In the middle of last year, Mercedes-Benz announced it was going to build a pickup truck.
It came as something of a surprise. Pickups tend to be something of an everyman vehicle — they appeal to tradespeople on both sides of the Atlantic for their rugged, load-lugging characters. Mercedes-Benz, as a brand, is not that. It’s an aspirational marque, or a status symbol.
That said, Mercedes does have a very strong commercial vehicle arm, unlike its typical rivals for road cars from Ingolstadt and Munich. Even so, its commercial vehicles, like the Sprinter vans and Actros lorries, are premium models in their sectors too.
Has Mercedes managed to square this circle, and create a working pickup truck with upmarket appeal? We’ve been trying the X-Class out to find out.
Wait… Mercedes made a pickup truck?
In a manner of speaking, yes. Pickups are a sensible choice for a family car where the main earner works in the trades. They’re commercial vehicles, so there’s tax breaks (at least in the UK) for buying one as a work vehicle, and as a four-door, five-seat car, you can take the kids to school. Fun up front, business round the back. Mercedes already makes SUVs and commercial vehicles, so why not blend them?
The issue is that Mercedes-Benz doesn’t have a pickup platform. It’s not short of commercial and off-road platforms, but it doesn’t have anything that would really suit a pickup. Step forward Nissan.
Mercedes has a technical partnership with Nissan. Nissan uses the A/GLA-Class platform (and quite a lot more besides) to make its compact Infiniti Q30/QX30, and the partnership works both ways. If you’re thinking that the X-Class looks quite a lot like the Nissan Navara and Renault Alaskan, you’d be right. They seem all but identical on the outside – and Nissan builds the X-Class at its plant in Barcelona.
What’s new then?
For Mercedes-Benz, this is an entirely new product. If you’ve spent any time in a Navara or Alaskan, it won’t seem quite so new – at least at first.
In fact, most components are different, even if it’s just in some small way. Take the ladder chassis, for example. On the X-Class this is strengthened, and all of the suspension components that hang off it are different. There’s different springs and dampers (both cars have a coil sprung rear), new bushings and disc brakes all round. Moreover, Mercedes has widened the front and rear track by more than two inches.
A closer look at the body reveals some differences too. Aside from the reworked nose, the X-Class is longer, with a longer rear overhang and load bay. The doors are different, the wings are different… in fact Mercedes reckons there’s only five common exterior components.
The cabin is probably the most obvious place for differences. Inside, the Navara feels like a slightly wipe-clean X-Trail, whereas the X-Class is quite clearly a Mercedes-Benz. There’s still a bit of what we’d term “ruggedness”, but with equipment borrowed from elsewhere in the range and more premium materials, it’s quite a different prospect.
Pickups are rubbish on the road though, right?
Oh yeah. These are working vehicles, designed to carry heavy loads. When empty, they’re eager but rattle like the pea in a whistle, but when loaded they’re stable and slow.
The first thing you notice about the X-Class is that this isn’t necessarily the case. While just about every other pickup in the class bangs and squeaks over any kind of bump, the Mercedes just doesn’t.
That’s despite what’s actually a pretty firm ride, all things considered. If you do use your pickup as a working vehicle, it won’t be as comfortable on-site as your colleague’s Navara, nor down the back lanes on the way.
Much of what Mercedes has done underneath the X-Class is with a more car-like experience in mind and, within obvious limitations, it’s a pretty successful result. There’s less roll in the corners and the X-Class is no more difficult to run down a quick road than your average SUV.
Get out onto a highway and it’s almost indistinguishable from any other family car. There’s a lot of sound-deadening material in the X-Class, and while it doesn’t exactly swish like an S-Class, it’s no bad place to be.
One little thorn is the engine. Our test car has the twin-turbodiesel Nissan 2.3. That’s worth 187hp, so it does clip along quite happily, it’s a bit of a chugger at low speeds. There’s certainly less noise than in the Navara, but you won’t mistake the rattle at idle. Mercedes does offer a V6 diesel – its own this time – but we’ve not had a chance to test that out yet.
