What Car? says...
Pick-up trucks are going through something of a transition. While they were once the preserve of building sites and farmyards, many are now also being used as large SUVs by families. It should come as no surprise then, to find a premium manufacturer looking to muscle in. Enter stage right the Mercedes X-Class.
While a three-pointed star might seem odd on the front of a pickup, remember that Mercedes builds a huge range of trucks and vans, too. What’s more, it's no secret that, because pick-ups are classed as light commercial vehicles, they don't attract the same rate of tax as a normal car if driven as a company vehicle. Combined with ever improving levels of refinement, pickups are becoming more and more popular as company cars and even with private buyers.
That these vast imposing off-roaders attract less BIK tax than some family hatchbacks is bound to appeal to company car drivers who want something that will cope with harsh use at work but can shrug off family life the rest of the time. It’s certainly equipped to work hard, too; every X-Class gets four-wheel drive as standard, with power from a four-cylinder diesel with a choice of two power outputs or a powerful V6 diesel if you prefer. While some of the cheaper models get a manual gearbox, most get a seven-speed auto as standard..
However, just because it has a posh badge, don’t think the X Class has it easy. Volkswagen has its Amarok, while there's a host of other pick-ups ready to steal sales, including the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux and Nissan Navara (upon which the X-Class is based).
Read on for our full review and to find out whether the X-Class makes more sense than traditional large SUVs and the rest of its pick-up rivals. And you’re tempted enough to buy one, our New Car Buying pages should be your first stop.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Mercedes isn't afraid to admit it has teamed up with Nissan for the X-Class, with much of its underpinnings shared with the Japanese firm's Navara. That's no bad thing, because the Navara has more sophisticated rear suspension than most pick-ups, giving it better on-road manners.
However, Mercedes has worked on the X-Class's ride and handling separately – and it's noticeable on the road. Don't go thinking it rides better than a similarly priced large SUV such as the Kia Sorento or Hyundai Santa Fe, but the X-Class remains more composed at all speeds than the Navara or Toyota Hilux. However, the Volkswagen Amarok and Ford Ranger manage to keep their passengers more comfortable still, while you can feel the X-Class’s chassis flexing more as you go over particularly vicious bumps.
Another area in which the X-Class is better than the Navara – and most of its rivals, for that matter – is its steering, which stays consistently weighted and precise in two-wheel drive mode. Select four-wheel drive (standard across the range) and there's some corruption as the front wheels are called into action. But, again, no pick-up will put a smile on your face down a winding back road. They're designed to be tough, not agile, hence the X-Class's relatively slow steering set-up and pronounced body lean. However, if you do still want to enjoy driving as much as possible, both the Amarok and Ranger handle that little bit better and have more accurate steering.
The engine range kicks off with two 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesels designed for low-down pull rather than outright pace. So far, we've tried the more powerful 187bhp 250d (the other being the 161bhp 220d), which is far from quick but offers good flexibility – and that's exactly what you want when towing. It stays hushed at a cruise, too, so it's a shame that Mercedes' automatic gearbox (optional on the 250d) is sluggish between changes.
At the top of the tree is the 350d, with a 3.0-litre V6 diesel developing a hefty 254bhp that’s sent through a mandatory seven-speed automatic gearbox. It's smoother and quieter than the two four-cylinder engines and you don’t have to work it as hard, either. It’s quick, too, giving this sizable truck a 7.9sec 0-62mph time or effortless performance if you’re not in a hurry.
All X-Class models can tow 3500kg. That's enough to cover the majority of tasks and is the same as what the Navara, Amarok and Ranger offer. Maximum payload does vary depending on your engine and gearbox, but all can carry more than a tonne in their beds.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Mercedes has tried to make the X-Class's driving position much like that in its SUVs and, in most ways, it has been successful. The driver's seat gets manual adjustment as standard, but our test cars so far have been fitted with wide-ranging electronic adjustment that's optional on mid-range Progressive cars and standard on range-topping Power models. Lumbar adjustment is also optional on Progressive and standard on Power. All models come with plenty of manual steering wheel adjustment.
Naturally, you sit high up, but that's only good if you can see out clearly. Happily, the forward and side view is very good, but the view over the shoulder and directly backwards is more obscured by the window pillars and small rear screen. However, a rear-view camera is standard on every X-Class, while front and rear parking sensors, as well as a 360deg camera, can be added.
Less convincing is the interior quality. Of course, a pick-up's job isn't to provide a luxurious interior, but considering the X-Class's relatively expensive price tag and the badge on its bonnet, we were hoping for better. Many of the switches are carried over from the Navara and there are plenty of brittle, scratchy plastics on show. The steering wheel and gearlever are at least leather on Progressive and Power models – this makes a big difference.
Among its pick-up rivals, the X-Class certainly has one of the better infotainment systems. Every model gets a 7.0in colour screen with a rotary controller and shortcut buttons with which to navigate the menus. A DAB radio and Bluetooth are standard. The upgraded 8.4in screen, which includes sat-nav, is easy to use and very responsive to inputs.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Unlike some of its rivals, the X-Class is only available with a five-seat cab. While this might alienate a few buyers who'd like to trade rear-seat space for load bay length, the vast majority of pick-ups in the UK are sold in this form.
A couple of tall adults will have all the head room they need in the front. Another two adults will stay comfortable in the back on a long journey, too, with good head, leg and shoulder room, although the floor is slightly raised. Even so, rear space is very similar in size to that of the Nissan Navara and slightly bigger than the rear space in the five-seat Toyota Hilux.
Behind is a load bay that, as standard, comes in open form, but can be specified with everything from a flat, lockable cover to a raised-box configuration. The 350d can carry 1067kg, the 250d will take 1132kg (1122kg with an auto ‘box), and the 220d will carry a slightly better 1140kg (1122kg with an auto), which is comparable to rivals such as the Volkswagen Amarok and Ford Ranger. Like those rivals, it'll take a standard European pallet on board between its wheel arches with no complaints.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Pick-up list prices only tell you so much, because the majority of them are either leased by businesses or bought outright for cash, with VAT deducted. Focusing on the latter, the X-Class is more expensive than most rivals, including the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok. The last of those rivals is particularly noteworthy, given that it only comes with a six-cylinder diesel engine.
Most people driving pick-ups run them as company vehicles, and tax is set at a flat rate, so the X-Class will be the same price as any other light commercial vehicle (which includes all of its rivals) in monthly payments. As such, fuel economy will be a bigger concern. Thankfully, according to official fuel economy figures, there's very little between the X-Class and all of the aforementioned rivals.
And Mercedes includes a lot of standard equipment on the X-Class. Entry-level Pure is aimed at commercial drivers and is only offered with the 220d engine. We prefer the Progressive trim level, which you can have with the 220d or 250d engine. It also adds alloy wheels and niceties such as automatic wipers and a leather steering wheel and gearlever. The range-topping Power is the sole model to offer the 350d engine has plenty of extra luxuries, but is very expensive to buy and has the worst economy in the range – although by less than you might expect.
The X-Class is one of the safest pick-ups you can buy. Euro NCAP safety testing returned a five star verdict – a rare occurrence in this class – and the X-Class scored particularly impressively for adult occupant safety. The pick-up comes with plenty of standard safety equipment that many rivals don’t get, including autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning.