Is Stuttgart’s decision to build a pick-up a shrewd one? We’re about to find out as we add the X-Class to our long-term fleet
Why we’re running it: To find out why UK drivers are turning to pick-ups in increasing numbers, and to determine whether the X-Class is as refined to live with as Merc’s cars
Life with a Mercedes-Benz X-Class: Month 1
Welcoming the X-Class to the fleet – 23rd May 2018
It’s supposed to be about money. The reason you see the population of four-door, extended-cab, one-tonne pick-ups on our roads swelling so fast is widely claimed to be because they’re as cheap to run, from a benefit-in-kind (BIK) point of view, as company vehicles.
However, the underlying reason seems to be that they look pretty cool, at least to some of us, and I’m among the supporters.
That, and a curiosity to find out about this new vehicle breed, currently being ever more enthusiastically touted by Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Volkswagen, Ssangyong and now Mercedes, is behind our decision to adopt one.
The X-Class comes about as a result of a cooperation with Nissan (there’s a lot of Navara under it) but it’s also very much its own vehicle, what with multi-link rear suspension, an all-Merc interior, a lot of styling changes, a higher price than the Nissan and an extra-chunky three-pointed star grille that leaves no one in doubt as to which showroom this came from.
Let’s talk money. The situation is that while ordinary vehicles attract rising rates of BIK taxation according to purchase price and CO2 output, light commercial vehicles (which must be rated above one tonne of carrying capacity) attract a lower charge which is fixed.
If you’re a 40% tax payer, the annual difference in tax between, say, a similarly priced Land Rover Discovery Sport and our £39,780 X-Class could be more than £1600, so it definitely matters.
The X-Class is a comparatively new arrival, and fits into a ‘premium’ slot roughly £5000 above the lesser marques. You still get a lot of truck for your money: from a £34k base, we added options that took ours to just short of £40k.
Our additional kit includes an all-round camera, Mercedes-Benz’s comprehensive Comand nav and audio package (which still includes a CD player for us Luddites) plus stuff like side-steps, roof bars, chrome underbits front and rear and a chrome roll-over bar so huge it looks as if you could connect the whole machine to a sky hook.
Ours is the Power model. There are cheaper Pure and Progressive trim levels with smaller wheels, painted bumpers and less equipment, but as soon as we started enquiring, it became clear that UK buyers like the niceties such as our car’s 18in alloys, standard Merc 7-speed automatic transmission, various chrome body bits, folding mirrors, rain sensing wipers and top-spec climate control.
We decided to collect the pick-up from a dealership, choosing a new Merc place, Rygor Commercials in Gloucester, which was as classy as any new car dealership. We met two of the management team, Dominic Ilbury and Richard Morrissey, who unveiled our gleaming white machine (a nice touch). Dominic talked me through the controls and switches, very logically Mercedes.
Bearing in mind I’d never driven one of these big pick-ups before, the initial driving experience was surprisingly easy and reassuring. It felt like one of the taller SUVs, with a comfortable and well-equipped interior to match.
Extreme length comparo: mighty Merc X-class poses beside friend John’s Austin Seven saloon. Both are four-seaters and they’re parked level at the front. Mind you, the A7’s not the best at lumping bags of cement or taking junk to the dump. And where’s its chrome rollover bar? pic.twitter.com/OZl6pscPIj
— Steve Cropley (@StvCr) May 19, 2018
The X-Class will fit the average covered or underground car park and it’s not excessively wide, either. Even the wheelbase is only 233mm (less than a foot) longer than a Land Rover Discovery. The main thing you’ve got to cope with is the 5340mm overall length, yet even that isn’t turning out to be the bugbear I thought it might be.
The Big X is only a few inches longer than the current crop of long-wheelbase luxury saloons (Jaguar’s XJ is typical at 5255mm). Even the turning circle’s just about okay.
The X-Class has a Nissan-Renault-sourced 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine that I reckoned might be a bit agricultural, but it’s a twin-turbo unit with 187bhp on tap, and at anything more than idle it’s torquey, commendably quiet and doesn’t vibrate more than any four-pot car.
In fact, one thing I’ve quickly come to depend on from the X-Class is smooth, quiet progress. The silky automatic ‘box works perfectly with this engine, cruising like a saloon on motorways. It’ll even bolt quite well out of roundabouts if you insist, though acceleration times are modest.
The steering and handling take some getting used to. This is a body-on-frame machine, so there are body tremors over bumps you don’t expect at first. It’s light over the rear end, too, so even with the independent rear working well, there’s still an occasional tendency to wheel hop.
On the other hand, with such a long wheelbase, the X-Class does stay very flat. It rides bumps very quietly. The steering is light and there’s very little lost motion at the straight-ahead, but you can’t help thinking the capability of the rest of the chassis (it grips quite well and resists leaning) would benefit from faster steering around the centre.
Driving my first 1000 miles in the X-Class has been an entirely pleasant experience, and easier than I expected, what with the decent driving characteristics, a 530-mile touring range, fuel consumption running around 36-38mpg and a quiet mechanical package.
The one thing I’m not yet used to is the feeling of going places in a vehicle that seems needlessly vast. But to judge by the number of my …read more