Off the road, the X-Class is as capable as most other things in the class. The change in suspension makes the going a little rougher, but entry, departure and breakover angles are broadly comparable to the Navara. Our car also has a 20mm suspension lift option, and there’s no sensation that it was even close to overawed driving around the farm in our pictures. Just to make everything even more of a breeze, we’ve got a rear diff lock too.
It’s worth a note that at this level, although four-wheel drive is standard across the range, only Nissan’s switchable system is available. That confers a fuel economy advantage, as you can switch it to rear-wheel drive on the road and only switch to four when mudplugging.
And the interior?
Well, here’s where the X-Class really earns its stripes. It doesn’t have much competition in the category, but the Mercedes interior is very good indeed.
There are some areas where the plastics are a little on the hard-wearing side – the underside of the dashboard and everything below knee-height – but it has to be. This is a commercial vehicle after all, and plush cream carpet wouldn’t survive the first day on the job.
Outwith that, you’ve got a nicely laid-out interior with plenty of tech and decent quality materials. It’s a bit of a cross between a few other Mercedes models – a bit of C-Class here, a drop of V-Class there, and it fits together rather well.
Our “Power” model – the top specification, with Pure at entry and Progressive above that – includes a leather dash upper with contrast stitching and aluminum-style interior trim finish. There’s also part-leather, part-microfiber seats and an automatic climate control system.
All X-Class models get the seven-inch touchscreen, which includes a reversing camera, navigation and DAB radio. However, you’ll need to tick an option box to get the full COMAND system, with a larger screen, traffic alerts and 3D maps. Nonetheless, the screen itself and remote rotary controller will be familiar to Mercedes owners.
There are a couple of leftover items from the Navara though. The worst is that the steering wheel isn’t adjustable for reach, so you’ll need to nudge the seat about to get it properly comfortable. A few switches and the gear lever are also Nissan items. As, ridiculously, is the key.
It does rather go without saying that there’s ample room in the X-Class, but bear in mind that in the rear the floor will seem higher than in an ordinary car. That this is just about the only clue you’re not in the back of a GLE-Class is to the pickup’s credit.
Who’s going to buy the X-Class?
Despite the posh badge, the Mercedes-Benz X-Class is a working man’s (or woman’s) car. It’s designed to be as comfortable as it can be on the road while also carrying a ton of building materials in the load bed and dragging a trailer along.
The number one market then is the self-employed tradesperson with a family. By day it’s a work van, and on the weekend it’s a regular family SUV – just slightly more plush than the regular double-cab pickup.
On any premium German car review, this would be the point where we’d bring up the other two brands. However, neither Audi nor BMW has made any kind of attempt to join Mercedes in this particular niche, which is rather unusual.
Still, just about the closest rival is also a German: the Volkswagen Amarok. This is a similar attempt to smarten up the work truck, but is more of a rival to the V6 X-Class rather than this four-cylinder version.
There’s myriad other one-ton pickups in the UK market. Toyota’s Hilux and the Mitsubishi L200 are probably the most popular, along with the X-Class’s sister car the Navara. You could also pick up a Ford Ranger or Isuzu D-Max, or, in other markets, the Dodge Ram and Renault Alaskan. Most of these options are more compromised on the road than the X-Class, for a better experience on the job.
What’s the conclusion?
A typical commercial vehicle is a very different animal from an ordinary car. We’ve driven everything in the X-Class’s sector at some point, and there’s always the same sort of vibe: driving it on the road feels like taking your cat for a walk. You can do it, but it seems so out of place and it’d really rather be doing something else.
The Mercedes is the first pickup we’ve driven that doesn’t feel like that. There is much more of a sense of belonging on the road. It’s no town car, and it can be harsh over patchy tarmac, but you will catch a glimpse of the load bed behind you and only then remember you’re in a pickup.
To achieve this, Mercedes hasn’t necessarily lost anything of what makes the Navara such a good workhorse in the first place. It’ll still haul a ton in the bed and drag six more behind it. You can still take it into a field, and though the limits of what it can do off-road are fractionally nearer than all of its rivals, they may never end up being truly relevant.
The price is a sticking point — although we’ve chosen to include purchase tax, to make a fair comparison to road cars, this may not be applicable for a business vehicle. Even so, the far more pleasant road manners and more impressive interior environment seem like a fair trade for the premium you’ll pay.
Mercedes-Benz X250d Power
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