Mercedes picks up the pace

For Irish buyers a pick-up is ideal for the farmyard and the forest, far less so for a city centre car park

A premium pick-up, but could havebeen so much better if built on G-Wagen pedigree

Make: Mercedes-Benz

Model: X-Class

Year: 2018

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: April 4, 2018

Wed, Apr 11, 2018, 07:15

   

If the family saloon is yesterday’s car, and the SUV crossover is of today, then the pick-up is for tomorrow.

Rubbish, I hear you cry. “What about self-driving electric cars?” Well, we’re still waiting for the electric car sales surge, while self-driving private cars on the forecourts of Buncrana and Bunclody are still some way down the road. And both technologies may be installed in future pick-ups, in any case. In fact they will have to be, if car firms hope to convert middle America to the electric autonomous cause.

Europeans look down their noses at Americana, but the shows we watch, the clothes we wear, the food we eat and, increasingly, the cars we drive, show that we are addicted to its culture and apparel.

So we smugly sniggered at the turn of the century SUV craze in the US, then duly followed suit. Industry boffins, paid big bucks to spot consumer trends, reckon we will do the same with pick-up trucks. I admit that I guffawed when I heard it as well, but it’s already starting to take root.

According to industry magazine Automotive News, in the first half of last year 80,300 pick-ups were sold in Europe. While that’s still minuscule compared with the US, which counts sales in the millions, it’s a growth market. This year pick-up sales are expected to exceed 200,000 across the continent.

Ultimate accolade

These trucks should be too big, too thirsty and too unrefined for European tastes. Yet there are several household names – such as Renault, Fiat and the PSA Group – getting in on the act. Now enters what is billed as a premium pick-up from Mercedes, the X-Class. VW is already an old hand in this space courtesy of its relatively impressive Amarok, while the titan of pick-ups, favourite of every despot and rag-tag band of rebels across the planet, remains the Toyota Hilux.

It’s the ultimate accolade bestowed on any brand that people whose lives depend on reliability consistently opt for the Hilux. However, you’re unlikely to see a Toyota ad starring al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri any time soon. Whether the remaining rump of al-Qaeda will be won over by the new X-Class remains to be seen.

Practically speaking, for Irish buyers a pick-up is ideal for the farmyard and the forest, far less so for the city centre car park and pretty tight for the shopping centre. Yet Mercedes Ireland reckons its new X-Class is a lifestyle option, tailored more for mountain bikers than mountain men.

Underpinnings

The badge will certainly act as bait, but underneath is largely the underpinnings of the Nissan Nivara, which also provides the basis for the recently launched Renault Alaskan. All three are built at Nissan’s plant in Barcelona, Spain.

So what do you get from the rebadged Nissan? For a start, the towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes and the capability to load more than one tonne in the rear load bay.

That big rear end is both a boon and a bugbear, however. It’s either open to the elements or at best covered with a thin metal cover that’s secured with a pretty basic lock. Even then, you need to strap your load down to stop it sliding all over the back when you are on the road.

The 2.3-litre copes admirably with the two tonnes of metal it has to haul around. Available in either 160bhp as the X220d or 190bhp in the X250d as tested by us, it’s a steady if not stellar performer and the seven-speed automatic isn’t tuned for pace. This pick-up is not quick, with a 0-100km/h time of 11 seconds, and when you do floor the throttle, the momentary pause for breath before the engine hits a deep diesel roar and builds up its momentum. There is more pep on the way this summer when the X350d arrives with a 255bhp V6 diesel.

For most pick-up buyers, however, weight matters more than engine output, for it’s the vehicle’s weight that determines the motor tax due on standard commercial vehicles. In this case, weighing in below three tonnes means an annual bill of just €333. Based on CO2 emissions, if registered and taxed as a private car, the bill is a hefty €1,200 a year. If you follow all the rules, the annual commercial vehicle test will cost €111.16. The test must be carried out every year.

Off-roading ability

Of course commercial vehicles should “not be used at any time for social, domestic or pleasure purposes”, according to the letter of the law and many insurance policies. A quick perusal of the average pub or sports club car park would suggest it’s not a rule that’s heavily enforced or respected.

In terms of off-roading ability, the current crop comes with selectable four-wheel drive, though the X350d will arrive with permanent four-wheel drive. Engaging four-wheel drive on our X250d made a noticeable difference to the steering feel on the road, but on the rough and tumble you also get the benefit of a low-range gearbox. Oddly, a locking differential is only an option and not a standard fit, perhaps signalling again that this is more about lifestyle buyers than work sites.

Steering feel is surprisingly light for a pick-up, though it does get noticeably heavier when four-wheel drive is engaged, but the X-Class is surprisingly comfortable as a cruiser, despite its size. The ride is also noticeably better than rivals, sitting as it is on multilink coil springs rather than rudimentary lead springs fitted to rivals.

And yet, this car could have been so much better. Mercedes is no novice to off-roading. This is the company that gave us the G-Wagen, archrival to the Land Rover Defender when it comes to off-road credentials. It can cross a river that would drown a Defender and conquer the sort of climbs that humbles a Toyota Land Cruiser. This is the car upon which Mercedes-Benz should have based a new pick-up, not some rather run-of the-mill Nissan.

Three flavours

On the options front, the X-Class comes in three flavours – Pure, Progressive and Power. Although prices start at €39,950 for the rather basic Pure, given the lifestyle pitch being made by Mercedes, buyers are likely to opt for the higher trim on the Progressive – at €42,300 in X220d guise or €44,850 in X250d – or Power, which is only offered on the X250d and starts at €51,000.

Those are quite a bit higher than the equivalent Nissan, which starts at €34,995 and rises to €44,250 for the automatic 190bhp with leather seats. Or €36,500 for the double cab Toyota Hilux. Or €37,215 for the Amarok for that matter.

Yet history shows that badge snobbery remains strong so it’s likely that lifestyle buyers may well pick up a premium pick-up. At the higher spec and thanks to some nip and tuck engineering by Mercedes, the X-Class does deliver enough style, comfort and premium aspirations to warrant consideration by “lifestyle” buyers. After a week behind the wheel I wanted to keep on truckin’.

It’s no G-Wagen, though, which is a shame for the X-Class could have been so much better. If you really want to stand out from the crowd – and have a bulging bank balance – then that’s the rugged off-road Merc you should buy.