This is the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, the pickup truck that everyone is going to want.
Luxury pickup trucks have taken Europe by storm and nowhere more so than in the UK, where sales this year will likely top 55,000 - a 15 percent increase on 2016.
Jointly developed with Renault-Nissan, the X-Class is based on the Nissan Navara and next year’s Renault Alaskan, but it’s a loose connection and a partnership that Mercedes has taken great lengths to make its mark on.
Looking under the skin of the X-Class
While the form may appear familiar, exterior body panels actually share just a few common elements with the Navara. And the inside is almost unrecognisable. Power does come from a shared Renault-built 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine with two outputs – the single-turbo 161bhp X220d and the twin-turbo 187bhp X250d.
A 163bhp petrol engine will be launched in some markets, but the powertrain that should propel the X-Class to the top of the pack is a 255bhp, 542lb ft V6 diesel that will be released in mid-2018.
For now, the X220d gets a six-speed manual transmission as standard, while the X250d receives a seven-speed auto. Both get selectable four-wheel drive, but next year’s V6 will have permanent four-wheel drive and a revised seven-speed automatic gearbox. All models get a low-range gearbox with the option of a locking differential.
The X-Class can tow a 3.5-tonne trailer and transport a maximum load of 1,067kg in a load bed measuring 1587mm by 1560mm.
Touches of luxury in the X-Class
The lifestyle pickup segment is closing the gap on the SUV market and the X-Class is the vehicle setting the standard.
As it stands there are three trims to choose from – Pure, Progressive and Power. The entry-level X-Class Pure trim is a stripped-down, minimalist work model – although better equipped than the equivalents at Ford, Nissan and Toyota. Each Pure trimmed X-Class gets manually adjustable front seats, air conditioning, a reversing camera, electrically adjustable wing mirrors, front foglights and LED load bay lighting and Mercedes’ Audio 20 infotainment system complete with 7.0in screen, rotary controller and Bluetooth connectivity.
More popular will be the Progressive trim, which adds heated wing mirrors, 17in alloy wheels, automatic wipers, carpet mats, a leather steering wheel and an eight-speaker audio system.
The top Power trim sets the X-Class out as a premium pickup, with electrically adjustable front seats, a leather upholstery, keyless entry, climate control, 18in alloy wheels, front and rear LED lights and electrically folding door mirrors.
The X-Class's interior is smarter than the more utilitarian Amarok, but could nevertheless still do with higher-grade plastics on the lower parts of the dash to make the pickup a truly premium commercial vehicle.
Much is made of the 7in infotainment screen that is standard on all models. Its central position above the X-styled air vents – which are pleasingly springy to the touch – draws your attention to the neat media controls.
Mercedes says its aim was to develop the parts of the Navara that you see, touch and feel to make them more befitting of the X-Class. The top half of the dash certainly achieves this but the plastic surrounds to the transmission housing and air conditioning control panel don’t convey the same quality.
Powering the X-Class up
One of the key changes Mercedes has made to enhance the quality feel of the X-Class is with greater sound-deadening to mask what is otherwise a fairly coarse commercial vehicle engine.
Of the power outputs currently available, the X250d is certainly the better matched of the two, with the X220d feeling slightly underpowered even in an unladen vehicle.
For motorway driving, where the X-Class will likely spend much of its time, 187bhp is sufficient and, with the seven-speed automatic gearbox, it feels every bit the capable, comfortable cruiser.
The hydraulic steering is unusually light for a commercial vehicle – another indication of the softer target market – and is initially quite unresponsive and slow. This, however, is not a negative characteristic and actually benefits the X-Class while off-road.
Multilink coil spring suspension front and rear give the X-Class a far more comfortable ride compared with its leaf-sprung rivals and, while driving at speed over rough gravel tracks you’d think the X-Class is a mid-range SUV rather than a ladder frame chassis working vehicle.
It’s the wider front and rear track, now 1632mm and 1625mm respectively, that really contributes most to the dynamics of the truck generating even greater grip levels compared with the Navara.
Is the X-Class a worthy pick-up?
The X-Class is the closet pickup yet to blend working abilities with car-like comfort. More could undoubtedly have been done to push its premium aspirations, but Mercedes has styled and honed it sufficiently to differentiate it from the Navara.
Although priced from £27,310 (excluding VAT, as it’s a commercial vehicle) for an X-Class Pure, the more representative price for the well-specced Power trim is £34,100 (nearly £41,000 including VAT), which makes it £3,600 more than a similar Volkswagen Amarok and £6,500 more than a Navara.
Of course, the X250d is only the beginning of the story; the main event will be the X350d V6. Only then will the X-Class truly come into its own.