Much is expected of the modern ute: Part-time family car, sometimes luxury car and always capable of either being a workhorse or an adventure machine.

The explosion in popularity in so-called ‘one-tonne’ utes has seen brands normally driven by propery developers suddenly appealing to those doing the hard work.

None has made a more significant transition into the ute segment than Mercedes-Benz. The German luxury car giant has a long history of commercial vehicles, specifically vans, but has decided to follow fellow German brand Volkswagen into the ute fight.

The German car maker has found a short-cut into this new territory and teamed up with Nissan to create the X-Class, utilising the current-generation Navara as its foundations but adding some of its own character to it to make it worthy of the three-pointed star. But has it succeeded?

What do you get?

While it would be easy to dismiss the X-Class as an overpriced Navara, that would be an oversimplification. Yes, the two utes share plenty of mechanical DNA, including the basic body-on-frame underpinnings and 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine in the X250d were testing.

But the X-Classs unique bodywork is 70mm wider (only the side glass and door handles are shared between the Mercedes and Nissan) and the interior is largely styled by Benz.

But the new looks and badge bring with it a hefty price premium; The Navara dual cab range starts at $42,990 but the most affordable X220d Pure is priced from $50,400.

We’re testing the current range-topper, the X250d Power which will set you back $61,600, almost $10k more than the top-of-the-line Navara ST-X.

For that money you get a well equipped ute though, with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, chrome exterior highlights, keyless entry and ignition, faux-leather trim, dual-zone air-conditioning, a 7-inch infotainment screen, navigation and a surround-view parking camera.

Our test car was fitted with the Style Package, which is only available on the Power trim line for an extra $2490, and brings 19-inch rims, side steps, roof rails, tinted windows and a power rear window to access the tray.

What the X-Class offers above all its rivals is better safety credentials with autonomous emergency braking standard across the range, which is likely to be a catalyst for rpaid change throughout the segment. But Mercedes didn’t stop there, with lane keeping assist and seven airbags also part of the package.

What’s inside?

While its easy to see the skeleton of the Navaras cabin, with cheap plastic surrounding the gear selector and a smattering of switchgear from the Japanese brand, the X-Class does have a more premium ambience with its bolder design.

While the keyfob is disappointingly a Nissan part, theres plenty of styling cues to remind owners why theyve paid more for the X-Class with the three-pointed star sitting proudly in the centre of the three-spoke steering wheel lifted from the pre-facelifted C-Class, plus theres Mercedes instruments and its turbine air vents take inspiration from the AMG GT sports coupe.

Its a bit of a mixed bag in the end, and not quite the huge leap forward in luxury youd expect from a ute wearing a Mercedes badge.

The bigger body brings an extra 50mm of cabin space, but, in reality, it doesn’t feel noticeably bigger than the Navara.

The front seats are comfortable though and theres generous room in the back with its theatre-style bench sitting higher and offering enough kneeroom for a couple of adults to ride - at least for short trips - without feeling too cramped.

As for the practical elements, Mercedes claims a payload of up to 1067kg for the X-Class and a maximum towing capacity of 3500kg.

Under the bonnet

While the exterior is Mercedes designed, underneath its skin the German brand has relied heavily on its Japanese partner. The 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel engine is the same found in the Navara ST-X, tuned to produce the identical outputs of 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque. It’s also paired to the same transmissions, offering the choice between the standard six-speed manual or an optional seven-speed automatic.

Not surprisingly, there’s nothing unique about the way the X250d performs. Theres still a sense of lethargy under initial acceleration as the turbos build up boost, which then reveals a free-revving character through its strong mid-range. Keep it spinning in the sweet spot and the X250d is perfectly adequate for regular around town work, but it needs to be worked harder when carrying a load or towing.

It cant completely mask the diesel sound track it produces either, but Mercedes has injected the X-Class with more sound deadening material than the Navara which makes it noticeably quieter - particularly at cruising speeds.

If youre looking for more grunt and refinement, Mercedes will launch the flagship X350d variants soon which are powered by its own 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel and produce near-benchmark outputs of 190kW and 550Nm.

On the road

The chassis and suspension is also shared between the X-Class and Navara, which means the Benz also uses the coil-spring set-up that has caused such controversy in the Nissan.

The Japanese brand believed the layout would offer more car-like levels of comfort without compromising payload capability, but it missed the mark on both counts. Fortunately for Mercedes the X-Class uses the most recently updated set-up, which it has then fine-tuned. The end result makes it more capable of taking a load without hitting the bump stops while bringing a little more composure to its road manners in everyday use. Its still not the benchmark for comfort - and far from a genuine luxury vehicle - and, while the steering is a little meatier in its weight across the ratio, it never feels relaxed.

Verdict

The X-Class definitely feels like a two-in-the-water exercise rather than a genuine Mercedes-Benz. The German brand will no doubt learn some valuable lessons and better understand what cashed-up tradies expect from a dual-cab wearing its three-pointed star and the hefty price tag it commands.

The more powerful X350d variants might be a better representation of the brand, but until it arrives the X250d isnt a giant leap forwards for the dual-cab ute segment.

2018 Mercedes-Benz X250d Power pricing and specifications

Price: From $61,600 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel

Power: 140kW at 3750rpm

Torque: 450Nm at 1500-2500rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual or seven-speed auto, four-wheel-drive

Fuel use: 7.9L/100km

The Competitors

Toyota HiLux Rogue

Price: From $61,690 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel

Power: 130kW at 340rpm

Torque: 450Nm at 1600-2400rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic, 4WD

Fuel use: 8.5L/100km

Our score: 7/10

Volkswagen Amarok V6 Highline

Price: From $60,490 plus on-road costs

Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel

Power: 165kW at 2500-4500rpm

Torque: 550Nm at 1500-2500rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

Fuel use: 7.8L/100km

Our score: 7/10

Nissan Navara ST-X

Price: From $51,490 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel

Power: 140kW at 3750rpm

Torque: 450Nm at 1500-2500rpm

Transmission: Six speed man or seven-speed auto, four-wheel-drive

Fuel use: 6.8L/100km

Our score: 6.5/10

Source: Drive

November 8, 2018