They may share their genesis, but there are numerous differences between the Mercedes-Benz X-Class and its progenitor, Nissan’s Navara, that don’t immediately meet the eye…
Brothers from another mother…
The 2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class has arrived mid great fanfare, the buzz surrounding the German maker’s first foray into the dual-cab ute market due perhaps as much to its shared Nissan Navara basis as for representing a new range for the three-pointed star.
That Mercedes-Benz should fast track its entry to the lucrative ute market by way of an established donor vehicle makes complete sense. Adopting the latest Nissan Navara chassis, engine and driveline has shaved considerable time and investment from the process. Now, just three years after word first emerged of the X-Class, we have a fully-fledged range available in local ‘Benz showrooms.
Given the X-Class range currently tops out at $64,500 plus on-roads for its current flagship, the X 250d POWER, compared to $54,490 plus on-roads for the top-spec Navara, the ST-X, buyers would be hoping there’s much more to the X-Class than merely ‘badge engineering’. Fortunately, there is.
Why are we comparing them?
Both models are produced in the Nissan facility in Barcelona, Spain, so how deep do the differences go? To find out, we’re pitting the four-wheel drive versions of the Nissan Navara ST-X head to head with the Mercedes-Benz X 250d PROGRESSIVE.
The PROGRESSIVE is actually the mid-spec model in the X-Class range, slotting in ahead of the base-spec X 250d PURE and below the X 250d POWER, but here we’ve evened up the playing field a little on the basis of price. Minus all accessories, the ‘Benz on test here is $3310 more than the Nissan.
The X-Class is based on the latest D23-series, NP300 iteration of Nissan Navara that launched here in February 2018. Navara updates have come thick and fast since the arrival of the latest generation in 2015, which was widely criticised for its towing and payload ability. This was due to Nissan swapping out the traditional leaf-spring rear suspension for a multi-link, coil-spring arrangement, which softened up the Navara’s rear end appreciably.
Yes, the ride was more forgiving when unladen, but even recreational ute owners have a requirement to handle a heavy load, most often in the form of caravans, boats, horse floats and so on – items that can account for a major chunk of the Navara’s 3500 kilogram braked towing limit.
Sales took a dive and Nissan responded with an updated suspension tune that still missed the mark, followed more recently by the adoption of dual-rate rear springs.
Suspension is just one aspect into which Mercedes-Benz has invested significant effort in the X-Class, and while the German pick-up has adopted the same basic set-up, it features heavier coil springs at all four corners plus re-valved dampers and thicker anti-roll bars.
The ‘Benz also features a reinforced chassis with additional cross bracing compared to the Navara and its track is wider, in turn pushing the X-Class turning circle to 13.4 metres from the Navara’s 12.4 metres.
Mercedes-Benz says it’s ploughed significant effort into addressing NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) in the X-Class for a quieter, smoother and more refined ride, while the cabin interior is a new, intrinsically ‘Benz design.
The full X-Class range also lays claim to safety technology not found in the Navara line-up, namely autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and tyre pressure monitoring, while the front and rear of the vehicle feature fresh styling that visually ties the model to the wider Mercedes-Benz family.
Families will be attracted to the ‘Benz’s best-in-class safety features
Of the vehicles on test here, the X-Class is the heavier with a 2234kg kerb weight (1979kg for the Navara).
Sharing transmission and drivelines, these four-wheel drive models feature dual-range transfer cases with locking rear differentials and hill descent control. However, while the Navara receives a metal front underbody plate and the X-Class makes do with a plastic equivalent.
The X-Class has approach and departure angles of 30 degrees and 25 degrees respectively (31.6 and 25.2 for the Navara) and ground clearance of 222mm, while we measured 225mm under the Navara’s rear diff. Both manufacturers quote wading depths of 600mm.
Who will they appeal to?
While both the X-Class and the Navara dual-cab utes will essentially fill identical roles, namely as a weekday workhorse/weekend escape machine, the badges on the front grilles and the pricing disparity pitch them at slightly differing target markets.
The tradie with family and/or any of a variety of recreational pursuits is still at the forefront for both models’ intended buyers, but clearly the prestige regularly attributed to Benz’s passenger-car range will be a drawcard for those hoping to underline their social status.
Those with an existing Mercedes-Benz car can now stay within the family when it comes to a light work vehicle without resorting to purely commercial models like the Sprinter large van or Vito medium van, and we’re sure many buyers will look on their X-Class as a stylish rolling billboard for their business.
