X-DRIVE

FIRST FANG IN MERCíS X-CLASS UTE IMPRESSES, BUT LEAVES A LOT OF UNANSWERED QUESTIONS.

WORDS MATT RAUDONIKIS

MERCEDES-BENZ X-CLASS X250D

FIRST FANG IN MERCíS X-CLASS UTE IMPRESSES, BUT LEAVES A LOT OF UNANSWERED QUESTIONS.

LETíS GET this straight right from the get-go: Mercedes-Benzís new X-Class ute is a lot more than just a Nissan Navara with a flash grille tacked on to it. The Germans have given the donor D23 a thorough going-over to create the X-Class, and the version that wears the three-pointed star is a completely different vehicle.

Yes, the X is built on the Nissan chassis, but the chassis rails have been braced and altered where needed to improve NVH and dynamics. Chassis crossmembers have been altered and an extra one added for the same reason, and the suspension mounting points tweaked. The axles under the chassis are wider by some 70mm, and the rear axle is a Mercedes-Benz unit that features disc brakes in lieu of drums.

The double-cab body comes from the Nissan, but all the external sheetmetal is new, the cabin is wider and, as such, both the front and rear screens are wider.

Only the side glass is carried over. The new roof panel bulges upwards to allow a taller seating position in the rear pew, and the all-new cargo tub is bigger than the Navaraís. The body has been braced where needed, and extensive sound insulation has been used to reduce cabin NVH.

The four-cylinder engine and driveline is carried over from the Navara, but Mercedes played with the engine mounts and used its own engine control software to reduce engine noise. Power and torque figures remain the same as they are in the Navvie. The seven-speed auto is as used in the Navara, as is the six-speed manual; however, Benz has implemented a cable-linked gear shifter to again reduce vibration in the cabin.

The V6 diesel engine will be Mercís own 3.0-litre unit and will be backed by a Merc seven-speed auto and full-time 4x4 with low range. No, this isnít the V6 diesel previously used by Nissan in the D40 Navara. The X350d wonít be available until the third quarter of 2018, while the fourcylinder X220d and X250d models will go on sale in Australia in April.

Prices for the 4x4 variants start at $50,400 for the X220d Pure manual through to $64,500 for the range-topping X250d Power automatic. There are 11 variants across the 4x4 X-Class range and two X220d 4x2 models priced below the 4x4 models. Pricing for the V6-powered X-Class is yet to be announced.

As previously reported, the X-Class will be sold under three specification grades (Pure, Progressive and Power), initially with just two four-cylinder engine choices, with auto or manual transmissions, and as a cab-chassis or ute which Mercedes-Benz is calling the Load Bed. The only 4x4 variant offered with the single-turbo X220d engine is the entry level one at $50,400; the rest are all powered by the 450Nm X250d bi-turbo engine.

By comparison, a double-cab 4x4 Hilux starts at $43,990 for the workmate 2.4 and runs out to $54,490 for an SR5 2.8 (+ auto), while a Ford Ranger doublecab 4x4 runs from $43,590 to $59,590 (+ auto) for the Wildtrak. The Nissan Navara, which the X-Class is derived from and shares its 2.3-litre four-cylinder running gear with, starts at $38,490 for the single-turbo RX manual doublecab and goes up to the bi-turbo STX at $51,990. The X-Class is not all-new, but itís no Navara either. You could say that Mercedes-Benz has done a mighty fine job of re-engineering the Navara and improving it throughout.

Our drive in Chile was with the X250d in both Power spec (with the seven-speed auto) and Progressive spec (with six-speed manual), which will cost $64,500 and $54,900 respectively when they get here.

Power is the top specification of X-Class and adds chrome trim to the body-coloured bumpers, 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, ARTICO man-made leather seats and dash trim, dual-zone climate control, COMAND infotainment system, eight-speaker audio, and keyless entry among its many standard features.

This is the vehicle we think best represents the Mercedes-Benz brand.

Drop down the range to the Pure spec and you feel like you are in a commercial vehicle with its standard air-conditioning, vinyl-covered floors, basic interior equipment, 17-inch steel wheels and unpainted black bumpers... the X-Class does fall under the Mercedes-Benz Vans division and not the passenger cars one after all.

In between the two is the Progressive spec which we feel would appeal to most buyers. Next to the Pure spec it adds 17-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured bumpers, carpeted floors, black clothcovered seats, Garmin sat-nav, and other convenience features including the Audio 20 sound system with seven-inch display screen.

There are also a number of option packs available to add things like climate control air-con, LED headlights, improved audio and navigation systems, and larger alloy wheels.

The X250d Power also feels the most like a Mercedes-Benz vehicle. Itís quiet and refined inside, well behaved on-road, and gets along well with the 450Nm engine backed by the sevenspeed auto. The big thing is refinement, as thereís none of the engine noise transmitted to the cabin you get in a Navara, and the seats and dash trims have a luxury feel.

