MOTORING

Mercedes-Benz X350d V6 D/Cab Power: A bakkie with bragging rights

By Deon Schoeman 1 March 2019

Mercedes-Benz X-Klasse – Exterieur X 350 d 4MATIC, 190 kW (258 PS), Cavansitblau metallic, Ausstattungslinie POWER, Rollcover schwarz;Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert: 9,0-8,8 l/100 km; CO2-Emissionen kombiniert: 236-230 g/km* Mercedes-Benz X-Class – Exterior X 350 d 4MATIC, 190 kW (258 PS), cavansite blue metallic, equipment line POWER, roll cover black;Fuel consumption combined: 9.0-8.8 l/100 km; Combined CO2 emissions: 236-230 g/km*

A bakkie for a million bucks? Who would have thought? Well, part of the reason is our ever-weakening currency. But also, this isn’t just any old pick-up, but a Mercedes-Benz, with the most powerful engine in its class. Does that warrant the price tag, though?

The battle for bakkie supremacy has been raging for some time now. Originally, the protagonists were the usual suspects: Toyota Hilux versus Ford Ranger.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class exterior.*

Then Volkswagen set the cat among the pick-up pigeons by introducing a V6-powered Amarok double cab. With 165kW and 550Nm from its 3.0-litre turbodiesel mill, it became South Africa’s most muscular bakkie — and from a relative newcomer, nogal!

But things were going to become even more interesting. Another upstart was about to enter the scene.

A lot has been said and written about the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, and its close relationship with the Nissan Navara. In short, Mercedes partnered with Nissan to provide a Navara-based platform for the X-Trail, which allowed it to enter the bakkie fray quickly and cost-effectively.

As a result, even die-hard Benz fans will acknowledge that the X-Class will always be considered something of a stepchild, despite the considerable engineering and development that went into the double cab from the Mercedes side.

It’s probably also one of the reasons why the reception to the X250 double cab has been lukewarm — while Mercedes-Benz SA does not divulge individual model sales, the X-Class is a relatively rare sight on our roads.

The fact that the X250 also comes at a considerable price premium compared to the Navara won’t be helping sales either. And yet, that hasn’t stopped Mercedes-Benz from adding an even more expensive model to the range.

The new X-Class flagship has the dubious honour of being South Africa’s most expensive double-cab bakkie. While the list price of the X350d Power tested here is a few thousand rand short of the R1-million mark, the extras fitted to the test car ramp up the cost to a tidy R1.16-million.

So, what does the X350d offer to warrant that level of investment? For starters, it’s not just SA’s most expensive bakkie, but also its most powerful. The 3.0-litre turbodiesel delivers an impressive 190kW of maximum muscle, easily eclipsing the VW Amarok V6’s “mere” 165kW.

Add 550Nm of torque (the same as the Amarok) and you have a bakkie with a lot of kick — enough to allow a 0-100km/h sprint time of under 8sec, and a 205km/h top speed.

Based on factory figures, only 0.1sec splits the X350 and the Amarok V6 in terms of acceleration from 0-100 km/h, despite the latter’s power deficit. And as far as top speed is concerned the VW trails the Merc by 12 km/h in a category that is largely academic in day-to-day motoring terms.

Bragging rights apart, one has to question whether performance stats are of any real value in the double cab 4×4 context. After all, rugged utility and true 4×4 capability should be at the top of the trump card list in this category.

The X350d’s V6 is certainly lusty, with loads of urge from near-idling speeds. There’s nothing explosive about the delivery, though: Rather it’s a resolute, insistent gathering of power that never lets up.

The torque band is impressively broad, meaning the engine is on song from near idling speeds, and is sustained all the way to 3,200rpm.

Also worth noting is that the X350d boasts permanent four-wheel drive, rather than the more usual, switchable 4×2/4×4 arrangement. By default, the system splits the power 40:60 between the front and rear axles, adding some rear-biased flair to the driving experience.

In 4H mode, power is distributed to the wheels with the most traction, while a lockable rear diff provides further assistance. And then there’s 4L, which brings low-range gearing into play for tackling gung-ho 4×4 challenges.

The seven-speed auto gearbox comes with shift paddles to offer convenient manual override, although that only really becomes important when precise gear selection at low speeds over real off-road terrain is required.

In all other situations, the combination of an auto gearbox and that broad torque band makes manual intervention unnecessary, and even counterproductive.

The X350d is fitted with a five-mode Dynamic Select system, which tailors throttle response and gear shift points for different circumstances. It’s likely to remain in the default Comfort setting for most customers most of the time, since it tries to find the best balance between response and efficiency.

