We first saw it at its international debut and then we drove it in South America. We then drove it again at its local launch, but now the Mercedes X-Class faces its biggest test yet, as it finally spends a week doing normal bakkie related things.
It’s fair to say that we’ve spent a lot of time behind the wheel of the X-Class bakkie, but never on our own terms. We can tell you what it was like on South American roads and what it was like driving it on a mountain pass near George, but until now we haven’t used the X-Class the way most people will use it.
Any decent bakkie should be able to carry two kids to school, do the weekly grocery run, commute between work and home and spend weekends ferrying the entire family to an agreeable location for a picnic or something similar.
Over the last two months, we couldn’t help but feel that we might have been too harsh on the X-Class in our initial assessment. Some unkind things were said about the parking sensors, lack of storage space and the rearview camera feeds, but mostly about the price.
This time we asked politely if we might test an entry-level model 4×2, because we reckon it’s bound to be the most popular derivative in the range. Mercedes had an X250d 4×2 with an automatic available, which is what we went for. Surprisingly, this particular test unit wasn’t bursting with optional extras, so it’s retail price was just under R700 000. That’s still a lot for a 4×2 bakkie, but reasonable within the X-Class range.
Rockstar of bakkies
Since the X-Class had been on sale for around two months and we’ve heard some rumours that sales are around 300 per month, we weren’t expecting a whole lot of attention.
Over the years we’ve driven some special cars, including a number of ultra-exclusive supercars and not one of them has ever attracted the amount of attention this bakkie received. The only similar experience we ever had was driving the new Fortuner through farming country a full two months ahead of its launch.
Filling it at gas stations always drew a crowd, but not the stares we’re used to. No sir, people actually came up to us and asked if they could get in to see what it was like. Even owners of competitor products, who are normally quite reserved when they spot something new that might be better than their pride and joy, came up to us to talk about it. A few people even felt it wise to shout “nice Navara” as we drove by, which is fair if we’re honest, but deeply annoying if we’re brutally honest. This car didn’t even belong to us and those words cut deep. Imagine if you spent R800 000 and people keep shouting “Navara” at you…
Interestingly, there is a huge chunk of the population who have no idea this car is based on a Navara, or they simply don’t mind. People posed next to it, took selfies in its presence and complimented us on being the “big boss,” whatever that means.
In any case, if you’re in the market for a car people will notice, this is the bakkie for you.
Is it better as a 4×2?
We think so, yes. There may be a few hardcore 4×4 fans that would take their X-Class on an overland expedition, but we think most of these bakkies will spend their time driving to and from work. The occasional weekend trip may happen, but even then, the X-Class won’t likely face anything scarier than a badly corrugated dirt road. Certainly nothing that demands four-wheel drive and a rear differential lock. So, you might as well have the 4×2. There are no visual differences between the 4×2 and 4×4 and the neighbours won’t be any the wiser.
It’s no less practical as a result. The load bin capacity remains the same, as does its towing ability.
What’s it like in town?
It’s much easier to notice the differences between the Navara and the X-Class during the daily grind.
Much has been said about the improved noise, vibration and harshness levels and the fact of the matter is this: The X-Class is currently in the lead as far as this is concerned. It’s extremely quiet, refined and easy to use. All of the equipment the modern consumer demands are included as standard, with only the really exuberant stuff left on the options list. After a week in a standard X-Class, we couldn’t think of a single thing we’d add.
Having said that, there are a few niggles. Some of the trim is decidedly sub-par, the Nissan key still upsets us every time we see it and the cupholders are virtually useless. At most, they’re around 10cm deep, which is simply not deep enough for any beverage on sale in South Africa. If you put anything in there, it’s guaranteed to spill the first time you brake for a set of lights.
It’s also worth mentioning that the X-Class feels huge. It may not look like it on the photographs, but the Merc bakkie is slightly bigger in every direction than most double cabs on sale in South Africa. Maneuvering in traffic isn’t an issue, but parking in some of Gauteng’s older suburbs requires a fair amount of skill and way more than a mere three-point turn. We didn’t mind at all, as this is true for most large cars. If you want to drive something big, you have to make some sacrifices.
What bothered us most of all was the fuel consumption. We now have a standard fuel consumption test in place and the X-Class consumed 11.8l/100km on a 105.4km trip. It was a particularly tricky morning as far as traffic was concerned, but still not a great result.
We like the X-Class, but it does face some stiff competition. Even this base-spec X250d 4×2 is priced to go up against the V6 Amarok and we simply don’t see ourselves giving up all that power for a badge.
As we’ve long suspected, the V6 X-Class is the one to have. We drove it in Slovenia recently and it was everything the X-Class is supposed to be. And it can easily justify what will be a high sticker price, because it will have a Mercedes engine, gearbox and some bits from the G-Class.
If you absolutely have to have a Mercedes bakkie, go for it. It’s going to be a pleasure. But if you want the ultimate, wait a few months for the V6 diesel to arrive.