The suspension soaks up bumps and undulations and keeps the vehicle initially with just two four-cylinder engine choices, with auto or manual transmissions, and as a cab-chassis or ute which Mercedes-Benz is calling the Load Bed. The only 4x4 variant offered with the single-turbo X220d engine is the entry level one at $50,400; the rest are all powered by the 450Nm X250d bi-turbo engine.

By comparison, a double-cab 4x4 Hilux starts at $43,990 for the workmate 2.4 and runs out to $54,490 for an SR5 2.8 (+ auto), while a Ford Ranger doublecab 4x4 runs from $43,590 to $59,590 (+ auto) for the Wildtrak. The Nissan Navara, which the X-Class is derived from and shares its 2.3-litre four-cylinder running gear with, starts at $38,490 for the single-turbo RX manual doublecab and goes up to the bi-turbo STX at $51,990. The X-Class is not all-new, but itís no Navara either. You could say that Mercedes-Benz has done a mighty fine job of re-engineering the Navara and improving it throughout.

Our drive in Chile was with the X250d in both Power spec (with the seven-speed auto) and Progressive spec (with six-speed manual), which will cost $64,500 and $54,900 respectively when they get here.

Power is the top specification of X-Class and adds chrome trim to the body-coloured bumpers, 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, ARTICO man-made leather seats and dash trim, dual-zone climate control, COMAND infotainment system, eight-speaker audio, and keyless LETíS the X-Class a Nissan tacked given going- and three- different vehicle.

Yes, the X but the chassis altered where and dynamics. have been altered for the same mounting points the chassis are the rear axle features disc The double- Nissan, but all is new, the cabin both the front Only the side new roof panel taller seating the all-new cargo Navaraís. The needed, and has been used The four-cylinder is carried over Mercedes played and used its to reduce engine figures remain the Navvie. The used in the Navara, entry among its many standard features.

This is the vehicle we think best represents the Mercedes-Benz brand.

Drop down the range to the Pure spec and you feel like you are in a commercial vehicle with its standard air-conditioning, vinyl-covered floors, basic interior equipment, 17-inch steel wheels and unpainted black bumpers... the X-Class does fall under the Mercedes-Benz Vans division and not the passenger cars one after all.

In between the two is the Progressive spec which we feel would appeal to most buyers. Next to the Pure spec it adds 17-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured bumpers, carpeted floors, black clothcovered seats, Garmin sat-nav, and other convenience features including the Audio 20 sound system with seven-inch display screen.

There are also a number of option packs available to add things like climate control air-con, LED headlights, improved audio and navigation systems, and larger alloy wheels.

The X250d Power also feels the most like a Mercedes-Benz vehicle. Itís quiet and refined inside, well behaved on-road, and gets along well with the 450Nm engine backed by the sevenspeed auto. The big thing is refinement, as thereís none of the engine noise transmitted to the cabin you get in a Navara, and the seats and dash trims have a luxury feel.

The suspension soaks up bumps and undulations and keeps the vehicle

MERCEDESBENZ PUT A LOT OF WORK INTO THE SPRING AND DAMPER CALIBRATION

pinned through sweeping bends and controlled on broken and off-road terrain.

Notably, the multi-link coil rear suspension is well-behaved and predictable, and Mercedes-Benz put a lot of work into the spring and dampener calibration to optimise the wider wheel track of the X-Class over the Nissan.

The hydraulically assisted power steering is on par with other one-tonne utes in terms of feel and directness, but the Nissan has never been great in this regard and is one area we hoped Benz might have improved the vehicle.

The engine delivers plenty of low-down torque and the traction control works well off-road, but the set off-road course hardly challenged the car. From this drive we could only say it is no better than any other one-tonne ute in its off-road ability.

Disappointingly the same levels of refinement donít extend through the X-Class range, as the Progressive and Pure specs donít get the same level of insulation as the Power Ė Nissanís engine-intake noise was evident when we drove an X250d Progressive with the manual gearbox. The NVH levels arenít a deal breaker, but they do take away much of the appeal of paying a premium for a prestige marque when it doesnít deliver in full.

The six-speed manual gearbox is smooth and simple in its operation; however, it had a whine in top gear when cruising on the highway. It must be said that this was a pre-production engineering vehicle, so weíll need to wait until we drive the final product to see if this is a genuine fault with the car.

Launch drive impressions revealed that Mercedes-Benz has done an amazing job with what it had to work with and the X-Class will slot right in among the top vehicles in the one-tonne 4x4 ute category.

Yet, it remains to be seen just how close to the top it will fit. It will also be interesting to see if it match the Amarok in terms of overall performance and accommodation.

Then thereís how well it will handle a load in the tray or haul anything close to its 3500kg towing capacity.

SPECS

ENGINE POWER TORQUE TRANSMISSION SUSPENSION (F) SUSPENSION (R) BRAKES STEERING WHEELS PRICE 2298cc inline-4cyl diesel, 16v DOHC 140kW at 3750rpm 450Nm from 1500-2500rpm 7-speed automatic transmission with dual range, part-time 4x4 IFS with double wishbones and coil springs Rear multi-link live axle, coil springs Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes Hydraulic rack-and-pinion power steering 17-, 18- or 19-inch with 255 tyres $64,500 (X250d auto)