Can Mercedes-Benz make a “real” bakkie?

GAVIN MYERS attended the launch of one of the most anticipated vehicles in its segment – the Mercedes-Benz X-Class double-cab bakkie.

Let’s address the elephant in the room without delay … we’re all aware that the Mercedes-Benz X-Class shares its underpinnings with the Nissan Navara and Renault Alaskan. The company, itself, makes no bones about the fact.

“Nissan has 80 years of experience and is second in the world with pickups. We wouldn’t have made it to market in just four years without them,” explains Christian Pohl, head of product and marketing for Mercedes-Benz Vans, who flew in from Stuttgart to join the local media launch.

He’s quick to point out that “no part of the X-Class was left untouched by Mercedes-Benz”.

However, those with a keen eye will immediately see that that is not entirely true. Some of the cabin’s switchgear is a direct carryover, as is the car’s main electrical architecture (meaning, to the ire of many journalists on launch, the key has simply had its Nissan badge replaced with a three-pointed star), while the engines are shared, too.

However, what has been touched by the chaps in white coats over in Stuttgart certainly says Mercedes-Benz. You’ll notice the company’s SUV 3.0 design language; with its bold, twin-strake grille and muscular proportions.

Inside, the minimalist dash houses the tablet-like screen for the Command Audio 20 infotainment system and is covered in mostly pleasing materials.

Be warned though, while both the Progressive and Power trim levels come with a fair level of standard specification, you will fork out extra for some expected equipment (typical of German vehicle manufacturers).

Numerous optional-equipment and accessories packages offer combinations of optional luxuries to make the choice easier. It’s not that the X-Class comes poorly spec’d, but, it has to be said, for “premium” level vehicles costing between R642 103 and R791 315, you would expect the likes of navigation and a reversing camera to be standard fare.

So, what does your money get you, then? According to Mercedes-Benz, Progressive models are “aimed at consumers who are seeking a rugged bakkie with extra styling and comfort functions, while also being a comfortable, yet prestigious, vehicle for private or dual use”.

These are distinguishable by their black trim, halogen headlamps and 17-inch wheels.

At the other end of the scale are the Power models, “aimed at customers for whom styling, performance and comfort are paramount”. Spot the 18-inch rims, adornment of chrome and LED headlamps.

However, there’s more to be had under the skin. X220d derivatives feature the single-turbo version of the 2,3-litre turbodiesel powerplant, which produces 120 kW and 403 Nm torque. It’s only available with a 4×2 drivetrain and six-speed manual gearbox in Progressive trim.

X250d models receive a twin-turbo engine with outputs reaching 140 kW and 450 Nm, and can be purchased with a selection of 4×2 or 4×4 (4Matic) drivetrains, and manual or seven-speed automatic gearboxes.

The engines are rated at Euro 5, but are 50 ppm compatible. The X-Class boasts a 1,1-t load capacity and 3,5-t tow rating.

Employing similar double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension as the Navara, the X-Class’s tracks measure in at a wide 1 632 and 1 625 mm front and rear. In fact, it boasts a ground clearance of 221 mm (20 mm higher than on other markets), a wading depth of 600 mm and gradeability of 100 percent/45°.

The launch route around the George area consisted of some off-road obstacles and kilometres of mountain climbing; each as challenging as the other. Here, the fleet of X-Class 4Matic coped with aplomb; surefooted, easy to manoeuvre and confidence inspiring.

It’s also really rather refined and comfortable, as one would expect from a vehicle from the marque. Is it the most comfortable and refined in its class? Whether on road or off, it’s close…

But, is it worth the price? For some, it may be, and, here again, Mercedes-Benz South Africa admits that it is not aiming to be a volume seller in the segment.

“We will take a fair share of the market, attracting current bakkie owners as well as current Mercedes-Benz owners who are in the market for one. The X-Class opens a new range of opportunities for us,” says Nadia Trimmel, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans Southern Africa.

Only time will tell…

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.
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