’s not touch operated, instead relying on the Comand controller in the centre console. That controller takes some familiarisation with the spinning and pushing required to dart between menus, but anyone familiar with a smartphone should pick things up quickly enough.
Besides, there are some main menu buttons below the screen allowing quick selection of primary tasks.
Speaking of smartphones, it’s easier to link them to the Amarok courtesy of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, something not available on the Mercedes.
What’s the performance like?
On paper, these two are as close as they get. Each has a 3.0-litre single turbo engine pumping out 190kW of power. But delve deeper and the Amarok starts to realise some advantages, starting with its eight-speed auto versus the seven-speeder on the Merc. The Volkswagen also muscles up 580Nm of torque, versus 550Nm for the X350d.
Plus, the Amarok has an overboost function that in cooler conditions allows bursts of up to 10 seconds where the turbo is thrusting even more air into the engine. It means power peaks at 200kW or even 205kW with the emphasis on third and fourth gears – those are the gears you’re likely to be in for full-throttle overtaking on a country road.
It means the Amarok never feels undernourished and pulls strongly across its rev range. There’s plenty of grunt for what is, ultimately, a workhorse truck with some luxury genes.
Then again, the X350d is far from lacking, either. And at cruising speeds it builds pace slightly faster than the Amarok, in part because its gearing seems to be better around 80-100km/h. Not that you’ll be splitting these two on outright performance – once you’re moving at least. And that’s key, because from a standstill there’s a more pronounced difference between the two – and it all comes down to turbo lag.
The X-Class V6 takes a fraction of a second for its turbo to start spinning, in turn making for lazy throttle response. Press the accelerator and things take a while to start humming.
The Volkswagen also has wisps of lag, but to much lower levels, so it’s easier to judge what’s going on and get more linear responses to what you’re doing with your right foot.
Fuel use between the two is very close, the X350d claimed at 8.8 litres per 100km versus 8.9L/100km for the Amarok 580. The benefit swings towards the X-Class at freeway speeds, too, its “extra-urban” fuel figure (it’s Australian government terminology) is 8.1L/100km compared with 8.5L/100km for the VW.
How do they perform on-road?
Getting to wherever you’re going will be more relaxing in the X-Class, largely thanks to its more hushed cabin. While there’s little to suggest luxury elsewhere, the impressive sound deadening of the X’s interior makes for quiet freeway cruising. It’s a clear leader in the ute segment.
Not that the Amarok is bad, more in keeping with noise levels of key rivals. But the Benz has shifted the game along. Of course, there’s a big difference in the way each is put together beneath the skin.
While each uses a truck-like ladder frame chassis with independent front suspension, the live axle rear-ends are very different. Like the Nissan Navara it’s based on, the X-Class gets coil springs at the back, designed to better control bumps, especially when the tray is unladen.
It does a decent – rather than outstanding – job, the inherent toughness on display in big dips but decent control on the way out. Steering is similarly acceptable, some decent weighting mid-corner to counter the sloppiness we’ve come to expect from this high-riding machines.
The Amarok sticks with leaf springs more common in dual-cab utes, all with the aim of dealing better with a load out back.
But even with that apparent on-paper deficit the Amarok somehow works really well on the road. There’s terrific maturity to the way it deals with imperfections, while still maintaining its poise over big hits.
Like the X350d, V6 versions of the Amarok benefit from disc brakes (replacing the inferior drums still common on utes), for decent stopping power.
What are they like off the road?
Just like the basic architecture, there’s a difference in thinking for the four-wheel drive systems, too – and it all comes down to low range gearing.
The X-Class takes a traditional approach with a set of low-range ratios to allow for very slow speed running. It means in very steep or very rocky terrain things can be easier to negotiate, the low-range gearing allowing for better control. But everything is relevant. The biggest challenge with the Merc is feeding on the power in challenging terrain, its turbo lag making it trickier to judge when you’ll have 550Nm to play with.
Fortunately it’s more predictable in 4L, although it pays to be gentle on the throttle to ease things over rather than make a splash. Conversely – and controversially – the Amarok sticks with only high-range gearing, the emphasis instead on keeping things simple.
Fortunately, first gear is lower than it usually would be, in some ways giving the same effect, and it combines with some electronic aids such as the Off Road button that adjusts throttle sensitivity and holds gears longer to improve low speed control.
Ultimately it’s no match for proper low range gears, although it rarely slows progress for the Amarok. For outback touring and almost everything else it is a highly capable and accomplished off-roader, one that uses smarts elsewhere – and the low-rev grunt of the V6 – to continue progress.
Ground clearance is also good, although the X350d has an on-paper advantage – 222mm versus 192mm – although that mostly comes down to side steps.
The Ultimate gets fancy-looking side steps as standard, which lowers the claimed clearance. And they’re easy to damage given how low they hang. If you’re planning serious off-roading it’d be worth considering alternatives – or removing them altogether.
