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Mercedes-Benz X-Class

Mercedes-Benz X-Class

March 30, 2021

This is something new – a global attempt to go after the likes of the Toyota Hilux, VW Amarok and Nissan Navara. Now, developing a new car from scratch is a vastly expensive business, so if there’s a way to reduce those costs, it’s worth considering. So, if you scratch the surface of the X-Class you’ll find a lot of it is actually the aforementioned Nissan Navara. Same 2.3-litre Renault-developed turbo diesel, same ladder frame chassis, same switchable 4wd system with low range and so on.

On the surface Mercedes has done a good job of disguising this fact. Until you get to the far end of the double cab, the X-Class looks unique, well aligned with the rest of Merc’s commercial and passenger car range. It’s only the shape of the rear lights and that kick-up in the rear passenger window line that look Nissan-ish.

It’s on sale now with a choice of two engines (the same 2.3-litre with either 161 or 187bhp), two gearboxes (six speed manual or seven-speed auto) and three trim levels (Pure, Progressive and Power).

To its credit, Mercedes hasn’t just altered the bodywork, slapped the three-pointed star on and sent it out the factory gates. Compared to the Navara, the X-Class has wider tracks (by 55 and 62mm respectively front and rear) to improve stability, different springs and dampers, plus enhanced sound insulation. It also has coil, not leaf, springs at the back (although it has that in common with double cab Navaras as well) to aid ride comfort.

But because it’s built on a ladder frame and has a solid rear axle it’ll never match an SUV for comfort. Hit a bump and it shudders, it’s heavy and sluggish to drive with ponderous steering. The engine isn’t too harsh and clattery by pick-up standards, but you’re never in any doubt it’s a diesel and having to work against over 2.2 tonnes means acceleration is modest (0-62mph takes 11.8secs in the fast version, 12.9 in the X220d).

The automatic gearbox isn’t the smoothest, lurching upshifts under load and while getting off the line requires a decisive amount of throttle, just wait until it comes to braking…

Compared to other pick-ups it’s maybe ten per cent better. It does take the harsher edges off bumps, it is quieter and smoother, it drives like there’s an extra layer of rubber in the suspension that’s soaking up punishment. But there’s a gulf between SUV and pick-up that no-one has yet bothered to bridge.

Interior and Comfort 

As with the outside, Mercedes has worked hard to give the X-Class a visual lift over the car it’s based on. Initially, the gearlever and starter button are the only obvious carry overs, and all the usual Mercedes cues, from clickwheel to column stalks, ensure existing Merc owners won’t find it totally alien. OK, it’s nowhere near as smart as an E- or MLE-Class, has none of their design flair or flash graphics, but it’s passable.

But quality is more of a mixed bag. Although the switchgear is fine, the plastic mouldings are slabby and cheap, the flat seats are unsupportive and the overall look and feel is a few notches down from any Merc passenger car with the possible exception of the A-Class. And that’s about to be replaced.

And is it really that practical and suited to your use? You need to ask yourself that question. Yes, it has an enormous boot – over 1.2 metres wide between the rear arches and close on 1.6 metres long. It can carry a payload of over a tonne, tow 3.5, you can add roller covers and load liners. For mountain bikes or snowboards it’ll be great. You know this because in all the pics Merc has published everyone is smiling as they load their outdoor toys into it.

But in Africa we’re different to America. We don’t all carry chainsaws, we don’t have consistently good weather or live surrounded by nature. If we park at a motorway services with a mountain bike in the back, it won’t be there when we come back. And we view pick-ups differently, associating them with tradesmen, not families. Shifting that perspective will be tough. VW hasn’t managed it with the Amarok after all.

So yes, it’s big, but it’s not actually any cleverer than any other pick-up. You can’t carry more than five people and you’ll need to be fit enough to climb into the boot – because you won’t be able to reach anything that’s slid to the far end.

Verdict

Let’s accept the fact that in the real world no-one knows or cares it’s based on a Nissan. It looks different enough and wears the three-pointed star proudly enough to convince most buyers it’s a genuine Merc.

But as an everyday family vehicle don’t let the Mercedes badge fool you. If someone comes to the X-Class from an MLE they’re going to smell a rat. They will wonder why it’s noisier and lumpier to drive, why the switchgear seems more haphazardly sited, why Mercedes hasn’t lavished more care and attention on it.

So it depends on your standpoint to how you see this. Like and need a pick-up? Then this adds a veneer of comfort, image and equipment. Coming from an SUV? You might be saving money, but be warned about the compromises you’ll need to make. What we have is a pick up done better, but not one that revolutionizes either the brand or the breed.

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