More power comes with extra Benz bits in V6 X-Class ute
THERE'S more Mercedes in the new X350d than any other member of the X-Class family. The double-cab utes that wear the three-pointed star are made in a Nissan factory in Barcelona, on the same assembly line as the related Navara.
Powering the X220d and X250d models, which launched here in April, is a Nissan-made four-cylinder turbo diesel. But if the Berlin-built V6 turbo diesel of the new X350d was any more German its exhaust would smell of sauerkraut.
Due in December, the X350d will be king of the X-Class line-up for Australia. It will be sold only in the middle-ranking Progressive and top-end Power trim grades.
Prices haven't been decided but are likely to open in the $70,000 to $75,000 range, up to $10,000 more than the four-cylinder auto X250d in Power grade. The exterior differs from the cheaper four-cylinder X-Class models only via the chrome "V6" badges on the front guards.
An old design that dates back to the middle of last decade, the engine is still one of the best things about the X350d. The 3.0-litre V6 is smooth, quiet and has a ton of tug.
Its maximum outputs (190kW/550Nm) earn it a place among the most powerful double-cab 4WD utes in the land and Mercedes claims a sharpish 7.5 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint.
In line with its status, the X350d comes only with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, again made by Mercedes-Benz. The new ute has permanent 4WD rather than part-time, with torque split 60 per cent rear and 40 per cent front.
As well as extra power, the X350d brings higher levels of technology and luxury but still lacks much of the impressive driver aid and active safety tech commonly found in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Active cruise control is just one example.
In the cabin, Mercedes-Benz has tried hard to create a classy ambience, fitting its trademark centre screen and distinctive circular air vents. But there's still a lot of Nissan-designed stuff, such as the 4WD high-low range selector dial, and broad expanses of tough-looking hard plastic in here.
The front seats are comfortable but the bench behind has the upright backrest typical of double-cab ute rear seats. Knee room isn't great but there's sufficient head room for large adults.
For performance and all-round refinement, the engine and transmission truly matches a classy car. But the rest of the X350d driving experience is primitive, even though Mercedes made a bunch of improvements to the engineering design of the Navara, including a stiffer ladder chassis and wider axles.
The all coil-spring suspension isn't brilliant at blotting out the bumps. It jiggles on anything but near-perfect surfaces and sharp potholes send shockwaves through the vehicle, even though the X350d weighs in at a crushing 2.3 tonnes.
All those kilos, plus the high centre of gravity, mean this Mercedes is anything but agile. The steering is slow and lacks feel compared to a car.
Cruising along on smooth motorway, with few bumps and only gentle bends to deal with, the X350d isn't unpleasant to drive. Anywhere else, comfort and confidence levels nosedive.
It's a lot to put up with in return for the X350d's talents, such as its one-tonne payload, 3.5-tonne towing capacity and strong off-road ability in low-range.
Mercedes-Benz hopes that the gleam of the three-pointed star will distract potential customers from the obvious flaws of the expensive ute. You can't blame the company for collaborating with Nissan to bring a profit-maker quickly to market but the compromises are all too obvious.
PRICE $75,000 (est)
WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINE 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, 190kW/550Nm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed auto; 4WD
THIRST 9.0L/100km (est)
0-100KM/H 7.5 secs
IN THE VANGUARD
Today, Marion Friese is head of Mercedes-Benz Vans marketing. Before promotion, she led the extensive global market research program that convinced the company it should produce a ute. She expects Australians will buy between 10 and 15 per cent of the X-Classes sold worldwide, with a higher than average proportion being the top X350d version.