Expectations could hardly be higher than when Mercedes-Benz, the brand with the motto “The best or nothing,” sets out to enter a market segment. After years of choosing “nothing” as it regards vehicles with a cargo bed at the back, and following years of intensive market research, soul searching, and development, the new X-class pickup truck has arrived.
Mercedes—whose corporate parent Daimler has a rich history as a maker of commercial trucks—didn’t try to reinvent the wheel in creating its first ever pickup, nor did its engineers take a GLE-class SUV and add a pickup bed. Instead, they drew from business partner Nissan and its Europe-built Navara—the successor to the Frontier that Nissan still sells in the United States. The Nissan pickup has a reputation for toughness and reliability, and the latest Navara replaced the traditional leaf springs for the rear axle with coil springs. That was key to enabling the kind of handling and ride comfort that Daimler had in mind. The mid-size X-class needs to be a tough workhorse just as much as a comfortable long-distance cruiser.
Wider and Higher
If it looks more substantial than the Nissan, that’s because Daimler has widened the track—and the bodywork—by a full 2.8 inches. The two trucks will be built on the same assembly lines, but no exterior sheetmetal or glass is interchangeable. The door geometry—the hinges, latches, and their locations—is the same, but the panels are all brand specific.
The X-class looks good, with a front end dominated by the large three-pointed star and an overall design similar to Benz’s SUV models. The rear end with its slim vertical taillights reminds us of a concept car, especially when fitted with the LED front and rear lighting that comes with upper trim levels.
The widened body allows more generous interior space than the Navara offers. Mercedes has raised the rear-seat bottom to deliver more comfort—in the back seat of the crew-cab Nissan, the only cab style available in the X-class, you can feel like a half-folded pocketknife—although tall adults will lack for headroom. There is a lot more sound insulation than in the Nissan, and the Germans have added structural elements to the frame in order to reduce noise, vibrations, and harshness.
The interior is dominated by a concave dashboard; the instruments, central screen, HVAC controls, and the optional, touch-sensitive COMAND infotainment system come straight from the Mercedes-Benz passenger-car parts bin. In the standard trim, called Pure, the look is somewhat frugal with a lot of hard plastic, but most of the electronic goodies are aboard, including the latest driver-assistance safety systems. The mid-level Progressive trim brings a bit more fabric to the cabin and also exterior niceties such as body-color bumpers. But it takes the top-of-the-line Power trim to give the X-class the appearance of an upmarket vehicle, with stitched faux leather applied to the dashboard and the inner door panels. Aluminum and wood trim are options.
All Turbo-Diesel, All the Time
We drove the X250d 4Matic, which is rated at 187 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque from its Nissan-built sequentially turbocharged 2.3-liter diesel inline-four. The entry-level X220d, which was not made available to drive, has a similar four-cylinder but with only one turbocharger and is rated at 161 horsepower and 297 lb-ft. Both engines come with a six-speed manual as standard, but a Nissan-built seven-speed automatic is available on the X250d. With the automatic transmission and optional all-wheel-drive system, the X250d will reach 62 mph in a somewhat leisurely 11.8 seconds and top out at 109 mph, by Daimler’s reckoning.
The dual turbo usually needs a moment to react to driver input, and it sounds a bit strained under full throttle. The power-sapping automatic is not particularly quick to respond, either, so it is best to restrain your aspirations and just go with the flow of traffic. Then you can enjoy the comfy ride and the remarkably well-isolated cabin.
Need More Grunt? Wait for It
More power will be available via the X350d 4Matic slated for a 2018 calendar year launch and fitted with Benz’s own, smooth turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 and seven-speed automatic with shift paddles. It also will offer several driving modes and permanent all-wheel drive. Rated at 254 horsepower and 406 lb-ft, the V-6 should easily allow for zero-to-60-mph times below nine seconds and a terminal velocity beyond 125 mph. We weren’t allowed to drive this model, but we did catch a ride in one on closed roads at a surreal pace; the X350d stands poised to offer the most fun you can have in a pickup of this size—if you live in Europe.
At more than €37,000 in its German home market (a figure that includes a 19 percent sales tax, so call it $37,000 or so pre-tax), the Mercedes-Benz X-class isn’t cheap. Adding the twin-turbo engine, automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive puts an extra €4500 on the tab, and that’s for the base Pure model. It’s a big chunk of change above every other pickup in its class, and it even eclipses the Volkswagen Amarok with its standard V-6 TDI engine. But the price looks more reasonable when you factor in the assistance and telematics systems, which no other European pickup offers. A U.S.-market launch is off the table for now; depending on sales volumes in the burgeoning mid-size-pickup segment, the company might reconsider. If the X-class does make it here, it won’t be cheap, but it will be the Mercedes-Benz of pickup trucks.