The new Mercedes-Benz X-Class goes outback to take on two tough rivals: the Ford Ranger and the Volkswagen Amarok
If you haven’t noticed Mercedes-Benz has launched a new ute called the X-Class. It’s been pretty low-key really. Just kidding…
In actual fact, the level of anticipation surrounding this thing has been huge. It is the biggest new model arrival in Australia in 2018. That reflects the appeal of a ute with a three-pointed star on the nose and the growing popularity of the segment itself.
We’ve driven X-Class overseas, locally, compared it against its technical close relation the Nissan Navara, tow tested it and lived with two versions for a week.
Now it’s time to take it outback and pitch it against two key rivals, the locally-developed Ford Ranger and that other German ute, the Volkswagen Amarok [Ed: yes, we know the X-Class is built in Spain].
Our drive loop takes us out of Adelaide, up into the Flinders Ranges, around through the Woomera prohibited zone and back down south. It’s a route that combines good and bad bitumen, good, bad and corrugated gravel and some nasty off-road sections.
It’s a true test of the sort of conditions anyone who heads outback will find.
Why are we comparing them?
When it comes to dual-cab turbo-diesel 4×4 utes it’s the top-speccers where the sales action is.
So, it’s the X 250d POWER versus the Ford Ranger Wildtrak and the Volkswagen Amarok Core Plus. If you know your ute spec you’ll know the VW is the 2.0-itre four-cylinder rather than the more popular 3.0-litre V6.
We’ve gone that way because the X-Class V6 doesn’t arrive until later in the year and that will be the appropriate time to pitch these two German hard-chargers against each other.
You also probably know there’s an updated Wildtrak coming in September, with more equipment, a new 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine option and more safety gear. But that’s then, this is now, the current 3.2-litre five-cylinder Ranger is immensely popular – and it’s a great test for the X-Class.
As pointed out above, there’s been lots written about the X-Class already. But just to quickly reprise: This is a modified Nissan Navara rather than an all-new design.
It’s Renault-sourced 2.3-litre turbo-diesel 140kW/450Nm engine and seven-speed automatic drivetrain is shared with the Navara and they are built in the same plant in Spain. But Benz has widened and toughened the ladder frame chassis, retuned the suspension and steering and imbued the exterior and interior with its own character.
The X-Class is also the first ute to come standard with autonomous emergency braking. More will soon follow, including the Ranger update.
Who will they appeal to?
The Mercedes-Benz X-Class adds a new level of prestige to the tradey-truck class. It’s easy to see the Benz having more driveway appeal for those who enjoy the reflected glory a premium badge delivers.
As it’s not cheap (see below) there’s also a certain amount of exclusivity guaranteed. Even better!
Overall though, we are talking about work vehicles that double as weekend family transporter. They also are a versatile companion for outdoor adventures, with the ability to carry motorbikes and tow trailers.
Speaking of the latter, the X-Class and Ranger can both haul 3500kg, but the Amarok is restricted to 3000kg braked towing. Other key numbers? The Ranger is the heaviest at 2250kg, the Amarok the lightest at 2052kg. The 2161kg X-Class is nearly 200kg heavier than the Navara it is based on, which is due to its reworked chassis and a significant amount of extra sound deadening.
X-Class has the biggest payload at 1021kg (Ranger 950kg and Amarok 988kg). Both the German utes can fit an Australian-sized 1165mm x 1165mm pallet, but the narrower Ranger cannot.
How much do they cost?
There’s big money to be made in dual-cab utes, and that’s why there are so many offerings in the market and so many more entering.
Mercedes-Benz has certainly recognised that with the X-Class, our X 250d POWER retailing for a hefty $64,500 (plus on-road costs). That’s standard with a seven-speed automatic transmission, part-time 4×4 with low range and a locking rear diff, double wishbone front and multi-link coil (as opposed to class-standard leaf spring) rear suspension and disc brakes all-round, as opposed to the usual disc/drum combo.
AEB heads up a safety equipment list that also includes seven airbags, forward collision alert, trailer sway control, LED headlights, tyre pressure monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, and a 360-degree overview camera. Other equipment includes 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, artificial leather upholstery, power front seats, Comand multimedia and sat-nav.
But there are lots of options to be added individually or in packs. Real leather costs extra, as does metallic paint and side steps. Our X-Class was priced at $73,500 (plus ORCs).
The Wildtrak’s $61,790 (plus ORCs) price with its six-speed auto would have been outrageous not that long ago. But nowadays that’s almost affordable. Its 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine has the most power and torque (147W/470Nm), but also the worst claimed fuel economy at 8.9L/100km.