Yes, the X-Class looks set to benefit from a little of that German passenger car prestige – a little shine that the company’s LCVs and trucks haven’t quite managed to emulate. Or at least it should with the two upper X-Class trim grades, the PROGRESSIVE and the POWER, if not the base-level PURE.
And let’s not forget the looming X-Class flagship, the X 350d 4MATIC, powered by a V6 turbo-diesel and with permanent all-wheel drive. That’s slated to reach local showrooms later this year.
Families will be attracted to the ‘Benz’s best-in-class safety features, although it should be noted that both vehicles attract a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
The Navara’s appeal, meanwhile, will continue for anyone requiring a rugged work vehicle with all the ability to haul myriad toys come the weekend and holidays.
Both vehicles reviewed here share the same 2.3-litre twin-turbo-diesel powerplants – actually a Renault developed unit – and boast a 3500kg braked towing limit.
Of the two models on test, the X-Class edges out the Navara here for payload by 30kg, 961kg to 931kg.
How much do they cost?
With the Nissan Navara range priced from $25,990 to $54,990 (plus on-roads) and the Mercedes-Benz X-Class priced from $45,450 to $64,500 (plus on-roads), there’s price premium here for the ‘Benz, even despite the lack of any X-Class single-cab models (they’re all dual-cabs).
On test here is the top-spec Nissan Navara ST-X with automatic transmission, priced at $54,490 plus on-roads, and the mid-spec Mercedes-Benz X 250d PROGRESSIVE which, fitted with a $3750 factory Style Pack (LED headlights and partial LED taillights, electric rear window, rear window tinting, side steps, roof rails and 18-inch alloys) and a tub liner ($899), pushes our test vehicle to $62,449 plus on-roads.
While both have five-star ANCAP safety ratings and a full complement of airbags, the Navara lacks autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning. It does, however, come standard with a top-down 360-degree reversing camera and reversing sensors (both part of the $1750 accessory Parking Pack in the X-Class PROGRESSIVE).
Both have auto headlights and wipers, while the Navara has a traditional 7-inch colour touchscreen and the X-Class a 7-inch TFT display with a separate touchpad and wheel interface, located on the centre console. Both come with integrated satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and streaming, and voice commands.
The X-Class PROGRESSIVE has an eight-speaker audio system with DAB+ digital radio, while the Navara makes do with a six-speaker set-up and a standard AM/FM radio. Both have CD players.
Finally, the Navara ST-X comes with a sports bar, tub liner and 18-inch alloys as standard, while these are accessories for the X-Class PROGRESSIVE ($1551 for the sports bar and $899 for the tub liner), while the 18-inch alloys are part of the $3750 Style Pack.
Mercedes-Benz has upped the ante with its warranty, offering three years and 200,000km of coverage, whichever comes first, versus three years and 100,000km for the Nissan.
Service intervals are pegged at 12 months/20,000km for both models, which are also covered by capped-price servicing schemes. X-Class buyers can pay a total of $1850 upfront for their first three services or they can pay as they go – $585, $930 and $835 – for a total of $2350.
The scheme covering the Navara extends to six years, and in comparison the first three services cost $547, $571 and $714, for a total of $1832.
Both are covered by complimentary 24-hour roadside assistance for three years, and the Navara’s factory warranty can be optionally extended for up to a further three years.
What do they do well?
It’s clear from the outset that Benz’s efforts in addressing NVH have been well worth it.
The X-Class is appreciably quieter inside the cab compared to the Navara, proving in fact just how quiet a turbo-diesel dual-cab ute can be when a manufacturer puts its mind to it.
The X-Class is also smoother, with little if any vibration noted through the steering column, as we found in the Navara.
Handling is a highlight in both vehicles, especially given the difficult line each must tread between load lugging ability and family comfort. The Navara’s adoption of dual-rate springs has paid dividends, and some time spent in the vehicle with a 650kg load in the tub proved it’s now far better in this respect, compared to the last two iterations of the new NP300 platform.
However, while the Navara is good unladen, the X-Class is better. The suspension just feels more refined, especially on the road but also on the dirt. There’s surprisingly little body roll, certainly less than the Navara, and although it’s still a little ‘brittle’ on the tarmac – an inevitable consequence of a set-up stiff enough to handle big loads and towing jobs – the damping does a great job of taking the sting out of bumps and dips both big and small.
The Navara too is very capable, but its commercial origins are more evident on the tarmac, its suspension and chassis combination simply don’t offer the same degree of precision and feedback as the X-Class.
We spent a day in Vicoria’s Bunyip State Forest with these vehicles and the performance gap was less clear-cut on the dirt. Again, the X-Class was more refined over corrugations, but both handled the rough stuff well.
