First drive: Mercedes X-Class
Mercedes has built excellent vans for many years, but the X-Class is the brand's first foray into the lucrative pick-up truck market. AOL Cars gets behind the wheel...
What is it?
There aren't too many niches left to fill in the car world, what with coupe-SUVs, off-road city cars and crossover estates. However, Mercedes thinks it's found a new gap in the market – the premium pick-up truck.
This isn't as daft as it might sound at first. With more and more people buying pick-up trucks to use as their main family car, there's actually quite a big portion of the market who'd like their rugged workhorse to be a bit less utilitarian and a bit more luxurious. With almost a thousand pre-orders since the truck was revealed nine months ago, Mercedes could be on to something.
SEE ALSO: Nissan Navara first drive
Though the X-Class is an all-new model for Mercedes, there's some familiar tech underneath – the platform is the same as the one that underpins the Nissan Navara.
That means the only engine currently available is the same 2.3-litre diesel four-cylinder as you'll find in the Japanese truck, while the transmission and four-wheel drive system is also carried over.
The differences are mainly external. The exterior styling is sleeker than the Navara's, while Mercedes has tweaked the suspension to give the X-Class a much better ride. The interior is also a massive step up, ditching the Navara's utilitarian materials for some that are a bit more 'Mercedes'.
What's under the bonnet?
There's one 2.3-litre diesel, which is available in two states of tune. The lower-powered model X220d has 161bhp, while the X250d has 188bhp. We drove the latter, and found it surprisingly slow. Once up to speed it's fine, but the engine has to be worked hard to get there.
It has plenty of torque at lower speeds, meaning the X-Class remains capable off-road. We took it on a particularly boggy 4x4 course and it had no trouble getting itself out of trouble.
A more powerful engine is on the way, however – a V6 diesel unit with 255bhp and a monstrous 550Nm of torque. We're expecting it to be the pick of the range when it goes on sale in mid-2018.
What's it like to drive?
Most pick-up trucks have rock-hard suspension on the rear axle, to compensate for heavy loads. This normally leads to a very jiggly ride. However, in the X-Class, Mercedes has managed to tame this, and so the truck is best-in-class for ride quality.
This is due to two changes Mercedes has made over the Navara – new rear suspension and a wider rear track. The latter helps make the X-Class more stable than the Navara, while the road-tuned suspension cancels out the jiggling.
It's also pretty impressive in corners, without too much body roll. However, slow steering means it's best to take it easy, otherwise you could find yourself coming unstuck in tighter turns.
How does it look?
The rear two-thirds of the X-Class are pretty forgettable – unfortunately there's only so much you can do with a regular pick-up. However, the designers have worked their magic at the front end, and the truck has an unmistakably 'Mercedes' face.
It's a real head-turner, especially in the pickup truck market, where vehicles are defined by straight lines and rugged aesthetics. We suspect it will appeal to car drivers trading up, who aren't happy about sacrificing the good looks of their executive saloons.
Higher-spec Progressive and Power models get shiny chrome trim and expensive alloys, but the entry level Pure gets steel wheels – perfect if you want to enjoy the X-Class without worrying about damaging alloy wheels. The simple look doesn't work quite so well on the road, but the Pure model does have a slightly more function-over-form ethos than the rest of the range – and mingles well with Mercedes' own range of vans.
What's it like inside?
The X-Class's interior is a mixed bag – the clash between the brand's reputation for high-quality interiors doesn't quite gel with the need for all-weather functionality.
Still, by pick-up standards, the X-Class is one of the best – with stylish air vents and a prominent, feature-packed infotainment screen.
Material quality is best described as 'premium for a pick-up' – but if you're coming out of one of the road cars and expecting the same level, you might be disappointed.
What's the spec like?
The X-Class is well-equipped regardless of trim levels, but most buyers will want to skip entry-level Pure grade and head for Progressive or Power instead.
Opt for top-spec Power and you get chrome detailing, body-coloured bumpers, 17-inch alloy wheels and all-round LED lighting. Inside, there's artificial leather and microfiber upholstery for the very comfortable seats, which also come electrically adjustable.
The entry-level model starts at £27,310 – excluding VAT, for commercial buyers. Private purchases will be looking at about £40,000 for a top-spec Power model, which is a bit hard to stomach – a more refined and comfortable GLC SUV is about that price.
Compared with its rivals in the pick-up sector, the Mercedes X-Class is a bit of a revelation to drive. The German manufacturer has clearly spent its budget on ride refinement, giving the X-Class as car-like a driving experience as you'll find anywhere in this sector.
Those simply looking for a practical family bus would be better served by an estate or SUV, but commercial buyers, or private buyers who need the ruggedness of a pick up will appreciate the interior creature comforts and well-sized load bay. It also makes decent financial sense for the commercial buyer.
Model tested: Mercedes-Benz C-Class Power
Price: £34,100 (excluding VAT)
Engine: 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Max speed: 109mph
0-60mph: 11.6 seconds
Fuel economy: 35.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 207g/km