If fuel efficiency is a priority, then the Eco setting will short-shift gears to keep the engine revs low. However, given the performance potential, some X350d drivers will be tempted to opt for Sport mode, which speeds up shifts and sharpens the throttle.

Manual mode is even more engaging, as it offers direct control of the gear shift points. And then there’s the Off-Road setting, which makes the throttle more controllable, and allows higher in-gear engine speeds.

The result is a muscular and versatile drivetrain that always feels up to the task, regardless of terrain. Yes, the X350d is almost sports car rapid in a straight line, but the tall stance and all-wheel drive tend to understate the acceleration.

It’s surprisingly flexible and easy to manage around town, despite the double cab’s sheer bulk: at 5.34m long, 1.92m wide and 1.82m tall, it’s not exactly urban-friendly, and can be a pain to park, especially given its rather laborious (by car standards) 13.4m turning circle.

The X350d never feels too sporty for its humble underpinnings. The engineers have done well to find a good ride set-up that remains taut enough to engender confidence but doesn’t display the rock-hard rebound that can be unsettling on some bakkies.

The suspension — dual front wishbones linked to a multilink rear axle — finds a useful compromise between load-bearing utility and driving comfort, while also retaining the extended wheel travel and 222mm raised ground clearance required for off-road work.

It stands to reason that the X350 isn’t intimidated by even the roughest terrain. It has the right stuff to cope with deep sand or clinging mud, extreme inclines, rocky surfaces — in fact, any obstacle you may want to subject it to. That 550Nm of torque comes in handy, too!

A seven-figure price tag creates significantly raised expectations as far as interior execution and equipment levels are concerned. While a lot of effort has clearly gone into dressing up the cabin, it’s still a bakkie, and one with Nissan roots.

There’s a lot of kit from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin, ranging from the air vents and the screen-based infotainment system, complete with centre console controller, to the multifunction steering wheel and the instrumentation.

Tactile quality is good: The stitched seat upholstery links suede-like cloth to man-made leather bolsters, and there are lots of metallic surfaces and glossy finishes. The emphasis on luxury is obvious, and the equipment list is comprehensive, even by premium standards.

While there’s no doubting the X350d’s all-round competence, its off-road capability, and its interior comfort, I’m still wondering which target market Mercedes-Benz has in mind.

Similar money will buy you a pretty decent SUV with real off-road credentials, albeit without the luxury allure and status value of the Three-Pointed Star. And in double cab terms, there are many alternatives with similar capabilities and amenities costing substantially less.

The only real stand-out features of the X350d are its class-leading power, and the fact that it’s the sole premium-brand contender in this segment (although VW may beg to differ). In other words, the X350d is a niche vehicle targeting an equally niche audience.

Perhaps Mercedes-Benz sees its value as a kind of halo vehicle that stirs up interest and leads to more sales of the less powerful, more affordable X250d variants. And perhaps there are buyers seeking something more rugged than an SUV, but still demand all the luxury bells and whistles.

Even then, I can’t see too many X350d buyers sloshing, scraping and scrabbling their way across challenging off-road terrain — or filling the load bay with the weekend’s garden refuse. It’s an intriguing take on the double cab formula, but one with very limited appeal.

And perhaps it’s that low-volume exclusivity that will end up being the X350d’s strongest drawcard. That, and the bragging rights that go with owning SA’s fastest, most expensive double cab bakkie… DM

PROS

King of the bakkie road — in terms of power and speed, that is. Full house interior looks and feels the premium part. Highly competent in virtually all conditions.

CONS

Hard to warrant the price, despite the bragging rights and the badge. DM

VITAL STATS

Mercedes-Benz X350d D/Cab 4Matic Power

Engine

2,987cc V6, turbodiesel

Power

190kW @ 3,400rpm

Torque

550Nm @ 1,400-3,200rpm

Power-to-weight ratio

79.53 kW/ton

Gearbox

Seven-speed 7G-Tronic Plus, transfer case, 4×4

Wheels/tyres (front/rear)

18-inch alloy, 255/60 R18 tyres

0-100 km/h

7.9sec

Top speed

205km/h

Fuel tank capacity

73 litres

Fuel consumption (claimed/tested)

9.0 /12.2 litres/100km

Operating range (claimed/tested)

811/ 598km

CO2 emissions

236g/km

Retail price / as tested

R973,188 / R1,160,100

Service/maintenance plan

6-year/100,000km maintenance plan

Warranty

Two years/unlimited distance

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