LJUBLJANA, Slovenia – The most powerful model in the X-Class stable also has the potential to be the first pickup to breast the R1 million mark. That’s a lot of scratch for a double-cab bakkie, so will it be worth it?
There’s nothing shouty about the X350d. A brace of chromed ‘V6’ badges adorn the front wings and 18-inch alloy wheels feature in the Power-specification model. Although more lithe-looking than the likes of the Volkswagen Amarok and Ford Ranger, the X is nonetheless a real head-turner; much of which can likely be accounted for by bystanders’ mild disbelief at the concept of a Mercedes bakkie. The cabin feels well screwed together and the materials are of a good standard, but some of the ergonomic quirks (i.e. the lack of rake adjustment for the steering wheel) remain. Even so, the front seats are supportive and easily adjustable and go some way to helping one find a comfy enough driving attitude.
Under the bonnet
The X350d’s 190 kW and 550 N.m come courtesy of its tried and tested 3,0-litre OM642 V6 turbodiesel; a unit that’s seen service in a wide variety of models, from the E-Class to the Sprinter. The mechanical configuration of a V6 doesn’t always flatter a turbodiesel and often unearths some unexpected mechanical harshness. But that’s one thing you cannot level at the X350d’s powerplant. With a counter-rotating balance shaft nestled between the banks of the "V" smoothing out such vibrations, the 3,0-litre V6 is a remarkably refined unit. It’s also a unit that plays nicely with the seven-speed auto ‘box to which it’s hitched. Gearshifts are smooth and the transmission’s well-resolved mapping ensures there’s no hunt-‘n-shunt with leaning on the throttle.
The X350d ushers in the Dynamic Select drivetrain management system that’s found in many of its sedans and SUVs. The five presets (comfort, eco, sport, manual, off-road) tailor the throttle and gearshift mapping to best extract the power on offer. For instance, the off-road setting hangs onto gears and modulates the accelerator to get the best out of the engine’s low-end grunt. Manual? That’s a bit superfluous. While it’s a fun gimmick, it doesn’t have the alacrity to justify its presence here. Interestingly, while these drivetrain management systems are often little more than a dashboard dial and more rapid gear changes, the difference between comfort and sport in the X350d is pronounced. Where comfort keeps things smooth and sedate, nudging the rocker switch to sport, and its more aggressive shift profiling, unearths the shove-in-the-back urge that the comfort setting and quiet mechanicals mask quite well.
On (and off) the road
Much was made of the four-cylinder X250d’s stuttering ride when we tested it earlier in 2018, and while the bit of additional weight has managed to iron out some of the kinks it’s still a bit fidgety when encountering larger road scars. Even so, that double-wishbone front/multilink rear suspension setup does help rein in body roll. This, along with steering that’s light but not numb, contributes to a pickup that doesn’t easily succumb to the float and top-heaviness that often affects these vehicles when encountering a bend at even moderate speeds. The suspension setup was also tested on a small off-road trail that showed the X350d, with its good axle articulation and central diff-lock, to be a competent rock crawler.
The folks at Mercedes-Benz South Africa have been very cagey with regards to pricing for this model, and are waiting until closer to the local arrival of the X350d in the first quarter of next year. There have been murmurs of a R950 000 price sticker, but given our volatile exchange rate and the ripple of Chinese whispers that often surround halo models, it should be taken with a pinch of salt. Given that the range-topping X250d weighs in at more than R800 000, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to see the V6 coming in at between R950 000 and R1 million.
Where the four-cylinder X-Class, with its modestly powered turbodiesel engine and (in the case of our test unit) an imprecise long-throw manual gearbox, felt like more of a workhorse than a product with the famed tricorn on its snout, the V6 manages to nix these shortcomings, and in doing so its power and refinement are more in keeping with a Mercedes. It’ll no doubt cost a pretty sum when it arrives early next year, but it will be interesting to see just how much more appealing it will make the X to those switching from Mercedes' more town-bound SUVs and crossovers, and how the revised (and marginally more torquey) Volkswagen Amarok V6 will measure up.