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First Drive: Mercedes-Benz X350d

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Okay, so you’re probably wondering why we’re featuring the X-Class yet again, and that’s fair, given that it’s dominated motor magazine pages of late. Part of the reason is the massive hype generated by ‘the first of a new kind’ – a truly premium bakkie from a truly premium manufacturer. But to be honest, we just have to tell you what it’s like to drive the V6!

The big boss of the X-Class line-up is here, and it’s powered by a proper Mercedes-Benz drivetrain, consisting of a 3.0L, 190kW, turbocharged V6 paired with a smooth-as-all-heck 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission.

From the inception of the X-Class concept, this has been the vision, and it’s a pity that consumers had to meet the X220d and X250d first. Now that the V6 is here, though, the market has perhaps finally welcomed something worthy of being called a premium bakkie.

Yes, it’s still beleaguered by the same sub-par interior, tacky key fob, and feeble hooter, but nit-picking aside, it’s a blast. The new engine takes the driving experience to a whole new level, and it makes the Navara undertone feel less like corner-cutting and more like clever exploitation of an already successful platform.

What I’m trying to say is that in the X350d, Merc have used Nissan’s know-how as a solid platform for genuine German power. The same can’t be said for the smaller models, but let’s keep this about the big brother.

The new drivetrain has required a move to permanent 4WD, much like the Amarok V6, but it hasn’t compromised the X’s superb off-road capability in the least. In fact, the 7G-TRONIC gearbox is excellent in quasi low-range mode.

In all, the DYNAMIC SELECT system offers five different options, including Eco, Sport and Off-Road. The latter offers three modes: 4MAT, 4H and 4L. The 4MATIC AWD system makes full use of the rear diff-lock and a clever two-stage transfer case.

On the tar, the X350d is a flyer, hitting 100km/h in just 7.9 seconds, making it the fastest production bakkie in SA. The V6 doesn’t sound exceptional, thanks mostly to the immense noise-dampening job done on these cars, but it blasts you down the freeway with consummate ease. The X250d doesn’t feel underpowered in the least, but the X350d is a considerable power surge.

And yet, after all this praise, we must once again come to the price point. Is there really any sort of justification for a million rand bakkie, and if there is, who is going to buy it? At R904 188 without extras for the Progressive model, it’s simply too expensive. The creamier Power model comes in at R973 188.

No matter what Merc has done to develop this car, the brand won’t shake the Navara heritage, and that just doesn’t cut it with consumers looking for a premium vehicle. Perhaps in a few years’ time we’ll see the company learn from its mistakes made in the pursuit of the first of a new kind, but for now, the X350d will continue to be perceived as a mixed bag.
By Micky Baker

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