First Drive: Mercedes X-Class

Blunt workhorse or luxury SUV? Mercedes blurs the lines…

I’m at the Sportman’s Arms, the highest pub in Wales. I’ve travelled for hours to get here, starting out in Cambridgeshire before finding my way along twisty, snow-covered roads under the shadow of Snowdon. And the pub is closed.

That’s a disappointment, but it’s made easier to bear by being in the new Mercedes X-Class, a car the brand claims is the first pickup truck from a premium manufacturer. The market for these all-purpose vehicles is booming right now, with rivals offering workhorses, budget choices, family models and agriculturally capable models, but it’s Mercedes that has taken the go-anywhere do-anything capabilities of the breed and wrapped it up in leather, chrome and tech. Or at least more leather, chrome and tech than others.

As far as being a workhorse goes, the X-Class ticks all the necessary boxes. Behind the five seat cabin there’s a load bed that will take 1,066kg of cargo, which is enough for the taxman to consider this a commercial vehicle. There’s properly jacked up suspension so it’ll climb over most obstacles, and it can be switched from rear to four-wheel drive, which is handy in Wales as the snow still falls. For the really rough stuff, there’s even a low-range gearbox for, say, clambering over rockfalls, while hill descent control will seemingly defy gravity and keep the X-Class crawling down the steepest of inclines.

It’s bigger than a Nissan Navara, although only just, which makes it something of a behemoth on UK roads, although the X-Class handles as close to a car as anything else thus far. It’s fair to say that’s not awfully close though; the Mercedes will protest very early if asked to take a turn at anything approaching even moderate speeds, and it’s easy to spin the rear wheels up pulling out of junctions, even with traction control turned on. If you thought an SUV was a tad woolly on the road, a two-tonne pickup truck designed to carry a further tonne on board won’t be any sharper.

Power is currently provided by a 2.3-litre diesel engine provided by Nissan, which is powerful enough for the truck to keep up with traffic, although overtaking moves require some forward planning. The seven-speed automatic gearbox is smooth enough, but it’s always chasing economy – that means there’s a delay every time you want to move forward a little quicker as it shuffles down a gear to find the power. It’s quiet with it, though, thanks to judicious use of soundproofing around the cabin, but a smoother and more powerful V6 engine is on its way.

The cabin itself is the most car-like area, with stylish chrome highlights and high quality surface materials. The four air vents on the centre stand out, especially hen aligned to show a row of X motifs. That can’t be coincidence. Cheap and shiny plastics do cover the lower surfaces, but for once that’s a good thing as they’ll withstand muddy wellies with ease. While there’s plenty of space for adults in the front and back seats of the car, there is a disappointing lack of stowage for bits and pieces. Even placing a phone somewhere is tricky, but with no sign of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay there’s no need to keep your phone plugged in.

Impressively, safety equipment is standard across the range, with even the entry-level Pure spec getting autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist and traffic sign recognition. Crash testing has gone well too, with EuroNCAP giving the X-Class a maximum five-star safety rating.

And all that is available for just under £41,000. If that sounds like a lot (and it really is) then bear in mind just how tax efficient this could be. The VAT is reclaimable for business use, cutting the price by 20% instantly, while the one-tonne payload means HMRC sees this as a commercial vehicle; that means it attracts a fixed rate of company car tax, which in turn means that company car drivers could be paying less to run this than a mid-spec Ford Focus.

For private buyers the financial benefits aren’t quite so clear, so it comes down to style and performance. On both counts, it’s as good as it gets.

Model Tested: Mercedes-Benz X 250 d 4MATIC Power
Price: £40,920
Range: £32,772 – £40,920
Top speed: 109 mph
0-62 mph: 11.8 seconds
Power: 190 PS (187 bhp)
Torque: 400 Nm (295 ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £559
Official fuel economy: 35.8 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 207 g/km
Car Tax: £240 (LCV)
Insurance group: 45E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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