X-Class has the X-Factor

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Mercedes-Benz has looked elsewhere, basing the X-Class on the current Nissan Navara. Photo: supplied

Normal doesn't entirely apply to the X-Class, Mercedes-Benz's first foray into the one- tonne utility scene.

With this new vehicle, Mercedes-Benz becomes the most upmarket passenger car brand to add a ute to its line-up. It does so in part because _ unlike its obvious premium market rivals _ the German company is also a long-established maker of commercial vehicles, ranging from vans to large trucks.

But to find a starting point for its first ute, Mercedes-Benz has looked elsewhere, basing the X-Class on the current Nissan Navara. Badge-engineering? Hardly.

The Germans have given the X-Class a look and feel all its own. Apart from being relatively similar in silhouette, a departure from original form is clear in the styling: the body is widened to accept the same face as Mercedes-Benz's SUVs, the interior is massively redesigned, there's a significant amount of upgraded tech and who knows how much minor tweaking.

The extent of effort hit home when, on the day after a media event at which the price-topping X250d Power starred, I drove Nissan's equivalent, the Navara ST-X: same powertrain, but a world apart.

X-Class list pricing starts at $53,330 for the entry-level Pure 220d in two-wheel-drive double cab chassis mode, with 120kW/403Nm of turbo-diesel power and a six-speed manual transmission.

The well-side equivalent lists at $54,200 in 2WD form, and $56,500 as a four-wheel- drive. Pure specification, which is obviously a workhorse in its interior trim and use of steel wheels and black bumpers, is also available in 140kW/450Nm guise, as the Pure 250d in either double cab chassis or well-side configuration.

These more powerful versions are 4WDs, there's a choice of manual or automatic (seven-speed) transmissions, and prices range from $57,500 to $61,100.

The Progressive specification adds considerable extra kit to the Pure 250d package, including alloy wheels, colour-coded bumpers, an eight-speaker sound system, Garman map pilot satellite navigation, heated mirrors and rain-sensing wipers.

Like the Pure specification, Progressive is again available in double cab chassis or well-side configuration and with a choice of the manual or automatic gearbox.

Pricing for these models runs from $59,300 to $63,000.

Unsurprisingly, there's no cab chassis option for the flagship Power 250d version of the X-Class.

But there's still a choice of manual and automatic transmission, at list prices of $66,200 and $69,000 respectively. Opt for the Power variant, and you'll get chrome bumpers and larger (18-inch) alloys on the outside along with fog lamps, LED headlamps and part-LED tail lamps.

Other additions to the Progressive specification include artificial leather trim, the Mercedes Command multimedia system, power operated front seats, full climate control, keyless go and a 360-degree surround view camera.

Tempting cost-extra upgrade packages mean those X-Class sticker prices are likely conversation starters, especially for private buyers. By way of example from a long list of possibilities, there's a winter pack, adding heated front seats and heated windscreen washers across the range.

The Style packs are likely be popular too, adding extra exterior kit to the Progressive and Pure variants.

So, in all likelihood, a top-end X-Class Power specified just the way its owner wants, is going to be a $70,000-plus proposition. The yet-to-come X-Class V6 will sit higher still, very likely to become the country's most expensive one-tonner.

Still, for Mercedes-Benz the question is not if the high-end fare will sell but what percentage of the overall volume it will account for.

For those who do intend their X-Class to be as much as workhorse as an expression of social status, be aware that Mercedes-Benz has enhanced practicality along with extra polish, with the longest deck in the class and all the off-road and toughness you'd want.

The 4WD versions are rated to tow 3500kg, while the 2WD will haul up to 3200kg.

But fashion first, right? While not an ultimate equal to any Mercedes-Benz sedan or SUV for driving attitude, the Power models certainly try hard to create the same ambience, though, unsurprisingly, it's not completely divorced from the past.

The horizontal line bisecting the dash is a separation point between the original Nissan fit-out and the Mercedes-Benz rebuild and could also be called a class division. Keeping your focus up top in Power format you see fantastic achievement; a soft, padded, contrast-stitched leather upper portion of the fascia and a band of trim _ wood or metal _ a Mercedes-Benz steering wheel and crisp instrument cluster.

Plus, of course, that big Comand centre screen, driven by its swish-looking controller.

Look low and you'll see cheaper plastics better sorted for hard graft and a lot of rather plain controls from the Navara.

Still, you have to salute Mercedes-Benz for some major improvements. Front seat comfort is class-leading and, having set its chairs lower, it achieves a superior driving position.

Just a pity it also cannot introduce the steering wheel reach adjust that has always been beyond Nissan.

The German team has also gone to the effort of removing the original indicator and wiper wands and replacing them with its trademark dual-function stick. There's some give, too.

In siting the Comand controller between the seats, as per its cars, Mercedes-Benz has built over the best open oddments space in the Nissan.

The lidded console further back is where a phone has to go _ it's the only spot big enough and also holds the USB ports. Standard automated emergency braking is a category-first, while blindspot and lane keep alert is still on Nissan's (and some others) wish list.

No Distronic active cruise control, though, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interaction is still to come.

Mercedes-Benz didn't change the basic suspension design _ a multi-link rear axle and coils is already special _ but a wider track and spring, damper, bush and geometry changes have tangible effect. Ride quality is good, but the steering, unladen body control, balance and grip are the highlights.

The effort put into quelling road, wind and engine noise also impressed.

The 2.3-litre Nissan- sourced turbo-diesel has never been the quietest or most refined motor, yet the volume of intrusion is definitely lower.

All this and the best X-Class has yet to come. That'll surely have to be the six-cylinder X350d, with its sublime Mercedes-Benz engine, more advanced transmission and a constant all-wheel- drive.

X-Class has the X-Factor
At a Glance

Mercedes-Benz X-Class

SPECIFICATIONS
Prices: $53,330 to $69,000
Engines: 2298cc four-cylinder turbodiesel, maximum power 120kW@3750rpm,
maximum torque 403Nm@1500-2500rpm;
2298cc four-cylinder twin turbodiesel, maximum power 140kW@3750rpm,
maximum torque 450Nm@1500-2500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual (X220d), seven-speed automatic (X220d, X250d)
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, BA, ESP
Safety: NCAP five-star
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 225/65 R17 to 255/55 R19
Fuel and economy: 7.7 (X220d)/7.9 (X250d) litres per 100km, capacity 83
litres (including reserve)
Emissions: 195g (X220d)/207g (X250d) of CO2/km
Dimensions (mm): Length 5340, width 1920, height 1819