Driven: Mercedes-Benz X350d 4Matic

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LEAVING SHALLOW WATERS - Mercedes-Benz X350d 4Matic

The V6-engined X350d is something special, but it isn’t our pick of the range

Imagine its 1989. For some of us, that actually comes easier than you might think. Now imagine someone from the future, arrived in a flying car and told you that in the distant future, Mercedes-Benz will be manufacturing luxury pickups. You would have likely laughed it off as lunacy.

But 30 years later, and the German juggernaut is indeed making luxury pickups for a handful of markets. This trend isn’t new in the US, as they have been having luxury pickups for decades, but then again, the X-Class isn’t being sold in that market. For the rest of us, those that are used to Hiluxs, and Rangers, the X-Class is a big deal. And while some may argue, it really is the first of its kind. 

Launched locally a year ago, Mercedes reckon the X-Class is selling well in Msanzi. Sure it could be doing better, but according to those in the know, it is selling as predicted. This comes despite rumours emanating from Germany that the X-Class is set to be axed due to cost-cutting procedures that are being rolled out by Daimler AG. 

Even before it landed, the X-Class was plagued with controversy, with many referring to it as a ‘Navara with mascara’. The reality is, that couldn’t be further from the truth, because while it shares its underpinnings and some powertrains; the folk from Mercedes thoroughly re-engineered it to Mercedes standards. In fact, we were able to test all variants of the X-Class in a variety of extremely difficult conditions, and the big bakkie, pulled through with flying colours, in some instances, embarrassing even those well-known South African favourites.

Hype around the X-Class reached fever pitch late last year, as the brawny X350d variant arrived. Many immediately lambasted it for being an overpriced bakkie, but many doubters changed their mind once they sampled the mighty V6. Whereas the rest of the X-Class range utilises a Mercedes-tuned variant of Nissan’s 2.3-litre turbo diesel (available as either a single-turbo in the X220d or twin-turbo in the X250d), the X350d uses a Mercedes-Benz designed and built 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, that produces an impressive 190kw and 550nm – making it the most powerful bakkie currently sold in South Africa.

Naturally, those bragging rights fuelled further hate towards the X-Class, with much of that coming from Amarok V6 owners. It’s brisk off the line too, running from 0-100kph in around 8 seconds. In something this big though, it feels effortless, as it will happily cruise at the national speed limit all day. Granted it will also consume diesel at quite a rate as well, gulping roughly 12 litres for every 100kms done. Then again, if you are buying a ‘million-rand bakkie’, odds are that fuel consumption isn’t really your primary concern. Out on the open road, there is no shortage of grunt. Floor the loud pedal, and the X350d will bark to life, and never have you second guessing should the need for overtaking arrive. It does what many other bakkies have failed to do - pair proper off-roadability with gobs of turbodiesel power.

The motor is paired with a 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission, and features 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive as standard, with 60% of available torque sent to the rear wheels in standard guise. There is also a low-range transfer case is fitted (with 4MAT, 4H and 4L modes) for proper off-roading with two locking differentials – centre and rear. The X-Class – like the Navara – uses a multi-link rear axle and proper car-like coil springs – a more sophisticated set-up that we’re told was ‘a prerequisite’ for Mercedes getting involved in the project (presumably explaining why the Navara has it in the first place).

Another handy bit of tech that has made its way into the X350d is Mercedes’ Dynamic Select. This system alters the engine’s response by offering five different driving modes: Sport, Eco, Off-Road, Comfort and Manual. Despite having the most powerful bakkie on the market, Mercedes can also brag about its towing capacity of up to 3500kg, as well as load capacity of 1.1 tons – two important categories in which it beats the Volkswagen Amarok.

The X350d, like all X-Class models, doesn’t just look good, it’s actually genuinely capable off-road boasting long spring travel and a standard ground clearance 221mm. Standing 1920mm wide, it is physically imposing and wider than the Navara. Thanks to its short and cladded front overhang, and a lengthy wheelbase of 3150mm, it has a breakover angle of 20.4°, and approach/departure angles of up to 30.1° and 25.9°. This means that it can climb gradients of up to 45 degrees with ease, maintain its poise on inclines of almost 50 degrees, and make quick work of rivers and streams that are a maximum of 600mm deep.

Disappointingly, the exterior of the X350d is identical to the other models in the range, bar for the V6 badging on the front flanks. That aside, its styling is bold, and the premium bakkie would never be mistaken for anything else except a Benz. The front of the X350d features a large three-pointed star flanked by louvres as seen on the GLS full-size SUV, and conforms to Mercedes’ latest 3.0 SUV design language. The front also features a lot of plastic off-road cladding which adds to the look that it means business. There are muscular wheel arches, a large and high waisted loading bin, and modern looking vertical taillights.

The interior is also distinctively Mercedes, apart for the climate control switchgear and a few other buttons, and is loaded with MB tech like its COMAND system. However, it should be noted that despite reliable and easy to use, this system is extremely dated. As with all Merc’s safety systems like ESP, BAS, EBD, ABS, ASR as well as seven airbags are all standard equipment. There’s also 7 airbags, and it boasts a 5 star Euro NCAP safety rating too. In terms of optional safety tech, there is Active Brake Assist, Traffic Sign Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist on offer. Mercedes-Benz is also the only manufacturer in this segment to opt for large disc brakes on both axles as standard.

Mercedes-Benz South Africa has the X350d priced at R973 188 (in Power spec), and ticking selected options will easily send it over the ‘million rand’ threshold. Is the X350d worthy of its price tag? Yes and no. On one hand, it makes a great argument for a high-end premium off-roader that will be an alternative to a luxury SUV; and on the other hand, its biggest competition comes from within. Having driven all derivatives of the X-Class, we can happily say that the X250d was the model that hit the sweet spot for us – and many others. 

Its twin-turbocharged 2.3-litre turbo diesel motor providing the right amount of go, with good fuel economy to boot, and plenty of off-road capability. The exterior mirrors that of the X350d, as does the interior. With the knock-out blow being a nearly R210 000 saving over the X350d. Like the X350d though, the X250d 4Matic is available in two derivatives – Progressive and Power, priced at R695 751 and R790 281 respectively.

According to Mercedes, the Progressive line is aimed at people seeking a rugged double cab with extra styling and comfort functions, while also being a comfortable yet prestigious vehicle for private or dual use; and includes the following as standard: 17-inch 6-spoke light-alloy wheels, air vents in electroplated silver chrome, leather-lined steering wheel and parking brake, the infotainment system Audio 20, and an eight-speaker system.

Power meanwhile, is the high-end line, and is aimed at customers for whom styling, performance and comfort are paramount. Standard features include a simulated, chrome-plated underride guard in the front bumper, a chrome-plated rear bumper, 18-inch 6-spoke light-alloy wheels, LED High Performance headlamps, electrically adjustable seats, and the infotainment system Audio 20 with a multifunctional touchpad.

And in true Mercedes fashion, it comes standard with a 6-year/100 000km maintenance plan.

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