4X4 Reviews Vehicles

2018 Mercedes X-Class off-road test

We take the X250d Power off the bitumen to see if it’s a proper 4WD

Mercedes-Benz is a company with some serious 4WD heritage and clout. Unlike BMW and Audi, for example, Mercedes has been building proper off-road vehicles for many years. Look at what the Australian Army is getting around in these days, and you’ll see G-Class 4X4s, 6X6s and Unimogs.

CLICK HERE TO READ THIS ROAD TEST IN OUR ONLINE MAGAZINE

The X-Class is the brand’s first foray into the Australian 4WD ute market. It’s a market brimming with competition, innovation and growth, so they are going to have their work cut out for them. Mercedes has used Nissan’s Navara as a base for their own ute, rather than start from scratch. It’s not just badge engineering, although the only engine option for the time being is a direct copy of the Navara’s offering.

Inside

Inside the X-Class is one place where you’ll find some stark difference between the Benz and its oriental cousin. The Navara certainly doesn’t have a bad interior, but the Mercedes does up the ante nicely. It’s a great combination of being practical and uncluttered at the same time, with an aesthetic that hasn’t really been seen in ute land.

The other good thing about this X-Class is the quietness. It leaves the Navara feeling very agricultural. Engine noise has been drastically reduced with sound deadening, and general road and wind noise is lower as well. This comes down to the shape of the vehicle, as well as tyre choice (more on that later).

The Driveline

The X-Class engine options remain completely unchanged from what’s under the Navara’s bonnet: a Renault-sourced 2.3-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel donk. It uses the turbos sequentially: one (smaller) working at the lower rev range for the initial surge of torque, and the second (larger) takes over progressively as the revs and airflow increases.

Peak power is 140kW @ 3750rpm. Torque is rated at 450Nm @ 1500-2500rpm, and it’s only really just enough to get the X-Class shifting along acceptably. Both running through the same seven-speed gearbox, the Navara has a 70.7kW/kg power-to-weight ratio, but the X-Class is a bit lower (66.6kW/kg). Maybe it’s the badge, but I did expect a little more from the X-Class. The higher the power-to-weight ratio, the better the performance

For comparison, here is some of the competition:

  • Ranger Wildtrak: 64.2
  • HiLux SR5: 64.8
  • D-Max LS-T: 66.0
  • BT-50 GT: 69.4
  • Colorado Z71: 70.4
  • Triton Exceed: 70.9
  • Amarok V6 Ultimate: 85.3

It’s a decent indicator of how much boogie these cars will have, but isn’t the whole story. Torque is very important as well. Actually, it’s more important for a 4X4. So, pay attention to those newton-metres (and where they are on the tacho).

On-Road

The Navara is a big move forward in terms of comfort and on-road compliance. The X-Class definitely ups the ante, however. A wider track, bitumen-oriented rubber and stacks of sound deadening makes this Mercedes feel noticeably more refined than other utes. Seating is really nice, and the general ergonomics of the interior are all nicely practical. If you had to punch out stacks of kays, there would certainly be much worse vehicles to do it in.

Off-Road

The X-Class has all of the same ingredients as other utes when looking at off-road capability: IFS, live rear axle, and a rear locking differential supplemented by an off-road traction control system. It all works quite nicely. Suspension is certainly firmer than other utes, which means less articulation is available. Ground clearance, especially approach and departure angles, aren’t as good as other utes either. If you’re buying purely for off-road capability, there are better options out there. The X-Class is good, but not the best.

Despite all of the chat about prestige, refinement and luxury, the X-Class still has a job to do: walk the multi-faceted tightrope between working rig, weekend adventurer and family taxi. And most importantly, does it have the ingredients to take on some touring in Australia’s wide brown and red land?

The short answer is yes. Even in Power specification, the X-Class has a solid payload in four figures. The towing capacity is 3.5 tonnes, but like the Navara, you’re left with a really crappy sub-500kg payload if you want to pull the maximum weight behind you.

Fit some decent all terrain tyres with light-truck construction, and you’ll be more confident and capable off the tarmac. But, you’ll probably sacrifice refinement and increase noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) on-road.

X-Class vs Navara. What’s the difference?
Track width:

Track width of the Navara is 1570mm. The X-Class is wider, with 1632 in the front and 1625 in the rear. Suspension and chassis haven’t been tweaked to achieve this increase; wheel offset, axles and hub design have been tweaked, however.

Chassis:

Mercedes has taken the Nissan base and beefed it up with some extra bracing and crossmembers. We’ve heard that Mercedes did this originally for the V6 X350d, but have since chosen to use this chassis across the board. This makes the chassis much stiffer, and also heavier. 

Weight:

Along with the sound insulation, the modifications to the Navara’s chassis are no doubt the source of the extra kilograms. Comparing top-spec with top-spec, the X-Class (2161kg) is 182kg heavier than the Navara (1979kg). The GVM has also increased for a larger payload (1021kg vs 931kg), but you can definitely notice the extra weight in terms of engine performance.

Wheels and tyres:

The Navara tops out the range in ST-X form, which is shod in 255/60 R18 rubber. The X-Class matches that size, but defies the range of 4WD utes with a 19-inch wheel option: 255/55 R19. That tyre size doesn’t scream Birdsville Track to me, but what’s more compelling for me is the tyre choice. I don’t think a 4WD has rolled off the showroom floor with a proper tyre since Land Rover were fitting Goodyear MTRs to Defenders, but this seriously highway terrain choice of rubber shows where Mercedes’ allegiances lie: more on road than off it.

Price:

Naturally, the X-Class is seen as a more premium option. So, the price is more than a Navara. Where an automatic Navara ST-X has a $54,490 price tag, the Mercedes is asking almost exactly ten grand more: $64,500. Is it worth more money? If things like refinement, safety, on-road handling and a flash interior are your priorities, then probably. But if they are, I need to ask the question: why the hell are you buying a 4WD ute?

 

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