Is the new V6-powered $80k Mercedes ute worth buying?
SINCE the four-cylinder Mercedes-Benz X-Class launched in April last year, sales have been pretty slow. Perhaps one-tonner buyers are unimpressed by a badge and well-informed about hardware, which in the case of the X-Class is mostly shared with the Nissan Navara.
The X-Class hasn't done any damage - yet - to the front-running Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux. In 2018 each outsold it by about 25 to one.
That may change with the arrival of the X350d 4Matic. It's got more genuine Mercedes in it, notably Stuttgart's own 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, hooked up to a seven-speed automatic and permanent all-wheel drive with a dual-range transfer case and rear differential lock.
In Progressive and Power grades, the X-Class is priced respectively at $73,270 and $79,415.
That makes X350 Power the most expensive one-tonner on the market. Next is Ford's Ranger Raptor at $74,990, then VW's Amarok TDi580 Ultimate at $72,790.
Its closest rival price-wise is the RAM 1500 Express 5.7-litre V8 monster, at $79,950.
Power includes fake leather upholstery, dash and door trims, aluminium dash trim, black roof lining, leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle-shifters, automatic LED headlights, power adjustable front seats with lumbar adjustment, dual-zone aircon, keyless entry and start and 19-inch alloys with 255/55 Bridgestone Dueler HT tyres.
In the tray are track-mounted adjustable load securing lugs on each side, plus a light.
Our test ute added a $2090 Style Pack, with tinted glass, Nissan's power operated sliding rear window, side steps and roof rails, plus leather upholstery ($1750), metallic paint ($950), tub liner ($899), bogan bar … sorry … "silver styling bar" ($1551) and towbar ($2063).
Total spend: $88,718. Add dealer delivery, statutory on-road costs, plus insurance, and you're looking at about $95,000.
The X350 is a good thing but at the end of the day it's just a bloody ute. I cannot get my head around that number.
The Mercedes comes close to some big SUVs in the smoothness and absorbency of its ride (in part due to coils at the rear rather the usual ute leaf springs) and low cabin noise levels, even on rough dirt tracks.
Lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel means restricted legroom for tall drivers; thick front pillars impede forward vision. Rear legroom is reasonable, though the elevated bench is a bit of a plank and tall passengers will test headroom.
Lack of centre console storage is a major blunder. Other makers recognise it as a priority because many owners use their ute as an office but in the X-Class you search in vain for somewhere handy to put your phone.
You face a plain dash with analog instruments and infotainment that includes navigation, digital radio and a rotary dial/cursor controller supplemented by a touchpad.
Such technology is being superseded in new stablemates, cars and SUVs alike, by all-digital dials and the Mercedes Benz User Experience (MBUX) touch/voice interface.
The safety story is similar. All Mercedes cars now have, as standard or options, adaptive cruise and blind spot monitoring. Neither is available in the X-Class.
That said, this is one of the better-equipped one-tonners, with autonomous emergency braking (up to 105km/h), active lane keeping, tyre pressure monitoring and 360-degree camera.
If you're prepared to pay this much for a one-tonner, the V6 is why you would do it. The Mercedes engine, and VW's 3.0-litre V6, are superior to the four-cylinder (and Ford's
3.2-litre five-cylinder in Ranger) sluggers found elsewhere in every respect bar fuel economy, where the difference isn't great.
The V6s do it easier off the bottom, muscle up more in the mid-range and let rip at the top end, where the fours bundy off. From 3200rpm-4200rpm, the Mercedes feels almost like a petrol V6 in responsiveness and sheer power.
Its claimed 0-100km/h time of 7.9 seconds is 2.6 seconds quicker than the Ranger Raptor, but slower than VW's claimed best-in-class 7.3 seconds for the Amarok TDi580.
The X350's eco, comfort, sport, manual and off-road modes adjust engine responsiveness and the smooth shifting seven-speed's timing, which is usually spot-on.
Expect 7-8L/100km on the highway and 10-12L/100km in town, where auto stop-start helps the cause.
Mercedes claims the X350 will tow up to 3500kg but given its gross vehicle mass (3250kg, including 1010kg payload) its legal maximum is 2930kg.
Handling honours are shared with the Amarok. Again, both gap the field on bitumen, with secure roadholding, tight body control and decent brakes.
In cornering, the typical and powerful urge among one-tonners to head for the scrub and roll over occurs at higher speeds than the rest, though the steering is typically remote.
In my circle of tradie mates, the one with the flashest ute wins. But why are the Navara owners laughing at me?
Yes, I know its pricey, but hey, I don't have to pay FBT or luxury tax, and it's fully deductible because, of course, I never, ever use it for private purposes.
FORD RANGER RAPTOR FROM $74,990
The ultimate off-road ute. Runs a 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre turbo four/10-speed auto/dual-range 4WD. Slow but refined, economical and tractable. Stylish, comfortable cabin. Five-year warranty.
VW AMAROK TDI580 FROM $72,790
Its 190kW/580Nm 3.0-litre V6 can deliver 200kW on overboost. Eight-speed auto, high-range only all-wheel drive. No rear airbags. The TDi550 V6 with 165kW/550Nm starts at $52,590. Bargain.
A four-star drive but compared with Amarok, Ranger Raptor and Ranger Wildtrak, X350d Power is overpriced, under-equipped and questionable value.
MERCEDES-BENZ X350d POWER
WARRANTY/SERVICING 3 years; $2555 for 3 years/60,000km
ENGINE 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, 190kW/550Nm
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, lane keeping, trailer sway control, 360 degree camera