But if you option side steps on the X350d – as most owners are doing – then you end up with the same issue, something that also results in some squashed metal.
With approach and departure angles (two things that largely determine the potential for scraping the nose or tail) the Benz is again ahead. On the approach side there’s 30 degree attacks in order, versus 28 degrees for the Amarok. For departure it’s 25 degrees for the Merc versus 23.6 degrees for the Volkswagen; that said, with tow bars fitted that’s lowered further, the Amarok in particular eager to scrape it rear-end.
What about the spare tyres?
Both utes come with a full-size spare tyre mounted on an alloy wheel. But it’s the sizes that are the issue for those planning to go off-road.
The Ultimate gets 20-inch tyres with a 50-series profile, which is far from ideal in challenging terrain. The risk of sidewall damage is much higher than it is on smaller wheels with higher profile tyres. Fortunately you can fit 18-inch tyres to overcome the problem.
It’s a similar story with the Benz, with 19-inch rubber standard with a 55-series profile. But, again, you can opt for more suitable 18-inch tyres instead.
It’s something we’d thoroughly recommend for anyone planning to go bush – in part because you’re a better chance of finding an 18-inch replacement if you need one. Both also come with tyre pressure sensors, which is a handy way to spot a puncture early – hopefully before it has done irreparable damage to the tyre.
Can you tow with them?
Both the X350d and Amarok Ultimate 580 are rated to tow 3500kg. But we’d have big concerns lugging that much in either.
Part it comes down to overall weight limits, including the gross combination mass. The Amarok tops out at 6000kg and the X350d at 6180kg.
Once you take the 3500kg trailer out of those figures it leaves 2500kg and 2680kg respectively to cover the weight of the car and everything in it, including how much the towball is pushing down on the back of the car (typically around 10 percent of the weight of the trailer).
Given the Amarok weighs 2244kg it makes it all but impossible to legally tow the claimed 3500kg.
Even the X350d, at 2190kg, doesn’t leave a whole lot in reserve for people, luggage and the towball down weight; you’ve got 490kg to juggle between all three.
Plus, we’ve done plenty of towing in a four-cylinder version of the X-Class (the X250d) to learn that its coil spring rear-end doesn’t do as good a job at dealing with big loads as the Amarok’s lead spring rear-end. That said, in terms of what each is rated to carry, the X-Class has a significantly bigger number: 1010kg versus 836kg. But, again, we’d feel more comfortable with 836kg in the Amarok than the X-Class.
What about ownership?
Luxury cars simply have not kept pace with mainstream brands for warranty protection – and there is the perfect example here. The Amarok benefits from Volkswagen’s recently introduced five-year, unlimited kilometre coverage, ensuring peace of mind for longer.
The X-Class gets just three years’ coverage, and instead of the unlimited kilometre protection of other Benzes the three-pointed-star ute runs out of warranty at 200,000km.
Servicing in each is scheduled every 12 months, although the Amarok needs checking every 15,000km whereas the X-Class can go 20,000km.
The first three years or 60,000km for the X-Class services total $2555, although you can pre-pay them when you buy the car for $1950. The Amarok’s first three years of services total $1835 – but only if you travel less than 45,000km. If you want to go 60,000km (to match the Merc) there will be an extra service taking the total to $2713.
What safety features do they have?
Don’t just look at the independent ANCAP crash test ratings for these two because there’s a much deeper story.
Sure, each scores the maximum five stars, but the Amarok was tested in 2011 and the X-Class in 2017. In those six years the ANCAP requirements for a five-star rating increased significantly, with a particular emphasis on active safety, or the ability of a car to avoid a crash.
In short, the Amarok would not get five stars if it were retested in 2019. As such, there’s no difficulty in separating the two on the safety front – with the Mercedes-Benz taking a clear victory.
That comes courtesy of the standard autonomous emergency braking (AEB) fitted to all Xs. That ability to automatically perform an emergency brake to help avoid a crash is a big win for a market segment where safety has so often been secondary to other attributes.
The X-Class also gets rear airbags, something missing on the Amarok. Those planning on regularly using those back seats should seriously consider the implications, given those rear curtain airbags can save lives in a big side impact.
Practical Motoring Says…
Those wanting big performance in their diesel dual-cab will be well served with either the Mercedes-Benz X50d or Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate 580.
If it’s performance you’re after then the Amarok wins by a nose, both in terms of outright acceleration and its more user-friendly nature, especially in stop-start conditions.
While any ute costing $72K is unlikely to be a bargain, the Ultimate 580 does come out ahead when it comes to value, too. Combined with excellent on- and off-road credentials it makes for a compelling prospect, and one that inches ahead in this tough test.
But those wanting a quieter cabin environment, superior safety and marginally better off-road ability could rightfully be tempted by the X350d, even if it does have a cabin design that’s more looks than substance. It’s just a shame it has such a hefty price tag, something that detracts from its appeal elsewhere.