“It is the Mercedes-Benz of pickup trucks.” That’s the non-answer you get when you ask brand executives what exactly distinguishes the not-for-the-U.S. X-class from other, similarly sized cargo haulers. While it is based on the Nissan Navara, the X-class that we drove last fall was so tweaked mechanically that the relationship is barely noticeable on the road. At the very least, then, it’s the Mercedes-Benz of Navaras.
Even with the Nissan-sourced 2.3-liter turbo-diesel inline-four, the Mercedes version is quieter, its manual transmission shifts better, and its cab is roomier and better equipped. But at launch it lacked a six-cylinder engine, something that is standard on its primary competitor in Europe, the Volkswagen Amarok.
Now Mercedes-Benz has fixed that issue, with this new X350d that’s offered for the equivalent of $53,000 or so and is fitted with a strongly upgraded powertrain. The part-time four-wheel-drive system found in the X220d and the X250d is tossed aside, along with the Nissan-sourced four-cylinder engine and the Nissan-built six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission.
The X350d’s OM642 turbo-diesel V-6 comes straight from Mercedes-Benz’s passenger-car portfolio, and the same is true of its seven-speed automatic. And the torque is transmitted to all four wheels through Benz’s 4Matic permanent all-wheel-drive system.
Powerful and Efficient
Rated at 255 horsepower and an impressive 406 lb-ft of torque (available from 1400 rpm), the X350d should charge from zero to 60 mph in just 7.4 seconds, which makes a world of difference compared with the X250d’s estimated 10-second stroll. And while the most powerful of the four-bangers tops out at 108 mph, the six-cylinder X-class can reach 127 mph before it hits the speed governor, says Benz. Fuel economy, as measured in the latest, somewhat more realistic European test cycle, is pegged at 25 mpg. For what it’s worth, the trip computer in the example we drove told us we were doing better than that, and we weren’t lollygagging.
The gearchanges are so gentle and the cabin so well isolated that piloting this X-class feels like driving a powerful SUV. We are talking, of course, about a traditional SUV with body-on-frame construction, just like in the X-class. This truck is surprisingly quiet and comfortable, and its hydraulically assisted power steering is on the light side. It doesn’t offer the precision that you experience in modern car-based SUVs. But we loved covering long distances in the X, enjoying its serene ride and the plentiful torque.
We won’t say the X-class can’t be fun, but its playfulness hits limits. The stability-control system kicks in quickly when you pitch it into a corner aggressively-which we did purely for science, mind you-but it doesn’t throttle the truck back so far as to kill the momentum. In fast, sweeping corners, we were not surprised to detect considerable body roll. The X-class is clearly tailored for a comfortable ride.
Off-Road Worthy and Well Equipped
It’s also tailored for off-road ability. With its permanent all-wheel-drive system, an electronically controlled center differential, a locking rear differential, and a low-range transfer case, the X-class can master extremely challenging terrain, as we found out during our extensive on- and off-road test drive in Slovenia, a republic of the former Yugoslavia just south of the Austrian border. The different settings can be selected on the fly, unlike on the four-cylinder models.
For a really helpful off-road feature, the X350d can be ordered with a 360-degree camera that helps to identify the surroundings with great precision. Of course, it is just as helpful when parking in the city, a useful aid considering that the X pickup is longer and wider than an S-class.
The X350d can be fitted with numerous driver aids that are rare among European pickups, including lane-keeping assist, automated emergency braking, traffic-sign recognition, an electronic trailer-stabilization system, and ultra-bright LED headlights. The telematics and infotainment systems are on a level with Benz’s SUV models, and there is even optional Burmester audio system.
This impressive level of equipment is mirrored in the sophisticated style of the cabin. The instrument panel with its central screen is reminiscent of that in the C-class, as is the arcing touchpad controller. You can get contrast stitching and faux leather on the dashboard and door panels, and the wood or aluminum interior trim that adorns top-of-the-line models isn’t, well, it isn’t real-but it almost looks like it.
A few elements are clearly taken from the Nissan parts bin, such as the switches for the heated seats. And we would prefer a more upscale gear selector in place of the basic metal stick that screams Navara even if it is crowned by a knob wearing a three-pointed star. Moreover, the button to control the stop/start function is awkwardly positioned, and the paucity of storage bins in the cab borders on being unacceptable.
The seating position is great for the driver and the front passenger, although less so for those that have to sit in the rear. The bench back there is positioned high and with a tall backrest, and while it isn’t exactly cramped, it is not a great place to travel for hours. The four-door crew-cab body style is standard.
Behind the cab, the truck bed can be accessorized with a surprisingly large number of boxes, tonneau covers, hard tops, or nonfunctional but tough-looking roll bars. Personalization is a big point of emphasis for the Mercedes-Benz X-class product-planning team. But even without any of those bells and whistles, it looks good and is clearly a Mercedes from the front and contemporary in the rear.
SUVs are as popular in Europe as they are in America, and their ubiquity is seeing an increasing number of customers look for alternatives in different segments. The six-cylinder X-class may be just right for them, as the truck is competent and comfortable enough to serve them well. And if they’re turned off by the unsecured open bed, oh gee, did we mention that lots of accessories are available?
As for the potential of bringing the X-class to the U.S. market, Mercedes-Benz is still a bit coy: The mid-size-pickup market is not seen as the right place for a premium offering. The company, it seems, is just testing the waters with the current model. “We are constantly reevaluating,” we were told. Perhaps the next X-class will make the journey to America.
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