The X-Class also wins on the braking front. With disc brakes at all four corners, there’s better feel at the pedal than in the Navara, which has a traditional front disc/rear drum arrangement. Both offer plenty of power, mind you, and pull up each vehicle with little fuss.
We didn’t subject the pair to a towing task in this comparison, but with their common origins and 3500kg tow limits – and through a recent Navara tow test – you can rest assured either of these brutes can handle some towing work.
The commercial origins of these vehicles is reflected in the utilitarian slant on each model’s cabin. There’s no shortage of hard plastic in each, but the X-Class does lift the overall level of refinement above that of the Navara, with a high standard of panel fit and finish and high-definition TFT displays (both the main instruments and the multimedia display).
Their towing and off-road capability make them both ideal for family adventures, although the fairly upright nature of the rear seat backs and limited second-row leg room mean they’re better suited to families with younger children rather than teens.
For young families, both models are fitted with ISOFIX-style mountings for three child seats or baby capsules.
As you’d expect the models share similar fuel economy figures, and even though the manufacturers quote different numbers (Nissan quotes an ADR combined cycle figure, while Benz the European NEDC equivalent), we found both returned an average of 9.4L/100km. Figures ranged from as low as 8.1L/100km on the road and as high as 12.0L/100km on the dirt. That’s with an even mixture of road and off-road, and largely unladen.
What could they do better?
On the negative side of the ledger, the 2.3-litre twin-turbo delivers rather pedestrian performance. It’s responsive enough, and the seven-speed transmission works well enough too, but this engine lacks the gusto of, say, the 3.2-litre five-cylinder in Ford’s Ranger/Mazda’s BT-50.
Given the capacity shortfall, that’s not surprising – and we look forward to the arrival of the 190kW/550Nm X 350d later this year.
The X-Class’s extra track may deliver enhanced stability but it also adds an extra metre to the Navara’s already-hefty 12.4-metre turning circle. With a steering range of 3.3 turns lock to lock, these are big beasts to manoeuvre in your average shopping centre carpark, where the Navara’s parking sensors and 360-degree camera pay dividends.
While the X-Class’s TFT multimedia display has a far higher resolution than the Navara’s equivalent, our test vehicle’s camera had a noticeably slow frame rate, meaning a slow and steady approach was vital to prevent inadvertently backing into an obstacle. Of course, you could always go ‘old school’ and rely on the mirrors instead, which are large and offer a clear view in each vehicle.
Speaking of mirrors, blind-spot monitoring isn’t available on either of these utes. And radar cruise control, which is available as an option on the flagship Ford Ranger, isn’t available either (a surprise on the X-Class in particular, given the prevalence of DISCTRONIC in the ‘Benz car line-up).
There’s a distinct lack of cab storage in the X-Class, which misses out on the Navara’s dash-top tray and the tray at the bottom of the centre stack. Even the centre console bin is smaller in the X-Class, as some of its space is devoted to an SD memory card slot and two USB ports (there’s only one USB outlet in the Navara, but a total of four 12-volt sockets dotted throughout the vehicle).
Both vehicles provide grab-handles to aid ingress/egress for passengers but not one for the driver, while both also make do with rather basic cloth seating with manual adjustment and no lumbar support. And both steering wheels feature adjustability only for tilt and not reach.
Finally, while both vehicles’ tubs come with a 12-volt outlet, the tub liners are slightly different – the X-Class tub measures 30mm longer at 1500mm and 10mm wider at 1080mm, so neither vehicle will accept a standard Australian pallet (1165mm x 1165mm).
Which wins, and why?
Which wins for you will come down to budget and intended application, but here we’re giving the nod to the Mercedes-Benz X 250d PROGRESSIVE over the Nissan Navara ST-X.
Yes, with its Style Pack it’s appreciably dearer, but the X-Class really impressed for its ride, its quiet and refined interior, and its impressive standard safety technology.
The flagship Navara with its new dual-rate rear springs is a thoroughly competent and capable all-rounder but the X-Class takes that same platform to new heights – it really represents so much more than badge engineering and, we feel, justifies that price premium.
How much is a 2018 Mercedes-Benz X 250d PROGRESSIVE ?
Price: $62,449 (as tested, plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel: 7.9L/100km (NEDC Combined), 9.4L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 207g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP (2018)
How much is a 2018 Nissan Navara ST-X ?
Price: $54,490 (as tested, plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel
Transmission: Seven-speed auto
Fuel: 7.0L/100km (ADR Combined), 9.4L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 186g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP (2015)