X marks class: We drive Mercedes' new X250 diesel ute
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Mercedes-Benz will become the first mainstream premium manufacturer to introduce a range of utes when the X-Class models arrive in New Zealand next year.
Initially, the company will offer the utes with two four-cylinder diesel engine options in April, with an even more powerful V6 diesel engine arriving later in the year.
Although the new models are based on the Nissan Navara platform, Mercedes-Benz engineers have produced a vastly different vehicle that is wider, longer and quieter than the Navara.
With precise suspension tuning, structural reinforcements on the Navara frame and significant bodywork changes, Mercedes-Benz says it has elevated the comfort and quality feel levels within the ute sector.
The German marque says it has combined the typical traits of a ute, of robustness and functionality, strength and off-road capability, with the driving characteristics people expect from Mercedes-Benz sedans.
The three model options are the Pure basic variant for traditional robust use, the Progressive for a higher level of comfort and quality, and the top-of-the range Power models aimed at urban lifestyles.
We were among the first in the world to drive the X-Class Power ute in Chile late last week, and after hundreds of kilometres on motorways, rough pot-holed secondary roads and unsealed gravel roads, it proved robust, exceptionally quiet, and comfortable — for a ute.
The X-Class has a tough, aggressive appearance at the front, and a clean and simple appearance at the rear.
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Every exterior panel, including the doors, has been redesigned and changed to distinguish the X-Class from its Navara origins.
However, starting the X-Class project with an existing ute platform cut about 40 per cent off the lead-time for developing a new model. It normally takes between six and seven years to develop a new model but the X-Class utes are going on sale within four years of the project starting.
Mercedes-Benz will announce prices for the utes before the end of the year but, if European prices are an indicator, the models will sell here for more than $70,000.
The German marque says utes are no longer viewed purely as workhorses, but are popular with those who lead an active lifestyle.
The company has shied away from offering a single-cab version and is instead concentrating on the booming double-cab ute market, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, which it describes as “the natural habitat” of the ute.
The models are primarily aimed at buyers in Australasia, South America and South Africa. They will compete with the high-end versions of Ford’s Ranger, Toyota’s Hilux, Holden’s Colorado and Volkswagen’s resurgent Amarok utes.
The product marketing and management head of the X-Class project, Christian Pohl, said the initial production run in Spain had gone well and the models had been well received in Europe.
“The X-Class sits naturally in our SUV portfolio of models. You can blaze a trail through the outback or drive it through urban areas looking for a restaurant,” he told journalists in Santiago.
Mercedes-Benz started the ute project with the Nissan Navara ladder frame, but says its own engineers and designers have worked to develop all of the X-Class “touch and feel, and driveability”.
The X-Class has a wider track than the Navara. Mercedes says this, plus the spring and damping system, is tuned to provide the comfort typical of other Mercedes-Benz models.
It says the precise suspension tuning and structural reinforcements on the frame and bodyshell mean the X-Class offers passengers a noise and vibration level on a par with the V-Class MPV.
The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing and differential lock on the rear axle means the utes could tackle any terrain. From the middle of next year a permanent all-wheel-drive model will be available.
Initially there will be a diesel X220 d base model, producing 120kW of power, along with an X 250 d engine that produces 140kW.
When the new V6 engine becomes available, from the middle of next year, it will produce 190kW.
Mercedes says the X-Class can haul a payload of up to 1.1 tonnes — enough to transport 17 full 50-litre barrels of beer in the cargo area.
The company says it is able to tow up to 3.5 tonnes, and can pull a trailer containing three horses, or an 8m yacht.
Inside the cabin, the X-Class has the large round dials from the C-Class and V-Class Mercedes models, with the command online multimedia system featuring an 8.4-inch screen.
X-Class models in New Zealand will all have a multi-function touchpad familiar from the sedans, and a 12-button multi-function steering wheel.
Handling and power aplenty
We drove the new Mercedes-Benz X 250 diesel model across a wide range of roads and gravel tracks south of Chile’s capital Santiago.
Some of the secondary roads had deep potholes and ragged tarmac, but the X-Class X250 handled them with ease.
It was equally at home during a half-day of off-roading, although the track was drier and harder than the model will have to cope with here.
The four-cylinder X 250 will initially be the top-of-the-range X-Class model available in New Zealand, from April.
It is powered by the proven 2.3 litre Nissan diesel engine that puts out 140 kW and 450Nm of torque between 1500 and 2500rpm.
The interior is smart, with features such as the central touchpad, screens and other features familiar from Mercedes-Benz models such as the C-Class sedan.
It sits on the road and handles corners much better than most utes available today, and is loaded with technological features such as lane-keeping assist, traffic-signal assist, and a parking package with a 360-degree camera on board.
There is plenty of power available quickly and the cabin is much quieter than other utes.
With its 19-inch summer tyres, it handles some atrocious road conditions with ease.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox operates effectively and smoothly.
Even after a full day of driving more than 250km, the seats remained comfortable and the ride almost sports saloon-like.