It’s been a little over one year since Mercedes gave us a taste of their first ever mid-size pickup truck in the form of the X-Class Concept, and now, we’ve driven the real deal on both motorways and snow-covered mountain roads.
This isn’t just Mercedes’ first pickup truck, but the first such mid-size vehicle for any premium automaker, which the Germans themselves will happily point out, while also highlighting the fact that they were also the first to the luxury SUV game with the M-Class.
Whether the X-Class will have the same effect on the industry, spurring other premium manufacturers to follow suit, remains to be seen.
Benz' mid-size premium pickup is aimed at a wide range of individuals, who don’t necessarily have specific (or heavy duty) professional needs, but are looking for a light duty truck with a premium badge.
A Tale Of Two Halves
By now, most of you probably know that the X-Class shares the same underpinnings as the Nissan Navara NP300 and the Renault Alaskan. It also shares some of the styling, which is quite evident unless you’re looking at it directly from the front.
In the flesh, the production model isn’t as imposing as any of the two X-Class concepts from last year, the Stylish Explorer and the Powerful Adventurer. Then again, concepts are meant to make an impression on shows and very rarely make the transition to the production line without a host of changes.
Buying an X-Class will cost you a lot less than a GLE, and that's been made possible, as the company admits, by teaming up with Nissan, which meant there were restrictions to what Merc's designers could (or couldn't) change. The badge does help, obviously, as does the elegant and purposeful Mercedes-Benz design language around the front fascia; you’d probably think it was a Mercedes SUV if you saw it in your rear-view mirror.
If styling is anywhere near the top of your list, we recommend you spring for the flagship ‘Power’ model, as it looks considerably more upscale than the base ‘Pure’ or the mid-range ‘Progressive’ ones. Which, as we shall see, does have a lot to do with the interior, too.
Choose Your "Class" Wisely
The reason why you should care whether you buy a top-spec X-Class or the entry or mid-level model goes a little bit beyond just equipment levels. Jumping from the mid-spec Progressive model into the flagship Power version feels a lot like making the switch between a regular Ford and a Vignale, quality-wise. The materials not only look better - they are better, as you get leather on top of the dashboard and door panels, like you would expect on a Mercedes-Benz, instead of hard plastics.
At its best, the X-Class can pull off a “Mercedes feel” once you take a seat behind its leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, but again, this applies to the Power version, otherwise the quality level is pretty much on par with the industry standard. Not a bad thing per se, but it might disappoint some customers who expect a certain level of quality from a Mercedes.
Otherwise, the interior is well laid out and the ergonomics are sound, with all vital commands within reach. The only problem I had was the poor visibility up front once I started using the wipers to clear away all the snow and mud being kicked around. It accumulated right next to the already thick A-pillar, making it even harder to see around tight corners.
A base trim will land you some fairly decent standard equipment on the entry-level 'Pure' model, such as the 'Tunja' black fabric upholstery, manually adjustable driver's and co-driver's seats, chrome outlining and high-gloss black details around the air vents, 7-inch infotainment display with Bluetooth connectivity and available USB ports, air conditioning and a reversing camera.
As expected, it's the flagship Power spec that comes with all the bells and whistles, like LED headlights and taillights, retractable/heated side mirrors, lumbar support for the electrically-adjustable driver and passenger seats, keyless go, cruise control, Active Brake Assist, Thermotronic climate system and more.
There's also a quite comprehensive list of optional extras, such as 19” wheels, 360-degree camera, Comand Online system, 7-speed automatic gearbox, brown leather, and the Winter package, this being the spec I enjoyed most, mostly thanks to the nut brown Artico leather with top-stitching. It’s the type of thing you expect from a Mercedes-Benz product.
As for how roomy the X-Class is, there’s plenty of space in the front, although the rear can get a little cramped if you’re a reasonably tall individual and you like to travel with ample knee and leg room.
