A CLASS ACT

THE SHAKE-UP OF THE DUAL-CAB MARKET HAS BEGUN, WITH THE AUSTRALIAN LAUNCH OF THE X-CLASS.

MERCEDES-BENZ’S foray into the burgeoning 4x4 dual-cab ute market has begun, with the Australian launch of the X-Class. The workhorse Benz is available in three models – Pure, Progressive and Power – with a total of 13 variants (including some 2WDs in the base-spec Pure) across this spread, and a choice of two diesel powerplants: a single-turbo 2.3-litre four-cylinder (dubbed X220d and putting out 120kW and 403Nm), or a 140kW/450Nm bi-turbo 2.3-litre four cylinder, aka X250d. The pricing for 4x4 models starts at $50,400 for the Pure X220d with sixspeed manual, and tops out at $64,500 for the fully loaded Power X250d with the seven-speed automatic option ticked. All four-cylinder X-Class 4x4 utes are dual-range, part-time 4x4. The much-discussed 190kW/550Nm TDV6 variant (with permanent all-wheel drive and dual range case) will join the roster late 2018. The X-Class will only be available in dual-cab format. (It’s worth noting that Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia reps didn’t discount a future single-cab model.)

A CLASS OF ITS OWN

SINCE first announced, the X-Class has copped a ton of negative comments owing to Mercedes-Benz leveraging its partnership with Nissan-Renault to use Nissan’s Navara as its base vehicle, rather than starting from scratch with a ground-up design. The over-used social media cries of “it’s just an expensive Navara” are tiresome and simply incorrect. Yes, the X-Class utilises the Navara chassis, but does so while adding its own improvements, focused primarily on strengthening the chassis with additional bracing and cross-member tweaks. This is just one of the differences between the two; the X-Class track is bigger overall than Navara (5340mm long, 1920mm wide; 50mm wider than Navara) with the track measuring 70mm wider than the Navara’s, while the X-Class runs ventilated discs front and rear across the range, as opposed to the Navara’s front disc/rear drum setup. The Navara suspension – IFS with double wishbones and coils up front/multi-link coilspring live axle rear – is carried over, but Benz has added its own suspension ‘tune’ to X-Class, including a thicker stabiliser bar at the rear to aid on-road handling. It has also tweaked the steering, claiming it is one-third less lock-to-lock compared to Navara and “more direct”.

As a result of the increased girth, all sheetmetal is unique to X-Class, with the additional width evident in the larger interior and glasswork, plus the rear tub. The X-Class load-lugging area can be optioned as either a cab-chassis or ute tub (complete with Nissan’s clever adjustable anchor point system). The ute tray is bigger, allowing an Aussie-spec pallet to fit. Overall usable load area is an impressive 2.446m², and payload ranges from 1016kg to 1037kg. Towing capacity is 3500g, with a ball-weight limit of 350kg.

WHATCHYA GET?

MERCEDES-BENZ believes the dual-cab market is split into three types of buyers and, to an extent, its three-tier range reflects this, as Scott Williams, Mercedes-Benz Vans product and project manager, explained.

“We’ve got a workhorse-oriented vehicle (the Pure), which is something for someone who is perhaps a farmer or landowner, or a small business owner,” he said. “He’s looking for a vehicle that can do the job, day in, day out, and is durable…”

Mercedes-Benz sees the Progressive as fitting the “dual-use” market where it is used for work during the week and “to extend your personal lifestyle with” on weekends, pursuing outdoor hobbies. The Power is, according to Williams, more aimed at those shifting vehicle types.

“We’ve got someone (for the Power) who is probably coming from an SUV-type perspective,” he said. “They’re quite happy to use the vehicle during the week, but on the weekend it again becomes an extension of an active lifestyle … so they want something that is more SUV orientated in regards to safety, comfort and passenger car functionality.”

For its $50,400 asking price, the Pure X220d six-speed manual (the X220d is only available with manual gearbox) is reasonably well kitted-out with standard equipment including 17-inch steel wheels, halogen headlights, rubber flooring, black fabric (manual-adjust) seats, rear-view camera, four 12V sockets, trailer wiring, an Audio 20 CD infotainment system with touchpad controller and 7-inch colour display, console-mounted air ducts for rear passengers, seven airbags, a tyre pressure monitor system, Active Brake Assist (with autonomous emergency braking – the only one in its class with this feature), ESP, ABS, rear diff-lock, five-star ANCAP safety rating, and Lane Keeping Assist. You can option the bi-turbo diesel donk if you wish, which then allows you to tick the seven-speed automatic option. Stump up an extra $1300 for the Pure Plus option pack and you gain Parktronic park assist and the adjustable load securing rail system.

The mid-tier Progressive starts at $53,950 for the X250d six-speed manual (with cab chassis tray; the cheapest ute-tub Progressive is $54,900) and tops out with the ute-tub auto X250d at $57,800. On top of the Pure specs, this higher price snares colour-coded front/rear bumpers, 17-inch alloys, heat-insulated windscreen, rain-sensing wipers, a Garmin MAP PILOT GPS system, carpeted floor, dash accents, leather steering wheel, shifter and handbrake, rain-sensing wipers, and the same infotainment system as Pure but with a digital audio system and eight speakers. To tack the Comfort option pack onto your Progressive – electric-adjust seats, climate control and stowage net – will set you back $2490. There’s also a Style pack (LED headlights, electric opening rear window, running boards, roof rails and 18-inch alloys) for $3750.

The top-end Power (only available with the ute-tub) kicks off at $61,600 for the six-speed manual X250d, with Benz asking $64,500 for the seven-speed self-shifter version. The Power ups the ante with 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, heated (yes, heated) side mirrors, heat-insulated windscreen glass, leather seats, M-B’s COMMAND Online multimedia system, sat-nav and touchpad, electric-adjust front seats, Parktronic park assist, auto climate control, adjustable load rails, a 360-degree camera, and even more sound deadening.

LOOK AT ME

THE X-CLASS styling is sleek and sophisticated; for what is a ‘workhorse’, the vehicle’s appearance does a great job of hiding that. The big Benz grille and badge offers an aggressive look, but not overly so, and blends well into the front guards. The steel wheels are a bit of a let-down on the Pure – especially at the asking price – and the grey front end clashes with most of the body colours available. The upper two models, however, with their colour-coded bumpers, look far more impressive. The 17-and 18-inch alloys on the two upper-spec vehicles are well-finished and the wider stance of the X-Class definitely adds a sense of purpose to its appearance.

The interior is even more impressive; the cabin (especially in the Power) exudes that sense of luxury Benz is hoping helps differentiate the X-Class from others in its class. Step inside the Power cabin and you can (sort of) start to justify the pricing, with the vast amount of leather and highgrade finishes surrounding you.

X-CLASSIC?

Time will tell how the market receives this latest dual-cab. Will it be another Toorak Tractor or a serious off-road/tradie ute contender?

THE END STORY

THERE’S no doubt the X-Class is up against it somewhat in regards to market perception. The fact that Benz has done a complete re-engineer on the Navara base vehicle will still be difficult for some to comprehend, as will the heftier pricing range. However, if you look at the vehicle itself and dismiss the Navara comments, adding in the many unique features – fourwheel discs, revised suspension, wider track and body, fit and finish, spec levels, etc. – you will serve this latest entrant into the dual-cab 4x4 ute market more justice. And it deserves that.