by Huw Thomas, vice chairman, Welsh Motoring Writers
CAR makers are now increasingly frank about how much more collaboration and cost-sharing will be necessary for those striving to remain top players in the industry. R&D spending to stay ‘ahead of the curve’ at a time of such rapid change is eye-watering.
Familiar territory already for light commercial vehicles (LCVs): Renault and FIAT; PSA and Toyota, for example. Ford and VW are working together on the next Transporter-Transit and Ranger-Amarok. Mercedes has a number of joint projects with the Renault-Nissan- Mitsubishi Alliance.
Light (1t) pick-ups too: Isuzu-GM; Mazda-Ford and others at
plants in Thailand. For Europe however Nissan’s Navara pick-up comes from its Barcelona factory. Like SUVs, pick-ups are bucking the
this 2.3t vehicle under load and a 6-speed manual gearbox is only offered on the 220d. The 4×4 system is the usual selectable set-up: 4×2 (rear
wheel drive) on road with 4×4 High/Low ratios once off it.
Huge power increase apart this is where the X350d starts to become a different animal. The “4MATIC”
4×4 system is permanent (with a 40-60 front rear bias for a rear wheel drive feel) yet also offers a centre diff-locked off-road 4×4 high ratio and full low ratio range. As with the 220/230, electronic hill-hold and hill-descent controls are included but a rear axle diff-lock is £495 and increased ground clearance £220.
Lack of a manual 6-speed option is a real pity but a proper mechanical handbrake at least has been retained. Drive mode offers ‘Eco’, ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’. ‘Eco’ best kept for the urban crawl: throttle response is less than ‘linear’ with a deadening of the drivetrain. ‘Comfort’ fine most of the time whereas ‘Sport’, especially if manual over-ride engaged (steering downward trend of automotive markets. Sales also migration from SUVs to pick-ups for those who want a more authentic 4×4.
Both Mercedes-Benz and Renault decided to adopt the
Navara as a ‘fast-track’ into this growing sector. But “product differentiation”, as the marketing people call it, can be tricky – it doesn’t always work. FIAT has killed off its Mitsubishi L200-based ‘FullBack’ and Renault has put a UK launch of the Alaskan ‘on hold’ – i.e. unlikely.
Mercedes decided to do more than merely ‘change the badges’ on the Navara and the latest, range-topping X350d is very much a stand-alone variant – both 3.0-litre 258ps V6 Diesel and 7-speed auto-box are Mercedes units.
We looked at the first X-Class models (220d and 250d) a year ago. Despite retaining the Navara’s ladder-frame chassis, powertrain and running gear with coil rather than leaf-sprung live rear axle, bodywork was clearly bespoke and double-cab only.
The whole front end had a distinct Mercedes look but that’s not all. Slightly broader than a Navara, track was wider too improving the stance of the vehicle. Clearly a higher performance derivative was coming.
The 220d (163ps) and 250d (190ps) Nissan engines can struggle when propelling
column paddles), can make for pretty rapid progress.
The 3.0 V6 has its own ‘Power’ trim level and X-Class cabin interiors anyway a ‘cut above’ the rest. Front seats are comfortable and power-adjusted (V6), dashboard and steering wheel have also received a ‘Mercedes makeover’. Might not be an S-Class
but it’s a civilised place to be.
On-road the X350d is refined and quiet by pick-up standards, the ride firm but not
uncomfortable and steering (rightly) weightier than that of a Crossover/SUV. As for the 4-cyl vehicles, handling generally is ‘pick-up ponderous’ but well-resolved for what is after all, a credible working vehicle.
The X-Class has been transformed by the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel which, coupled with the breadth-and-depth competence of the 4MATIC 4×4 system, is clearly class leading – if at a price: £38,950 (Commercial Vehicle on the Road excluding VAT). The two options mentioned and seven further items fitted to the test vehicle totalled an extra £6,500. They included a built-in SatNav system (if with enhanced features) and parking package with 360deg camera – should be standard at this list-price level.