No vehicle in the last five years has created more likes, comments, engagement and divided opinion more than Mercedes’ X-Class bakkie.
Initially, the decision to slap a fancier badge on a "Nissan Navara" didn’t go down too well with 4x4 enthusiasts, motoring media and the general Joe Public.
To create more buzz that ultimately turns into sales… Mercedes has released its X-Class with a V6 engine turbodiesel engine, Sean Parker drove it in the Western Cape.
What’s the new engine all about?
The addition of a V6 engine to the X-Class was always on the cards, and boy was it needed. It’s a 3.0-litre engine mated to a 7-speed automatic gearbox. Power output is a claimed 190kw and maximum torque is quoted at 550Nm.
It has permanent all-wheel drive and is fitted with dynamic drive select, which gives the driver the choice of a few driving modes, including comfort, eco, sport (engine becomes more responsive and gearbox holds a gear for a long time), manual and finally, off-road.
Mercedes says this model will reach 100km/h from standstill in a smidgen under eight seconds. When sampled at the launch it showed it has enough gusto to overtake traffic and in-gear acceleration felt swift. Merc says the 550Nm is available as low down as 1400r/min to 3200r/min.
I had no issues with the performance of the gearbox: It changed down when it needed to and hauled the 2.3-ton vehicle with aplomb. It's a refined engine that loves to be pushed and averaged around 12-litres per 100km.
How does it perform off-road?
According to Mercedes, it has the highest ground clearance of any bakkie on sale in Mzansi at a whopping 222mm. Add that to the fact that it can navigate water crossings 600mm deep and makes mincemeat of inclines of close to 50 degrees.
I put the X350d through its paces on a few obstacles on an off-road course and with 4L (four-wheel drive and low range) engaged. It performed well off the beaten track but to be honest, the course wasn't monstrously difficult to deal with.
I also don't think X-Class owners would risk scratching their bakkies on this type of course but it's good to know it's capable of handling tough off-road terrain.
Can it be chucked about along bends? A section of the driving route took us onto the famous Franschhoek Pass, quite a bold move I felt for a vehicle of this type.
The X350d impressed with less body roll than I expected. Mercedes reckons this comes down to its wider track when compared to the four-cylinder-powered models.
The X350d is 1632mm wide in the front and 1625mm at the rear. Coupled with that with the anti-roll bar which reduces body roll according to the automaker. The suspension is fitted with coils springs to the axle for a more comfort bias to the suspension.
I tried out sports mode, via the dynamic select button, when tackling Franschhoek Pass. As mentioned, it alters the engine response and holds gears a bit longer to eke the most power of out of the revs.
Unfortunately, the steering doesn't become heavier when sports mode is engaged. And it does suffer from a lot of play.
Big asking price
As a machine, the X350d ticks the proverbial boxes of a compliant ride, off-roading ability and premium exterior styling with the three-pointed star sitting front and centre.
Some buyers expecting S-Class levels of comfort, might be disappointed by the quality of interior materials.
Our test unit was fitted with a faux wood finish on the dash and the buttons just don't seem fitting for a vehicle retailing for more than R900 000.
The Progressive model, which costs R904 188, features 17-inch wheels, air vents finished in silver chrome, a steering wheel and parking brake lined with leather and an eight-speaker sound system.
The Power model, retailing at R973 188, adds 18-inch wheels, LED headlamps, electrically adjustable seats, and the infotainment system Audio 20 with a multi-functional touchpad. The V6-powered model is a massive improvement over the X220d and X250d models.
It feels more like a Mercedes should but it is let down, at least for its pricing, by a sub-standard interior.
Local buyers of an X-Class are after the prestige offered by driving a vehicle with a three-pointed star on the hood. And through the myriad of Hiluxes and Rangers on the road, the X-Class will do what it's meant to do: Stand out.
Toyota Hilux 4.0 V6- From R667 100
Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 TDI V6 - From 729 100
Ford Ranger 3.2 TDCi - From R 655 900