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HomeFEATUREDMERCEDES-BENZ X-CLASS DRIVING IMPRESSION

MERCEDES-BENZ X-CLASS DRIVING IMPRESSION

Mercedes-Benz marketers are masterful at creating hype, they’ve kept South Africans waiting for, and drooling over, something we’ve had many of for decades; a bakkie. But this isn’t just any old pickup, you see, it’s a luxury utility vehicle named X-Class. And, it’s also the first of its kind, if those same marketing people are to be believed, as BERNIE HELLBERG reports.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the South African new vehicle market would be 100,000 units per year poorer were it not for the light commercial sector, also known as the humble, uniquely local, bakkie.

Yes, more than 20% of all passenger vehicles we invest in locally are pick-ups, and they just keep coming. In this edition of Driven alone, there are no less than three articles about bakkies. If that doesn’t tell you something about how much we prefer bakkies over almost anything else, then nothing will.

MORE OF THE SAME?

X-Class
Unless you’ve been cowering under a proverbial rock of late, you would have heard at least one commentator talking about the Mercedes-Benz X-Class sharing a platform with Nissan’s Navara.

Indeed, the new X-Class double cab shares several components, as well as the chassis and suspension, engine line-up, and overall body silhouette with the year-and-a-bit-old Navara. Neither Mercedes-Benz nor Nissan have denied the link between the two vehicles, for the simple reason that the two auto giants have been co-operating to co-develop new products since 2010.

The X-Class is a prime example of how the collaboration worked well, mainly where the new Merc bakkie is concerned.

The Nissan Navara is a great platform in its own right, and let’s be real here for a moment, Mercedes-Benz was always going to take this strong foundation and improve on the overall recipe.

That is precisely what they’ve done, with a strong focus on raising the X-Class’ luxury appeal to a new level – beyond the reach of its closest premium-ish competitor, the Volkswagen Amarok.

HANDSOME AS HECK

X-Class
Being a fan of Teutonic design simplicity means I’m also highly critical when German brands get it wrong. Considering some of Merc’s more recent design faux pas such as the CLA sedan with its droopy rear, it’s not too far-fetched to fear that the X-Class might not have ended up looking quite as good as it does if it weren’t for the strong DNA of its host, the Navara.

So what if the beltline and roofline look the same, and the C-pillar is carried over verbatim from the Japanese truck?

Mercedes have done a great job of cleaning up the front end and toning down the lip at the rear of the X-Class, which has given the German truck a significantly cleaner overall look than its Japanese cousin.

Headlight and taillight treatments hand the X-Class a design maturity that is not currently matched in the market, not even by the suave VW Amarok.

The grille is where it all happens, of course, as it echoes the powerful Mercedes gelände-look that we see on all Merc’s SUVs and crossovers. The wide aluminium double slat grille is standard on both of the X’s two derivative levels – Progressive and Power – although the latter also sports matching scuff lip, chrome diffuser and fog lamps surrounds. At the rear, the Power also gets chrome bumper treatment, while all models have a tow bar fitted as standard.

PROPERLY CAPABLE

X-Class
One would think that after producing some of the most capable off-roaders in history, Mercedes-Benz wouldn’t find it necessary to prove the ruggedness, and capability of a new four-wheel-drive vehicle. But to be sure that we get the message good and proper, Team Mercedes set up a formidable test section for the media launch drive – including a 200 km-long road trip, complete with a crossing of the infamous Duiwelskop Pass in the Klein Karoo.

An old Voortrekker trade route, the pass traverses some of the toughest terrain that I’ve yet driven, and, as expected, the big Mercs handled the rough stuff like it’s been doing it for decades.

Power, for now, comes from the Nissan-shared 2.3-litre turbodiesel engine, which can be had in one of two configurations –120 kW and 403 Nm of torque, denoted as the X220d; or with 140 kW and 450 Nm of the X250d.

THE X-CLASS INTERIOR

X-Class
I may not be a fan of all Mercedes interiors, but the less-is-more approach of the X-Class dashboard design does appeal to me.

Despite the minimalist look, Merc has touched every aspect of the interior to ensure that it reflects the bakkie’s premium intentions, swaddling the hugely comfortable seats in Alcantara, and popping their signature three-spoke wheel onto the steering column, for example.

The cabin feels premium and robust, but it could do with more stowage space for smartphones and other oddments. Double-cab buyers typically use their vehicles for leisure purposes, which means they haul a lot of gear around. Sadly, the X-Class sacrifices function for form with a tiny cubby, an equally small armrest binnacle, and lack of space to put your smart devices.

Mercedes does redeem itself with the addition of numerous accessory package options for the load bay, including different hard — and soft-cover options, rolling covers, and canopies.

Safety tech and standard infotainment levels are high enough to compete with market competitors, but beware the specification creep that can so easily engulf the eager X-Class buyer…

The entry-level X220d 4×2 Progressive with six-speed manual comes in at a reasonable (for a Mercedes-Benz) R642,103, while opting for the same spec X250d 4×2 will set you back R694,025. Add electronically activated on-the-fly four-wheel-drive and the price rises to R668,726, or go for the seven-speed automatic and pay R696,785 – all before accessories (or metallic paint) are added.

Power derivatives only come with the X250d engine version and 4×4. The manual retails for R763,256, while the automatic derivative will cost R791,315. Merc will add a V6-engined X350d Mercedes engine later this year.

LAST WORD

There is no denying that the X-Class is an expensive leisure vehicle when compared to the rest of the bakkie market. The question must be whether it genuinely brings a level of premium to the segment that did not exist before – and the answer is less cut and dried than Mercedes would like you to believe.

What cannot be debated, however, is that this vehicle will appeal to an established base of Mercedes fans who have yearned for a premium one-tonner wearing a three-pointed star. It is the right time for X-Class, and those in the know will pay anything to get one.

Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © MERCEDES-BENZ SOUTH AFRICA

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