Like the X-Class, its 4×4 system is part-time and includes low range and a locking rear diff. Its suspension combines double wishbones and leaf springs, its braking system discs and drums.
Ranger’s safety equipment list is pretty strong with six airbags, a reversing camera, trailer sway control, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control (something the X-Class surprisingly misses out on), tyre pressure monitoring and parking sensors.
The Wildtrak is well equipped with dual-zone climate control, SYNC3 multimedia with an 8.0-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat-nav, 18-inch alloys, a sports bar, lockable roller cover for the tub and a bedliner.
At $50,990 (plus ORCs) the Amarok is the cheapest vehicle here. Even when it is optioned up with metallic paint, a higher-grade infotainment system and Alcantara heated seats it still only gets to $54,510. But the 132kW/420Nm engine has the lowest outputs and the drivetrain is high-range only, albeit permanent 4×4. There is an off-road mode that plays with stability control, ABS, transmission settings and hill descent control. There’s also a mechanical rear diff lock.
The downside of the lower price is a deficient equipment lost. There are no curtain airbags, which is bad news for rear-seat passengers. Nor are there driver assist systems like forward collision warning. It does get tyre pressure monitoring, parking sensors and a reversing camera.
Other stuff includes 17-inch alloys, single-zone climate control, cruise control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and cloth seat trim.
X-Class has a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty while service intervals are 12 months or 20,000km and cost $2350 over that period. Ranger warranty is now five years/unlimited kilometres and service intervals 12 months or 15,000km. The capped-price charge for that over three years is $1475.
The Amarok’s warranty is three years / unlimited kilometres. The service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km and add up to $1694 over that period.
What do they do well?
Our extended drive proved the refinement levels of separate chassis utilities has come a long way.
The X-Class sets a new standard for quietness and refinement in the class. All that sound deadening has hushed the engine, bitumen-road roar and gravel-road splatter.
The wider track and suspension retune also improve the Benz’s manners compared to the donor Nissan. It sits flat and controlled in corners and handles well by class standards.
Off-road the 4×4 system does a good job of conquering the challenges flung at it. It will cope with corrugated roads and clamber up and down gnarly obstacles.
The Ranger’s power and torque advantage may not be much on paper, but it feels quite a bit stronger than the other two in the real world. Its no-fuss capability extends to its driving behaviour, which copes equally well with bitumen or dirt. It really is good fun to drive, with light steering aiding low-speed maneuverability.
The Ranger also has the most rear-seat head and kneeroom, although the X-Class is wider so it can fit three people more easily across the bench.
The Amarok is almost as quiet as the X-Class, has a classic VW competence to its driving feel and a basic interior presentation that lacks nothing for ease of use and quality. Permanent 4×4 gives it an on-road confidence edge over the other two. But it surrenders a little of its potential capability at the extreme end without low range.
What could they do better?
The X-Class feels slow. All that weight does not help the response of an engine that even in the lighter Navara isn’t strong.
Inside the X-Class is not that special. Artificial leather covers the dash top, but hard plastics abound and there is a lack of storage spaces. No reach adjust for the steering emphasises the Navara connection.
And despite the suspension retune the Benz’s coil rear-end still sags under load. Ride quality was also impacted by the firm set-up and lower profile optional 19-inch rubber. Stick with standard 18s, or drop back to 17s if you’re headed outback. The turning circle is an over-sized 13.4m, which doesn’t help in the tight stuff.
With the X-Class now showing how it’s done in terms of noise, vibration and harshness, the Ranger needs to pick up its game. As strong as the engine is, it would be nice to hear less of it when it’s revved.
The Amarok needs more kit, curtain airbags and a bit more grunt.
Which wins, and why?
In the dying days before its facelift, the Aussie-developed PXII Ranger wins this comparison. And does it quite clearly. It has the best combination of pricing, equipment and performance on and off-road among these three. For a trip to the outback it’s the choice.
The Amarok is good fundamentally, but lacks key equipment and that ultimate off-road capability that low range delivers. Pricing and a fundamental goodness are its aces.
Which leaves the X-Class. Commendably, apart from a flat tyre it never missed a beat during our South Australian sojourn and its safety and refinement are unarguable plusses.
But that’s not enough, not when a premium is being charged and expectations are so high.
How much is a 2018 Ford Ranger Wildtrak?
Price: $61,790 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 8.9L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 234g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP (2015)
How much is a 2018 Mercedes-Benz X 250d POWER?
Price: $64,500 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel: 7.9L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 209g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP (2017)
How much is a 2018 Volkswagen Amarok Core Plus?
Price: $50,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel: 8.5L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 224g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP (2011)