Heavy Foot? Heavy Car
After driving the X250d across various surfaces, from motorways to back roads, plus some mild off-roading (we’ll get to that in a bit), I’m quite confident in saying that its 2.3-liter turbo-diesel engine, even with 190 PS (there’s a 160 PS version, too), could use more power the same way a mountain climber could use extra oxygen on his way to the summit.
Like its rivals such as the VW Amarok or the Ford Ranger, the X-Class is a heavy vehicle, weighing over 2.2 tons (4,850 lbs) if you add the 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. That makes it heavier than a GLE, which generally carries well over 200 horses.
The figures state that the X250d gets from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 11.8 seconds, yet it’s at high speed where the X-Class struggles most. With that in mind, the upcoming V6 diesel that's due in 2018 should make for a much better purchase if you really want the best of both worlds, as it will have 258 PS and 550 Nm (405) of torque.
Otherwise, the X250d 4MATIC should still satisfy those who enjoy low-end grunt and, most of all, silence – yes, the diesel-powered X-Class is surprisingly quiet for its segment, at idle as well as on the move, keeping wind and tire noise in check. Paired with the good overall ride quality, it's a solid achievement for the boys from Stuttgart.
As for handling and maneuverability, it's pretty much what you'd expect from a mid-size pickup truck, meaning the steering is on the numb side (albeit good for a pickup truck) and it feels heavy at low speeds, while the poor turning cycle will often force you to perform multiple maneuvers during parking. At regular and motorway speeds, the X-Class feels sufficiently planted and stable, similar to most of its truck rivals, but not as good as an SUV.
No Tarmac? No Problem
We didn’t do any serious off-roading with the X-Class, but we did tackle plenty of snowy and rough surfaces that would normally make a regular family crossover struggle to make it through. The X-Class handled itself with poise and felt sturdy regardless of what the course threw at it. The ride was also smoother than in most, if not all, other mid-size pickup trucks I've driven.
The X250d can go about its business using either rear-wheel drive, or, when the going gets tough, four-wheel drive (4H – High or 4L - Low). It’s not permanent AWD though, which is a feature reserved for the X350d.
You can also haul a payload of 1.1 tonnes (2,425 lbs) with it, and tow as much as 3.5 tonnes (7,716 lbs). As for what it can really do in extreme conditions, it’s got a maximum fording depth of 600 mm (23.6 in), a 30-degrees angle of approach and you can tilt it at nearly 50 degrees (49 to be precise).
A Merc That's Priced Close To A Volkswagen
If you’re truly in the market for a mid-size pickup, you might be intrigued to learn that, in certain markets, the X is similarly priced to something like a Ford Ranger Double Cab. We already know that the X-Class starts off from €37,294 in Germany, whereas UK buyers will spend upwards of £27,310 – about the same as you would on a VW Amarok, albeit the V-Dub comes with a V6 TDI engine as standard over there. A quick round-up of all the numbers does show that you’d spend a little more on the X-Class, but for fans of the star, the price gap could be considered negligible.
Unfortunately for US-buyers, the X-Class isn’t coming their way. It will, however, make it to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in early 2018, with Argentina and Brazil to follow in early 2019.
So, What's The Verdict?
We didn’t really know what to expect from the X-Class at first. The concept looked pretty good and its cabin was definitely an upgrade compared to any mid-size pickup out there. In production reality though, unless you go for the flagship model, you’re not getting the whole Mercedes-Benz experience you might expect if you're used to their passenger cars. So yes, the X-Class is at its best when it’s got everything going for it, but in the end, that’s understandable seen as how it's not designed from scratch and, more importantly, it's competitively priced, especially for a Benz.
Let’s just go ahead and call the X-Class a very strong swing at the mid-size pickup segment crown. Time will tell if it can actually claim it, seeing as how there are so many competent alternatives out there, but a) it's got some pretty strong features going for it, and b) it's the only one wearing a premium badge, which might very well play into its hand.
Photos: Andrei Tobosaru/Mercedes-Benz Vans Romania