IT HASNíT been a full year since Mercedes-Benz Vans introduced its entry into the Australian one-tonne 4x4 ute market. Arriving as the X250d, in double cab ute configuration and with a choice of three specification levels, the hardly set the market on fire.
The premium price of the X-Class is part of the reason for this, but many buyers also see the Benz ute as a rebadged Nissan D23 Navara. While it is more than that, the X250dís four-cylinder diesel powertrain is shared with the Nissan, so, in many ways, it is only the added comfort, convenience and safety features that truly set it apart from the donor platform.
The model many buyers were waiting for was the V6 diesel-powered X350d, and that wait is over. The 350ís V6 engine, seven-speed automatic transmission and full-time 4x4 system are all Mercedes-Benz hardware and take the X-Class to the top tier of one-tonne ute performance and price.
With 190kW and 550Nm the X350d equals the only other V6 ute on the market, the Volkswagen Amarok, for torque, and it betters the Vee-dub for power. However, VW retaliated, releasing a higher specification Amarok with 200kW and 580Nm; but the numbers arenít enough to tell the full story.
While both the German utes follow the formula set by Japanese manufacturers with a ladder chassis riding on IFS and a live rear axle, the V6 Amarok differs in that it is offered only with a single-range transfer case (for now) while the Benz strays from the recipe with a coil-spring suspended rear axle. That comes as a result of platform-sharing with the Navara, which also has coils under the back.
The V6 is only offered in the top two X-Class specifications, Progressive and Power, and itís the top-spec X350d Power weíre driving here. The specs and equipment closely mirror those of the X250d, with a few extras exclusive to the V6. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control and keyless start button are standard on the X350d Progressive, where they are optional on the X250d Progressive; while the X350d Power rides on 19-inch wheels. Active lane-keeping assist is also standard on the X350d, adding to an already class-leading safety suite. This feature is unavailable on the X250d.
Driving the X350d is a familiar experience to anyone who has spent time in the X-Class. The interior features many Mercedes-Benz signatures such as the round dash vents, Artico faux leather trim (real leather is an option), the A/V sat-nav screen that stands proudly above the leather-covered dash, the busy controller dial and touch pad in the console, and a M-B multifunction steering wheel.
Some Nissan interior compromises remain, such as no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, the controls for adjusting the power front seats are mounted on the side of the seat instead of the usual Benz positioning on the door panel, and thereís a distinct lack of cabin storage for things like mobile phone, keys or more than one coffee cup. This alone is probably the most annoying feature of living with an X-Class.
The V6 engine idles smoother and quieter than the four-cylinder, and thereís no comparison in power once you mash the throttle. We say mash, as thatís what you need to do, as easing it on provides little reward; even when you floor it thereís a distinct lag before any action. This feels more like throttle lag than engine or turbo lag and could perhaps be a characteristic that can be tuned out of the car. We did try using some of the other driving modes unique to the X350d (such as Sport), but they tended to affect the transmission more than the throttle response, holding the gears longer.
However, when that 190kW and 550Nm does come on it is strong and propels the ute hard, giving the Benz a strong advantage over all of its four- and five-cylinder competitors. That initial lag is soon forgotten as the Benz powers through to redline; it likes to rev, and if youíre driving it hard this is where the action is at.
The Benz seven-speed auto shifts sweetly when itís left to its own devices or when using the column-mounted paddles, which are another V6 exclusive in the X-Class range. The X350d is full-time 4x4, so itís nice not having to engage four-wheel drive when leaving sealed roads for gravel.
For tight, low-speed manoeuvres, that low throttle position lag is again annoying. Throttle control could also be better when crawling in low range or when doing three-point turns on a tight track. That said the X350d walked up our regular rutted hill climb with its factory rear diff-lock engaged, without a hint of trouble or struggle.
The V6 adds needed performance and refinement to the X-Class, but it also adds price. The fact Volkswagen offers the V6 engine in lower specifications of the Amarok at lower prices might be enough to steer buyers that way, but for a one-tonne 4x4 ute with the lot, the X350d canít be bettered.