“What is it?” I’m asked for about the 60th time in a week, with a finger pointed at the Mercedes-Benz X-Class I’m currently driving. “It’s the Mercedes-Benz…” don’t-call-it-a-Nissan-Navara “X-Class, the new double cab pick-up from Merc.” It was made plainly obvious to me upon collection that the guys and girls at Mercedes’ HQ are getting pretty tired of all the ‘Navara in Mascara’ comments surrounding their first ever double-cab bakkie. “It may be underpinned by a Navara chassis,” I’m told upon collecting it, “but it’s very much a Mercedes product.”
It has a Mercedes-Benz badge on the bonnet, one on the tail, and a rather large, slightly skew one on the grille. The headlights and bumper styling are in line with the latest Mercedes design language, and truth told, from the exterior, this particular white X250d looks imposing, and pretty damn good looking to my eye. Climb inside and there’s a standard Mercedes-Benz steering wheel – making it the best steering wheel in any double-cab on the market – Mercedes-style dash and air vents, Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system, and a set of Mercedes gauges staring back at me. Visually, it’s more Merc than Nissan.
But it’s lacking in several departments. For one, storage capacity is limited – with just a cup holder, a small binnacle on the centre console, a storage bin beneath the armrest, and the door pockets to place anything in. Despite the sheer size of the X-Class, there are awfully few places for drinks, cell phones, wallets and the likes. Secondly, and perhaps crucially, is that the interior lacks real levels of comfort. It’s not just that this R701 615 Progressive model lacks dual-zone climate, but the seats are uncomfortable too – and after an hour in the X250d I was in dire need of respite – and all the main contact points are clad in hard plastics, including the door armrests with a padded-look hard plastic section that does you no favours.
I understand the need for durable interiors on a vehicle that is after all intended as a workhorse, but the abundance of harsh plastics stands not only in contrast with the Mercedes-Benz badge on the nose, but with the overall look, and crucially the price of the X-Class. Whilst it may look Mercedes on the surface, it seems to be actually just a veneer.
The Nissan influence is hidden beneath the surface, as the X-Class runs on the same chassis as the Navara, and until such time as the V6-powered X350d arrives, it’s powered by a Nissan engine too. In this X250d guise, the 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel 4-cylinder develops 140kW @ 3750rpm with a maximum twist of 450Nm of torque available from 1500-2500rpm. This 4Matic Progressive model features selectable four-wheel drive; with high and low range transfer cases, and diff-locks to ensure maximum capability. Drive is sent through a 6-speed manual gearbox before reaching the wheels.
With the manual gearbox equipped, the engine feels punchy as you row through the gears, though there’s more than just a hint of turbo lag before the slug of torque arrives. The firm clutch and high level of effort required to manhandle each gearshift are definitely aligned with a workhorse-like physicality – the automatic model would definitely suit the Mercedes-Benz persona more. Despite being a newly developed engine by Nissan, the twin-turbo mill still feels rather agricultural, with course vibrations pulsing through the pedal and a tractor-like soundtrack not really befitting of a product from one of the world’s foremost luxury brands. It’s nothing out of character for a double-cab bakkie, and the motor is still one of the better diesel mills out of the current double-cab crop, but it’s at odds with the 3-pointed star that’s hard to ignore both inside and outside of the X-Class.
The X-Class makes use of the same 5-link coil spring rear suspension as the Navara, however, the setup has been tuned specifically for the X-Class by Mercedes engineers for greater levels of comfort. The result is a softer ride than you’d find on most double-cabs in the segment, though the ride is still rather busy all things considered. On dirt surfaces, there’s a good level of pliancy, but the softer suspension setup yields severe porpoising over larger bumps. Though in some areas there are benefits to the softer suspension tune, even on the road they don’t exactly provide an overwhelming benefit over the firmer setups in other bakkies in this class.
The body on frame X-Class retains the standard and unavoidable ‘body shuffle’ of other double cabs, but on the whole, handling is rather impressive. Though the X-Class fails to shrink around the driver, never disguising that it is, in fact, massive, there’s a good sense of road placement when on the move, and the lane departure warning on this Progressive model provides fair warning when you lose your way a little.
As is to be expected, steering feel is rather vague on road, but when off-road the lack of directness is welcome as the steering wheel only shuffles about over serious camber changes, thus not overloading the pilot with feedback.
It’s probably off the beaten track where the X-Class is actually most competent, with approach, departure, and break over angles a respectable 29°, 24°, and 20.4° respectively. Combined with the diff-lock and choice of low or high range transfer cases, the X-Class is as capable off-road as its Japanese counterpart is – and that’s a good thing.
You see, whilst many might lament the decision to base the X-Class so strongly on Navara underpinnings, it’s hardly a bad thing at all. The Navara is a highly competent double-cab, with proven capability and reliability on its side. “It makes sense to utilize the existing partnership between Daimler and Renault-Nissan, as Mercedes currently has no experience in the segment whereas Nissan does.” I’m told. “When the second generation arrives it’ll be even less Nissan, and by the time the 3rd generation rolls out, it’ll likely be on an all-Mercedes platform.” But in the meantime, the choice to go with the Navara as a base is a solid one.
The X-Class is a fairly competent double-cab option, with no glaringly obvious physical downsides compared to rivals in the segment. In fact, the biggest downside to the X-Class isn’t that it’s based on the Nissan Navara, but rather that it wears a Mercedes-Benz badge.
That three-pointed star on the nose sets the bar far higher than the X-Class is actually able to deliver – because when people see that star they expect luxury, they expect refinement, and they expect something a cut above the rest. The X-Class doesn’t do enough to set itself apart in any way that warrants the price premium. It’s a very competent bakkie, but is it ‘the Mercedes-Benz of pickups’ – not really. If the badges and visual cues were removed I’d be hard-pressed to actually identify it amidst the throngs of pickups currently flooding the market. In a segment where this was supposed to be the standout premium alternative, if you want premium feel, you’d be better off buying a VW Amarok.
Pricing & Options Equipped
|Base Price:||R701 615.00|
|Hard Tonneau Cover:||R28 827.00|
|Storage Box:||R9 551.00|
|Cargo Rails in Load Bed:||R8 230.00|
|Style Package:||R27 600|
|Rear Privacy Glass|
|Electric Rear Window|
|18-inch alloy wheels|
|255/60 R18 Tyres|
|LED High Performance Headlights|
|Partial LED Taillamps|
|Reversing Camera:||R5 649.00|
|Total cost of options:||R86 757.00|
|Total Price as tested:||R788 372.00|