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Juliet McGuire

First drive in the Mercedes-Benz X-Class

Has there ever been such hype over a bakkie before? I don’t think so. And why? Well, this is the first premium brand to attempt to take a portion of the hugely popular bakkie segment. The bakkie, as we know it in South Africa, is the best selling vehicle in the world, so it is no wonder everyone wants in on this train. The Mercedes-Benz X-Class launched in South Africa this week and I headed up to a farm in the middle of nowhere to test drive it. (I genuinely have no idea where we were!)

First things first people, let’s just get the whole Nissan Navara thing out of the way. The X-Class shares the same engine, drivetrain, chassis and gearbox as the Navara. And sure, it is made in the same factory in Spain. BUT, this is not just a “Navara with Mascara”, it actually feels quite different and in fact, there are a few ways in which these bakkies differ. Price being the most obvious difference…the top of the range Nissan Navara costs R220 000 less than that of the Mercedes-Benz X250d Power auto. Crisis! That is a whole car cheaper. But I shall leave the comparison for another review. This review is about the Mercedes-Benz X-Class in all its glory.

It’s not a bad looking bakkie by any means, it sports a Merc badge after all, but would you pick it out of a bakkie line up? I doubt it. Not with the likes of the Ford Ranger or Volkswagen Amarok around. What this X-Class does have going for it though is the actual X factor (not the show!). Look, it’s the novelty thing, I get it, but isn’t that always the case with new cars? People want to see this thing in the metal, they almost break their necks trying to get a glimpse of it driving past. This will certainly be one of the reasons some people buy it. Believe me, the price ain’t going to be the reason, that’s for sure. But more on that in a moment.

First let’s chat about the cabin. From pictures it looks rather flashy, but in the flesh it is a little bit odd really. It is certainly Mercedes-Benz, but what sucks is that it is just not user-friendly enough. There is not one spot to put your phone or your wallet or anything else you might keep up front with you. If you utilise the USB within the really small bin between the seats, you will have to place your phone in one of the really small cupholders. My driving partner and I fought over phone space with his oversized (mind out the gutter please) Samsung Galaxy. What is pleasantly unsettling (if that is such a thing) is that while you’re driving, your mind can’t really compute that it is Mercedes-Benz dials its looking at while driving a bakkie. It’s pretty cool! Again, that X factor I speak of.

For all its faults, the cabin is really tranquil. Little road noise enters it and the ride quality is superb. So even if you are frustrated with the set up of the cabin, it is forgotten the instant you hit the open road and settle in to your comfortable cruise.

X-Class interior

Is it any good off-road? Of course it is! This is not Mercedes-Benz’s first rodeo. Just think of a few of its other products like the G-Wagon and you will soon realise this is something Merc excels at. We took it over a pass called Duiwel’s Kop (or Devil’s Peak) which is notoriously rocky and slippery, not to mention twisty and narrow. It’s what the Voortrekker’s used to use and if you know who Thomas Bain is, then you’ll be happy to know that it was he who built this pass. Let’s just say the X-Class was more than capable and felt no different to any of its competitors when it came to traversing some of the more tricky obstacles. And again, it was really comfortable. Even with a full bladder – ok that is a lie, it was excruciating having to keep that wee on board for a two hour mountain pass journey. Ah the joys of being a woman!

X-Class

Under the bonnet lies, as mentioned, the Navara’s 2.3-litre turbodiesel engine. You can choose between two outputs; 120 kW and 403 Nm in the X220d or 140 kW and 450 Nm in the X250d. And you can opt for manual or automatic transmissions. Why you would get a manual I cannot fathom, but I guess it is cheaper than the auto.

So now its time to reveal the pricing. Hold your breath, close your eyes…no wait don’t close your eyes because you will stop reading this and then not know what the price. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing though. Because at R624 103 for the entry-level X220d 4×2 Progressive, you will see just how expensive this bakkie is. Look, it is a premium brand, but I am not sure that is enough to convince people to part with money that could essentially buy them a top of the range Navara, Hilux, Amarok or Ranger and still have money left over. The Volkswagen Amarok has always been my pick of the lot and it remains so. It was the first bakkie to really get that balance between bakkie and passenger-car-feel spot on. Although Mercedes-Benz will have you believe they have done it first with this X-Class.

Moving on up to the Power X250d derivative and you can expect to pay a hefty R763 256 and that’s for the manual. The automatic derivative will cost you R791 315. Don’t be tempted to tick any of the options boxes because you will find yourself very close to a number you don’t want to see next to a Bakkie.

Reading this review back it seems like I am not a fan of the X-Class, but this is actually not the case. I am a HUGE fan. I absolutely loved driving it and I can see why there is so much hype around it. I also believe it will sell pretty well, especially among Mercedes-Benz fans and those who want to impress their mates around the braai.  But, will it appeal to the die-hard Hilux and Ranger fans? I doubt it. You can get a lot more bang for your bakkie sticking with the ringleaders.

For more info head on over to Mercedes-Benz.

 

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